A NEED FOR AN EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH REVOLUTION IN SOUTHERN AFRICA
Southern African communities have fallen prey to western developmental strategies that promote industrialization at the expense of rural communities. Our rural communities are neglected by our governments and the education system. Graduates from our educational institutions are educated away from their communities. This results in a brain and economic drain from rural communities.
Research is one of the important functions of most tertiary institutions. It is incumbent upon these institutions to provide ways of addressing the issues that have a bearing to quality of life in a scientific manner. It is my belief that the knowledge and skills imparted in some of tertiary institutions often neglect or the problem of poverty. Attitudes of institutions towards social services will also be explored with a view to offer recommendations on appropriate means of addressing the current rural problems. A review of the patterns of Educational research in Southern Africa will be done. In conclusion suggestions on how tertiary institutions can contribute to improving rural communities's quality of life from the margins to the centre stage of our research endeavours, will be offered.
Southern African communities have been a fertile ground for transformative initiatives. Most of the changes happened in the political and the economic fronts. It its natural that the education sphere is also faced with the same challenges that politicians and economist dealt with some years ago.
As a student of research and small time researcher, one cannot ignore the need for relevant research. Academics are confronted with the demands for relevant research. One would like to ask what is relevant research? . Speaking from a South African position. In 1994 - 1995 this was research that was geared at reinforcing the Reconstruction and Development programs of the Government of National Unity. This research dealt with the common issues that pertain to provision of shelter, running water, proper sanitation, primary health care services and integration and transformation of educational provisions.
As time passed in 1996 relevant research will mean Research that will support the Growth Employment And Redistribution Strategy. South Africa is more concerned with the reduction of spending on social spending. Education and Health services are still the major consumers of south African tax payers money.
Most of the countries in Southern Africa had passed through these stages. These economic strategies were catastrophic for the ordinary people.
I am speaking about the structural adjustment programs that we dropped like bomb shell that left the poor unattended. How does research fit in with these area. It is the aim of this paper to question the complacency of traditional researchers especially those in higher education institutions.
In my country south Africa the trade union movement is the only voice that speak for the poor. They are activist, politician and researchers. The are seriously looking a understanding the challenges of the current world order. They are relentlessly working towards finding alternative for the oppressed, poor and disadvantaged masses of the country who are workers.
One of their initiative in known as the Trade Union Research Project. This project is looking at challenging the policies of globalization. The are questions asked such as the one Shilowa (1996) asked in the preface of the project publication which is " Is it possible to achieve equity and growth under the constraints imposed by the new world order"
Shilowa contends that globalization can not be left un challenged as apathy will be disastrous for us. He pleads with workers not to fall into temptation of being spectators in the debates of global economy, as he says:
It is my belief that we can only achieve these ideals, the research focus is turned upside down. I mean a complete shift in how we think about research, on how we conceptualise it and on how we present the research findings. As an academic it is easier to talk about what needs to be done. Some of us are wondering how.
We need to consider the following:
AFRICA IS A RURAL CONTINENT
The bulk of the population leaves in rural areas. Most rural people leave in poverty. Our research endeavours should be geared at understanding the phenomenon known as Poverty. As this is a concept that is difficult to understand as people would like to wish it away. No is prepared to talk about as it is difficult to explain but many people experience it. It is best understood by those who experience it.
According to collins Dictionary (1980:1149) poverty reflects:
(1) a position of being without....
(2) scarcity or dearth of...
(3) a deficit of...
Africa is a continent that qualify to be considered as poor country according to this definition. We may be poor in some respects and we are also rich in others. The major problem of our continent is that we fail to maximise our riches for our benefits. It is my challenge that research has a role in changing the present scenarios for the better. African scholars have found second homes in western countries. The leave with their expertise and help developing developed countries. These people are all aspiring for better life and assurance of good quality life.
I want to make a challenge to all researchers that quality of life it inseparable from the economy. It is my belief that the organizers of this symposium thought about the topic because poverty is a phenomenon that we can no longer ignore.
Rural Africa is a world where poverty reign and reigns supreme. Most people that leave in these places rely on farming. Due to the unfavourable weather conditions and loss of land . African rural families can no longer rely on subsistence farming as their means of survival.
Most families invest their earnings in the education of their children. They believe that these children will look after them in their old age. Most of these parents meet the shock of their lives if they leave long enough to see their children work. There are two possibilities:
* The graduates that are produced by our educational institutions are suspectable to what I call the urban disease. The are suitable for life in urban areas and this is the desire to settle at place that are closer to the metropolitan areas. These are the areas that where better life or quality of life is promised.
The educational institutions tend to educate these students way from their societies. The principles of living as communities, families and clans are made to contest with principles of living as an individual, independence and self reliance.
