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Andile Mbhele School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Adelakun O. Johnson National University of Lesotho & Federal University of Oye Ekiti, Nigeria

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Cedric Bheki Mpungose Discipline of Curriculum Studies and Educational Technology, School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Abstract

This article presents the results of an interpretive case study of three lecturers teaching English at a South African University. The purpose of the study was to explore the lecturers' strategies to decolonize the curriculum succinctly. Purposive, with convenient sampling, identified the three most available lecturers. An emailed reflective activity, one-on-one semi-structured interviews, and document analysis were consulted for data generation. Inductive and deductive processes were used to ensure guided analysis of the generated data. The article argues that universities are not doing enough to help lecturers to have relevant strategies to decolonize the curriculum, particularly the English curriculum. This study revealed that the University environment allowed the lecturers to be left without any option other than the frequent use of verbal and habitual strategies in decolonizing the curriculum. Yet, they would prefer the option of using written strategies. As a result, the study copiously recommends that English lecturers use all three levels of strategies (written, verbal and habitual) to decolonize the university curriculum.

Abstract

This article presents the results of an interpretive case study of three lecturers teaching English at a South African University. The purpose of the study was to explore the lecturers' strategies to decolonize the curriculum succinctly. Purposive, with convenient sampling, identified the three most available lecturers. An emailed reflective activity, one-on-one semi-structured interviews, and document analysis were consulted for data generation. Inductive and deductive processes were used to ensure guided analysis of the generated data. The article argues that universities are not doing enough to help lecturers to have relevant strategies to decolonize the curriculum, particularly the English curriculum. This study revealed that the University environment allowed the lecturers to be left without any option other than the frequent use of verbal and habitual strategies in decolonizing the curriculum. Yet, they would prefer the option of using written strategies. As a result, the study copiously recommends that English lecturers use all three levels of strategies (written, verbal and habitual) to decolonize the university curriculum.

Introduction

The 2015 students' protest movements have been observed calling for the decolonization of the University curriculum. This came after 21 years since the country gained independence from apartheid (Mbembe, 2016). The South African government has long recognized the need to transform the country's Higher Education (HE) system to redress the imbalances of the past apartheid government (DoE White paper 1997). This comes after some aspects of higher education have started to change, such as many black students getting admission into universities. However, the challenge is that the University curriculum remains foreign and not relevant to the continuous academic existence of the country, especially to students who come from disadvantaged schools in townships and rural areas (Padayachee, Matimolane, & Ganas, 2018, p. 5). This goes back to what Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2013, p. 11) calls ‘coloniality’ that still exists in the lives and minds of South Africans after liberation from the apartheid system. This needs to be addressed as we consider decolonizing the university curriculum. This paper adopts the Cultural-Historical and Activity Theory (CHAT) to understand the relationship between the human mind and activities.

As a result of the challenge, a lot has been written by different scholars on the importance of decolonizing the South African university curriculum to make it more practical and relevant to the local people while addressing global educational issues. However, the issue is what can be done (strategies) when trying to decolonize the curriculum, as Mgqwashu (2019, p.15) notes that what is missing is the ‘how’ part. This means that after we have heard and seen the need to decolonize the curriculum, what strategies can be used, and how can these strategies be used to ensure that the university curriculum is decolonized? Gul and Rafique (2017, p. 7) argues that it is imperative to have strategies in place especially when aiming to solve a particular problem and striving to achieve a specific goal. This suggests planning to solve a specific problem (decolonize curriculum). Successful lecturers start by identifying relevant strategies that can be adopted to solve the problem. The next stage can be planning how to implement those strategies in teaching and learning. Thus, lecturers can at any level of teaching strategies amongst habitual, verbal, and written strategies in higher education resolve any challenges faced (Khoza, 2015c, p. 21). In other words, having these strategies in place seems to be the best option to decolonize the curriculum. This can help the lecturers to implement the curriculum in a way that would serve the needs of both international and local standards while ensuring that the curriculum is applicable in the local context of the students.

