In early 2015, on my first day of work at Sol Plaatje University, I walked into a room with two colleagues – the system called them the “Heritage Studies” Department. The three of us formed the nucleus of what was supposed to mutate into a fully-fledged School. At this stage, the three-member team ran a one-year undergraduate Higher Certificate in Heritage Studies, which has remained a flagship programme at the University.
That year, we also had our first ever (13) graduates from Sol Plaatje University. Though small, this graduation was very symbolic. It represented and signaled the first fruits of a journey towards the establishment of a new university in post-1994 South Africa. All this happened in a particularly tumultuous period in higher education in South Africa, where fires were literally burning at universities, as students called for free and decolonised education for the poor.
Five years down the line, we have grown phenomenally. As the School of Humanities, we are currently constituted into a full Faculty composed of three departments, with 24 academics. Our Higher Certificate students complete level 5 qualifications, yet also articulate into the higher qualifications offered in our School, other faculties or other universities.
The BA degree exposes students to a variety of disciplines and its broad scope allows wider post-first degree choices. It is anchored around compulsory modules in Heritage Studies and offers possible majors from more than ten other disciplines. Our focus as a School is to draw from and build on the rich human, natural, cultural and linguistic heritage of the Northern Cape, to establish a good foundation for teaching and learning, research as well as community engagement. For instance, we think that Creative Writing is a vehicle for all disciplines/professions and that study in and use of previously marginalised African languages contributes to the opening up of diverse archives and foregrounds different ways of knowing.
In our teaching, we endeavour to develop our students into critically engaged citizens. Our students learn how to engage and interrogate various forms of text and acquire critical thinking skills. The delivery endeavours to expose our students to the wider world. We offer a robust student support system through innovative curriculum delivery. As part of our approaches to teaching and learning, our academics take pride in reflexive practice – where they constantly encourage each other to think about (and change or adapt) how they teach. Because of good quality teaching and student support, we have had an average 70% graduation rate for Higher Certificate in Heritage Studies students and our module pass rates range between 70% and 80%.
A key area of growth has been in engaged scholarship and community citizenship, which helped the School in making relevant contributions and connections with external stakeholders while providing exposure to our academies and students.
Key partnerships include the United Nations (UNESCO), African World Heritage Fund, Liliesleaf: A Place of Liberation, Nelson Mandela Foundation, the McGregor Museum, the Africana Library, National Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities, the National Heritage Council and the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture. This has enabled us to have had successful programmes such as The Northern Cape Creative Writing Summer School and the Creative Writing and Publication Workshops as well as Public Readings, Public Lectures and Book Launches.
We look to the future with positive enthusiasm, thinking about entrenching the quality of our programmes, increasing the value of our research and community engagement activities, perfecting the quality of our teaching and improving student learning support.
Head of School, Prof Jesmael Mataga
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