The South African undergraduate higher education landscape has changed considerably since the 1994 transition to democracy. South Africa is also committed to aligning itself with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The infusion of SDGs in multiple disciplines largely depends on the academic staffs’ teaching quality and capacity to revise their courses to meet the infusion.
Our needs analysis shows that the number of academic staff holding a doctorate is less than 50%, academic staff members and that staff are recruited on the strengths of their discipline expertise and teaching quality is left out. Most of teaching methodology applied, especially in undergraduate teaching in the partner institutions, but also widely in South Africa, focuses on lecturing and limited use of: i) problem-based learning strategies; ii) placed-based pedagogy; iii) utilization of ICTs as enabling pedagogical tools, and other innovative teaching/learning tools suitable to address SDGs challenges. Teaching and learning, although a core activity of HE, is generally not as highly valued as disciplinary research. Similarly, the undergraduate content of teaching is largely textbook-based with absence of student-driven activities that turns student-centered learning impossible.
Current practices regarding academic staff professional development/learning are centered on isolated and time-shortened actions directed particularly at novice academics, leaving aside the middle layers academics, such as senior lecturers, course developers and heads of departments. This mismatch should be bridged through lasting and sustainable professional development programs based on collaboratively agreed standards. There is strong conviction from all our partners that there is need to integrate multiple tools for innovative interdependent learning techniques to foster employability skills, and tackle issues related to SDGs. Thus, the infusion of SDGs in higher education enabled through the professionalisation of academic teaching will require the development of appropriate capacity building initiatives geared towards changing current practices, values and beliefs around curriculum content, teaching and learning methodologies.
Thus, academic staff should be not only qualified in teaching, but also adequately resourced for that role and certified. Similarly, it will require evidence of the effectiveness of the capacity building in terms of teaching and student learning outcomes. HEIs in South Africa should introduce and promote cross\interdisciplinary approaches to teaching, learning and assessment, helping students develop their breadth of understanding and building knowledge and practice on SDGs.
The proposed project addresses the following national priorities in South Africa: modernization of curricula in multiple academic disciplines to infuse Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through capacity building of university staff in the prioritized subjects, such as sciences, agricultural sciences, environmental sciences, engineering, health sciences in innovative teaching and learning tools, methodologies and pedagogical approaches including learning outcomes and ICT-enabled practices. It is also aligned with the 2030 Agenda for SDGs that reflects many of the EU’s priorities for sustainable development and the South African vision that all staff teaching in higher education institutions in 2020 should have received certified pedagogical training.