Decolonization in education

Decolonization is posited as challenging white supremacy and dominance of colonized systems (politics, education, economics, etc.) or setting a country free from being dependent on another country (Le Grange, 2016; Mbembe, 2015). Both Wa Thiong'o (1994) and Mbembe (2016) stigmatically and vertically affirm that Africanisation is about rejecting the idea that Africa is merely an extension of the West. Thus, it is about clarifying what the center is. By so doing, we are not rejecting other streams, especially the Western stream. However, the aim is to ensure that the African perspective is also considered in the choice of curriculum (Mbembe, 2016; Wa Thiong'o, 1994). This suggests that decolonization is not aimed at removing the work of Western scholars from our curriculum; rather, it is intended to ensure that the African perspective is offered in equal measure to align with the context and needs of the country. Hence, decolonization seeks to critique and challenge the dominance of Western scholarship in the university curriculum and advocate for space for African scholarship. Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2015) and Wa Thiong'o (2000) assert that decolonization is divided into three principles: decolonization of the mind (mental capacity), decolonization of university structures (buildings, classrooms, and others), and decolonization of knowledge (university curriculum).

Le Grange (2016) introduces five steps of the decolonization process: rediscovery and recovery, mourning, dreaming, commitment, and action. Recovery and discovery are related to the point at which colonized people discover and recover their history, for instance, who they were before they became colonized and try to understand themselves as Africans. Mourning is where colonized people lament their continued subordination because of the colonizers. Moreover, mourning is essential because it brings healing and leads to dreaming. Dreaming is when colonized people raise their identities and indigenous knowledge system to think of possibilities of restoration. For instance, colonized people begin to imagine themselves as free from the colonized system. Yemini (2017) concurs with Le Grange (2016) that imagining leads to commitment after creating the picture in mind. Commitment is where students become political activists who show interest in raising the voices of the colonized in the university curriculum. They commit themselves to do whatever it takes to change the situation, which leads to actual action. Action is the last stage in the decolonization process and is the main focus of this study. Action is the stage where the dreams and commitments of the colonized people turn into possible strategies for social transformation, such as lecturers giving students a chance to do oral presentations and demonstrations. For instance, English lecturers allow students to present their views on what knowledge should be included in the curriculum, and lecturers use demonstration methods to encourage classroom interactions. Therefore, English lecturers can strategize on a personal level during the action stage by drawing on an individual's identity. They can also strategize based on documented materials, and lastly, they can strategize based on hearsay from the society from which they originate or where they live. The above discussion suggests how important it is that lecturers understand the university curriculum in education.

Decolonization in higher education

Teaching strategies are specific actions lecturers take to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations (Ganser, 2002). Also, strategies are plans of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall goal. They are methods or plans chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achieving a goal or solution to a particular problem (Barrot, 2016). In addition, Plonsky (2011) classified various strategies into three major categories: cognitive, metacognitive, and social. In line with this, Barrot (2016) concurs with Paul and Reeve (2016) as well as Pan (2015) that there are three levels at which lecturers can strategize during curriculum delivery to decolonize curriculum, namely: written strategy, habitual strategy, and verbal strategy.

Written strategies are those drawn from documented materials such as university policies, module outlines, etc. Written strategies are professionally based on written evidence; as Khoza (2015b) states, these strategies are formal, and drawn from the institution's ethical standards or policy documents and other written sources. For instance, for university authorities in a particular discipline to come together formally and establish strategies to change the curriculum, they should be driven by a written policy, setting a way forward in a specific situation. Furthermore, written strategies for professional learning are steps taken by professionals in a specific institution to enhance their development (Barrot, 2016; Kirk & MacCallum, 2017). These are “metacognitive strategies which involve preparation before or reflection using planning, monitoring, evaluation, and problem identification” (Plonsky, 2011, p. 198). In the same vein, both Plonsky (2011) and Khoza (2017) assert that written strategies are considered to consist of assessing the situation, monitoring one's performance, self-evaluating, and self-testing by following certain stipulated criteria. This suggests that these strategies are formal since lecturers follow certain criteria (professionally designed by the institution) to meet the professional standard. In other words, written strategies seem to draw on habitual strategies.