Please understand me, these concept also apply to Rural setting but are not so pronounced as they are in urban centres.
* The graduates realise that the choice of courses or their career path are no longer marketable. Issues of global economy has cheeped in to debate to government their employment policies.
In my opinion the investment that parents made are not bringing worthy returns. It is a loss of hard earned money.
In this new millennium rural communities should develop the capacity to develop they own survival plans. Research capacity should be one of important skills that are developed.
In order to improve the standard of living in rural areas the following issues that are mentioned by Lewis (1966:21) should be attended, these are:
* The low levels of literacy and education; non-affiliation to groups; minimal access of public facilities such as schools; hospitals; clinic and welfare agencies.
* The absence of ready cash enforcing a pattern of buying in small quantities, chronic debt and the mismanagement of available funds.
* Crowded living conditions with lack of privacy, resulting in gregarious, often violent behaviour, drunkenness and alcoholism, early initiation into sex, a high incidence of consensual marriage and casual liaison resulting in abandoned mothers and children and consequently a mother centered family.
* A predominantly young population with low life expectancy and overall high infant mortality rates.
* A tendency to live in the present. An inability to defer gratification and to plan for the future; a sense of resignation and fatalism, little sense of community.
* A deep mistrust of authority characterised by hatred of the police; cynicism about formal help, including that offered by religious and political workers.
It is the contention of some scholars that the standard of living of any community can only improve by research. This calls for research that has a bias in the traditional science oriented fields. They talk about engineering sciences, agricultural sciences, mathematical, health and environmental sciences. The list is not only limited to those that are mentioned here.
This is a language of young and naïve and militant people. It suspect one belongs to that league. Our research institute cannot continues with business as usual if we are to win the struggle for better quality of life.
These institutions that are standing like ivory towers around poverty stricken area need to transform their surrounds through research.
In this era research and researching institutions should create partnerships with the community for development. Their need assessment survey can also be used in motivating for facilities from donor agencies and governments. Research information aids in planning. Governments will plan better and operate more efficiently.
Failure to make this drastic more will sentence our rural communities to the periphery of the economic activity and subject them to political exploitation for votes. Promises for better life will always be part of the political game. The gospel truth is that quality of life does not come easy in this new world order.
This research revolution should free these communities diseases, homeless, exploitation, being providers of cheap labour and dehumanising practices.
In the real world governments are confronted with the task of playing the ball according the politics of global economy.
Lehulere (1997:23) warns us about the dangers of globalization. He argues that it breeds inequality and poverty.
Retaining dignity in adversity
The rich and the poor are living in two different worlds. There are always tensions between the two grouping. There are sentiments that one is exploiting the other. The poor will claim that their labour has produced the wealth.
The rich claims that their capital works for them.
It is upon the researchers to come up with facts as to advance the economic and the social growth of the two groupings. It is research that informs us that when it comes to social security many people feel stigmatized. Then changes in the way in which it is administered will restore some sense of being human to the beneficiaries. On the other side the tensions are highlighted by Walker(1993:149)as he says:
The rich and the poor will always be at each others throats. It is research and education that will make a difference. We need to create an environment that will accommodate these contestations between the two groupings. The debates and arguments are healthy and have prospects of ushering a new ethos in dealing with people and providing services.
It is argued by the trade union research project that the gap between the rich and the poor is widening as they say:
It is evident from the research findings that the world economic advances are geared at benefiting the few. The status quo need to be challenged. We need to deal with jobless growth, ruthless growth, voiceless growth and futureless growth. It is through research that these issues that entrench poverty needs to be challenged.
Research must now come to the protection of the poor. It must help in uplifting the standards of living for the poor. It must help in restoring the broken egos and restore human values to the dehumanized. All these will be achieved if there is a research revolution. The status quo can not even begin to address these issues. There is a dire need for partnerships and community development geared research projects. Gone are the day where these communities we treated as subjects.
The need to be recognized a worthy partners in the creation of a new epistemology for research. If we take care of these issues then a revolution in research circle would have been created. It will usher a new world that will be better for us all. I hope this dream becomes a reality as its painful to watch people suffer will other live in abundance.
1. Collins English Dictionary; 1980.
2. Lewis,O.1966. The Culture of Poverty in Scientific American 215:4:19-25.
3. Lohere,O.1997. Globalization breeds in equality, New Nation, 30 June 1997.
4. Isaacs,S.1997. et al, South Africa in the Global Economy; Understanding the challenges Working towards alternatives, Trade Union Research Project.
5. Shilowa,S.1996. Preface of South Africa in the Global Economy; Understanding the challenges Working towards alternatives, Trade Union Research Project.
6. Walker,C.1993. Managing Poverty: The limits of Social Assistance, Route ledge, London.
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