IDEAS Coming together to learn and share

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As part of the International Distance Education and African Students (IDEAS) project, the South African based team went to the United Kingdom to present work at the Royal Geographical Society’s (RGS-IGB) annual conference and then meet the UK based team at the Open University for intensive discussions and meetings on the project's progress.

The RGS-IGB Royal Geographical Society’s (RGS) Annual International Conference was hosted at the  Society and Imperial College in London. The annual conference theme was ‘decolonising geographical knowledge’ which while controversial, drew a large number of papers and participants. The IDEAS team jointly with the RACE group hosted a session titled ‘The Battle of the Maps - (re)imagining geographies of knowledge production’. The session was about challenging the spaces and maps of knowledge and how ideas and knowledge are spread, often from global north to global south.

The session drew much interest and challenged and built on the ideas of decolonisation and finding spaces for alternative learning in a decolonised context. Prof Paul Prinsloo of the IDEAS Project and the University of South Africa (UNISA) presented a paper entitled: ‘Curricula as contested and contesting spaces: Geographies of longing, resistance and discomfort’. The paper pointed to the discomfort of decolonisation for many as we contest with ourselves and others over how we should participate in the debate around decolonisation.

The second paper presented by IDEAS team was delivered by Dr Dianne Long in collaboration with Profs Ashley Gunter and Simphiwe Mini, all from the UNISA. The paper was entitled ‘De-colonisation of the curriculum, the construction of knowledge in the global south’. This paper looked to how South African academics can look to other African countries on how to decolonise the curriculum. While there are lessons to be learned from other African nations, the paper concluded that decolonisation is a process that is on-going in all the given African cases.  This led to a concluding question on whether or not an academic with an overt colonial education can even begin to engage with decolonisation given the lens through which they have been trained.

The concluding discussion was lively and robust and questioned the state of decolonisation in education and its different manifestations in different countries.  The panel was asked to define decolonisation, which many felt the conference had not attended to and the session was seen as invaluable due to the conference theme.

With the conference in London, the South African IDEAS team had the opportunity to visit the city and explore the landscapes of this global metropolis. As three of the four members were geographers, they were fascinated by the architecture, history and culture of London. Notable excursions were to the London Dungeon, tea houses and the science museum, all done, of course, through the lenses of decolonial discourse.

Post conference saw the coming together of IDEAS, this was the first time since the inception of the project that all members met in person.  Although many Skype meetings had taken place through the course of the project this was the first time all team members were in the same conference room all at the same time. This ability to be able to interact face to face brought about much fervour in the team and the conversations progressed easily. Progress to date was tracked and the way forward was mapped out. With plans firmly in hand the next phase of the project is set to begin soon. We will, as a team, start to contact international students at UNISA and try our level best to understand their university experience. While the boardroom meetings may have been intense, the team socials at the local pub afterwards were most enjoyable and brought a stronger sense of collegiality to the team. At one point the IDEAS post-doc team even participated in a general knowledge quiz, of which we are far too ashamed to divulge the result. This trip was invaluable to the IDEAS team and we look forward to welcoming the UK team members to South Africa sometime in the future.

Dianne Long and Ashley Gunter

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