Habitual strategies are designed individually to implement the curriculum accordingly (Barrot, 2016; Bhooth, Azman, & Ismail, 2015). These strategies are personal strategies that draw on an individual's identity, such as his/her beliefs and values. Khoza (2015a) and Gul and Rafique (2017) refer to habitual strategies as personal actions where it becomes a norm for an individual lecturer to design strategies for better implementation of a module's curriculum to meet his/her individual needs. For instance, a lecturer who teaches English can decide to select works from African scholars purposefully or to continue to teach work (to make use of works) from Western scholars using a different teaching approach to relate the content with the African context. These are also called non-formal strategies by Mpungose (2015) because they draw from each person's subconscious mind.

Moreover, Plonsky (2011) and Khoza (2015c) refer to these as cognitive strategies where lecturers use their mental activities, language, and world knowledge to solve the given tasks. Furthermore, Barrot (2016), as well as Pratt and Martin (2017), affirm that habitual strategies consist of comprehending processes, storing and memorizing processes, and using and retrieving processes. Similarly, Pratt and Martin (2017) and Basturkmen and Von Randow (2014) ostensibly refer to habitual strategies as memory strategies which are described as techniques that help lecturers to store data effectively in their minds to be able to retrieve it later to address any challenge at a particular time. Verbal interactions among colleagues, peers, and other education stakeholders are necessary for the strategy to succeed.

Verbal strategies are gathered from hearsay drawn from the society in which the lecturers originate or live. Verbal strategies are referred to as shared skills drawn from society for ongoing and significant elements of initial professional learning from peers through social interaction (Bianchini, Dwyer, Brenner, & Wearly, 2015; Khoza, 2015b). Moreover, Gul and Rafique (2017) concur with Bianchini et al. (2015) that verbal strategies are preferred to obtain consensus on necessary skills. For instance, an English lecturer may allow students to share their experiences on the importance of parental consent before getting married to better explain the theme of love in Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet. Khoza (2015b) refers to these as social strategies, which are indirect methods of learning informally that help scholars/professionals improve their skills by giving and receiving support about new approaches to move forward in the institution. For instance, English lecturers can learn from each other how to make a Shakespearean play exciting and practical for students.

Decolonization of knowledge (university curriculum)

Decolonization of knowledge refers to breaking and challenging the political economy of knowledge production that accords certain privileges and legitimacy to certain forms of knowledge while undermining indigenous knowledge (Adjei, 2007; Battiste, Bell, & Findlay, 2002). For instance, to challenge having only work from Western scholars in a module such as Charles Dickens' novels, The Great Expectations and Hard Times written in the 1800s; Shakespearean plays and American films such as The Great Gatsby, while we have work from African scholars such as Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Ngugi wa Thiongo. The River Between and Alex La Guma's A walk in the Night is at our disposal. Decolonizing the university curriculum can happen in two ways: firstly, it may be that lecturers chose to select the knowledge that is only from African scholars for a change and to enforce African values to students, and secondly, it may be that lecturers still select some knowledge that is from Western scholars such as Shakespeare but teach it in a way that makes students relate to such works. For instance, when teaching Shakespeare's play ‘The Tempest,’ which is about decolonizing the land, the English lecturer can ask students if they relate to this. Then students start to reflect on how South Africa was colonized by the British and Afrikaners, intending to connect what happened in England 100 years ago to the student's local context.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2015) and Mbembe (2016) affirm that there is something extremely wrong when curricula are designed to meet the needs of colonialism and apartheid continues well into the post-Apartheid era. This suggests that the curriculum should strike a balance between work from Western scholars and work from African scholars to meet the needs of all students and connect content with the local context. As Mbembe (2015) and Connell (2016) assert, we are told to know the world without being part of that world, which makes the content irrelevant to the South African context. However, decolonizing the curriculum does not mean restricting work from Western scholars but ensuring that no knowledge is more privileged than the other in the curriculum (Ndlovu, 2013; Wa Thiong'o, 1994). Written strategies may influence the decolonization of knowledge (curriculum) because the selection of content is documented in the intended curriculum documents, which may be module templates. This study focuses on the decolonization of knowledge (the knowledge curriculum).

This study focuses on the decolonization of the university curriculum, defined by Fomunyam (2017) in his interpretive case study as a call by university stakeholders to challenge Western supremacy in South African higher education and to foster South African thought.

