Dr Melanie Skead, Director of CTL, participated as local expert in the development of a Master's degree on climate change and recently shared some of the good news on RSG radio programme Die Kwik Styg. RSG acknowledged the contribution of this Master's programme as empowering in the fostering of knowledge and insight on climate change among a new generation of researchers and experts.
Dr Skead was instrumental in the curriculum development of the Master's degree on climate change within the framework of the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA). SARUA's objective with the development of this Masters degree was to educate a new generation of researchers, practitioners and decision-makers in climate change and sustainable development in the Southern African region.
The Need for Such a Curriculum
The need for such a curriculum was identified in 2014 by SARUA in a research study and needs assessment to ascertain the capacity for climate-focused research in die tertiary education sector of 12 Southern African countries. The study considered multiple disciplines and role players outside the academic context, such as governments, business and employment sectors, research and community organisations.
The study found that very few academic programmes were specifically aimed at climate change and sustainable development, and thus a decision was taken to develop such a curriculum.
The first step was for SARUA's Curriculum Innovation Network to make funding available and to call for research proposals. The University of Cape Town's African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) took initiative and invited various other universities to collaborate. A consortium of 7 universities from 5 Southern African countries (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Tanzania, Mozambique) was established to develop the curriculum. So the project team started from the context of the funder's guidelines to conceptualise a possible curriculum framework with objectives, learning outcomes, credits, core and elective modules, delivery modes, assessment and research component. An important step was to approach potential employers in the private and public sectors of each participating country to get a clear picture of the knowledge and skills required of graduates.
The Master's degree is on NQF level 9 and is aimed at universities. It is offered by lecturers from various disciplinary backgrounds and students from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds collaborate on it, for instance from Science, Economy, Law and Social Sciences. The curriculum allows them to collaborate in the learning and research processes. Climate change and sustainable development cannot be offered from a single discipline, as it impacts on various aspects of study.
The curriculum has been endorsed by the Western Cape Department of Agriculture.
Criteria for the Curriculum
The curriculum had to meet the following requirements of SARUA:
- An overarching conceptual framework endorsed by review and involvement of networks from each participating country or university.
- Curriculum design in the form of 3 core and 4 elective modules with guidelines to adjust the curriculum for local needs and different accreditation requirements.
- Inter- and transdisciplinarity in the curriculum design.
- Focus on group work, strong research component and balancing theory and practice.
- Flexibility to offer the curriculum either as a whole or as modules without additional expense, and open access to any university who wants to offer the curriculum.
- Contributing to curriculum development for Southern African tertiary postgraduate learning in the process.
- Designing learning material and an online platform for teaching and learning which is accessible to students.
Interaction among curriculum developers from various universities was a benefit arising from the process. Accreditation requirements among the participating countries differed in the number of required credits for a Master's degree. For South African MSc degrees, 120 to 180 credits are required and 1 credit represents 10 notional hours. In Mauritius it is 36 to 45 credits, with 1 credit as 15 teaching hours or 30-45 hours' practical work.
There were no big differences in terms of curriculum design principles and the team members all agreed on the main topics to be covered, except that South African curricula appeared to focus more on social justice.
The curriculum consists of seven modules plus a research project (33-50% of the credits). The three compulsory modules focus on core concepts in climate change and sustainable development, transdisciplinary thought and skills, the promotion of initiatives for relevance, socially inclusivity, environmental sustainability and resilience. Four elective modules include a wide variety of topics such as agriculture, food security, ecosystems, urban development and social justice.
Lecturers from 22 universities have been trained in applying the curriculum. A survey in August 2018 indicated that 8 universities offered the curriculum in part or as a whole: Mulungushi University, Zambia; Bindura University of Science Education, Zimbabwe; University of Dodoma, Tanzania; University of Mauritius; University of EeSwatini; Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Malawi; and in South Africa, the University of Cape Town at the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI). ACDI has registered between 10 and 20 students per annum and 59 students have already graduated here. At the other universities, cohorts of between 17 and 34 students are set to graduate later in 2019.
Dr Skead said it was exciting that a curriculum which focuses on such a vital knowledge area, also provided opportunity for colleagues from Southern African countries to learn together in a dynamic process about the kind of curriculum needed in Africa in this century. The interaction with such a large group of academics and the exposure to the challenges in our neighbouring countries opens one's eyes to our own context. This is an instance of African creativity, collaboration and knowledge sharing to solve our own problems.
Dr Skead encouraged this generation to not leave their problems for the next generation to solve. “We have to start now to think and act differently in order to leave an earth for them on which to live and flourish. If I may use an African Proverb – 'The world is not ours, the earth is not ours. It's a treasure we hold in trust for future generations'. And I often hope we will be worthy of that trust.“