Defining curriculum in the education context

The curriculum is defined as a teaching and learning plan and is also referred to as lessons, and academic content taught in a school or a specific course or program (Berkvens, Van den Akker, & Brugman, 2014; Thijs & Van den Akker, 2009a). In line with this, Pinar (2010), and Hoadley and Jansen (2013) assert that the word curriculum comes from the Latin word ‘currere’, which means to run the course. Furthermore, currere should focus on the significance of the individual experience to align any course content with society (Hoadley & Jansen, 2013; Pinar, 2010). This suggests that currere aims accommodate students' social needs. For instance, the knowledge they receive in class may not be too separated from their daily lives. This relates to a verbal strategy to decolonize the university curriculum where students' needs as social beings are met. Furthermore, in their study titled Curriculum and Curriculum in Development, Thijs and Van den Akker (2009b) argue that a curriculum is a plan for teaching and learning that comprises three layers, namely intended, implemented, and achieved curriculum.

Intended curriculum

Studies further indicate that the intended curriculum, also known as the prescribed curriculum, is defined as a written plan for teaching and learning (Hoadley & Jansen, 2013; Thijs & Van den Akker, 2009a). Furthermore, the intended curriculum contains content and concepts to be learned, a learning sequence, and guidelines on how students should learn and how lecturers should teach (Berkvens et al., 2014; van der Westhuizen, 2013). For instance, the English Major module template is a formal plan of what is to be taught and learned in lecture venues in an HEI. This suggests that the intended curriculum relates to curriculum policymakers and designers as people who select knowledge and develop the curriculum. In addition, the intended curriculum may be influenced by written strategy since it is guided by documented materials such as university curriculum policies module templates, and outlines (Khoza, 2016b; Ramrathan, 2017). Moreover, the intended curriculum may relate to the decolonization of knowledge (curriculum). After a careful analysis of university policies, lecturers may have a curriculum plan with local knowledge to make it sense to local students.

Implemented curriculum

Thijs and Van den Akker (2009b) and Pinar (2010) further assert that the implemented curriculum, also known as the practised curriculum, offers a complete view of teaching and learning, as it emphasizes teachers' role as interpreters of the curriculum. This is the actual implementation of the curriculum in the classroom setting (Hoadley & Jansen, 2013; Thijs & Van den Akker, 2009a). For example, each English lecturer's actual teaching of a novel differs, depending on how they understand the intended curriculum document (planned curriculum). Furthermore, the implemented curriculum relates to lecturers and students because they are the ones who put the intended curriculum into practice (Berkvens et al., 2014; Hoadley & Jansen, 2013). This suggests that practising the actual curriculum in class is more important because it portrays how individual lecturers interpret the curriculum. For instance, two English lecturers teaching the same module using the same intended curriculum may interpret the curriculum differently.

Achieved curriculum

Thijs and Van den Akker (2009b) and Du Preez and Reddy (2014) affirm that the achieved curriculum, also known as the assessed curriculum evaluates whether what was planned to be taught and learned was taught and learned. For instance, the achieved curriculum is for lecturers to examine whether students met the goal of the particular module (English). Moreover, the achieved curriculum also assists the lecturers in seeing areas of improvement in their curriculum implementation styles. For instance, at the end of the semester, a summative assessment reveals if students understood what was taught throughout the semester and if teaching goals were achieved successfully. The achieved curriculum has to do with the students as they are expected to grasp the content of the intended curriculum and also lecturers: whether their intended aims and objectives are reached through learning outcomes (Black, 2015; Hoadley & Jansen, 2013). This proposes that strategies may be designed within all curriculum layers (intended, implemented, and assessed) as indicated above.

The above discussion suggests that verbal strategies may influence the achieved curriculum because what students learn will influence their society (Table 1).

Table 1.

Concepts, questions, propositions, and phenomenon levels

ConceptsQuestionsPropositionsStrategy to decolonize the curriculum
Object (content)What are you teaching?
  1. Knowledge content
  2. Personal development content
  3. Social preparation content
  1. Written strategy
  2. Habitual strategy
  3. Verbal strategy
Subject (lecturer)How do you facilitate your teaching?
  1. Assessor
  2. Instructor
  3. Facilitator
  1. Written strategy
  2. Habitual strategy
  3. Verbal strategy
Tools (resources)With what are you teaching?
  1. Hardware
  2. Ideological-ware
  3. Soft-ware
  1. Written strategy
  2. Habitual strategy
  3. Verbal strategy

Object-content

Content refers to the body of knowledge and information that lecturers teach and that students are expected to learn in a specific subject or content area, such as English (Aad et al., 2014; Quan-Baffour & Arko-Achemfuor, 2009). Thus the content addresses “the question what are we going to teach is a core question in curriculum development” (Thijs & Van den Akker, 2009b, p. 14). In line with this, Quan-Baffour and Arko-Achemfuor (2009) concur with Berkvens et al. (2014) that the broad team of involved stakeholders deciding on the content of each module would ensure that the right content is chosen.

Moreover, there are three main propositions for selecting module content: knowledge content, personal development content, and social preparation content (Berkvens et al., 2014; Thijs & Van den Akker, 2009b). Knowledge content refers to academic, sustainable, and cultural heritage for learning the essentials, such as information that is included in the curriculum to enhance student's critical thinking skills (Berkvens et al., 2014; Cesur & Ertaş, 2018; Hoadley & Jansen, 2009). In English, the proposition is essential in the use of strategies to decolonize the university curriculum (English) because lecturers may decide what can be done to teach such formal knowledge in a way that students would relate to the content. Personal development content is also an essential part of the content that will be elaborated further shortly.

Personal development content refers to lecturers' personal needs and interests in any module content. This proposition (personal development content) relates to English education literature, including reading poems, novels, short stories, etc. (Lin & Martin, 2005; Sawaki, 2017; Wa’ Thiong'o, 1994). For instance, as earlier outlined, decolonization of the university curriculum may occur in two ways. First, the English lecturer may decide to select knowledge from African scholars to be taught to instill African values and perspectives into students. The second method may be for English lecturers to continue to teach knowledge from Western scholars but try to link it to the students' local context. For instance, teaching a novel from England but making students relate to themes such as the father-son relationship by looking at their relationships with their fathers to link the content to the student's local context. As a result, literature is a habitual strategy to decolonize curriculum because choosing a text (play/novel) may depend on the English lecturer's taste and identity. It is the most popular content taught in HEIs to enhance higher-order thinking skills. It is up to the lecturers offering the module to select literature according to students' needs (Barrot, 2016; Cai, Fan, Feris, & Vasconcelos, 2016). Social preparation is another proposition that allows societal voice in developing the curriculum.

Social preparation content refers to issues of module content that are relevant to prepare students for societal trends and needs (Aad et al., 2014; Berkvens et al., 2014; Thijs & Van den Akker, 2009a). Thus social preparation relates to the creative writing part of the English education module, and creative writing includes students producing different texts such as essays, letters, wedding cards, etc. (Barrot, 2016; Bianchini et al., 2015). In other words, it is related to verbal strategy because lecturers teach the content to address students' needs which will apply to different societies after they have completed their degrees.

Subject-lecture role

The lecturer role refers to the teaching approach a lecturer uses to communicate the intended curriculum to students. Steyn, Salehi-Sangari, Pitt, Parent, and Berthon (2010) indicates that the most common role a lecturer plays in the classroom is to teach knowledge to students. In the curriculum, the lecturer's role answers the question, ‘How does one facilitate teaching?’ (Gul & Rafique, 2017; Thijs & Van den Akker, 2009a; Vandeyar & Killen, 2007). Furthermore, different studies reveal that there are three roles that lecturers are likely to perform in their lectures; the English lecturer may act as an assessor (content-centered teaching), instructor (lecture-centered teaching), and/or a facilitator (student-centered teaching) (Khoza, 2013a, 2015b; Peterson & Lorimer, 2012). An interpretive case study by Khoza (2013a) on student teachers' reflections on the new curriculum implementation reveals that the curriculum concentrates too much on a certain period to finish the syllabus. Thus lecturer-centered teaching is mostly adopted. This suggests that the motive of the lecturer in the implementation of the curriculum depends in most cases on an individual lecturer's written strategies (content-centered) for teaching and learning, habitual strategies (lecture-centered), or verbal strategies (student-centered).

A lecture-centered teaching approach refers to teaching that puts the lecturer's beliefs and identity at the center of the teaching and learning process. Maharajh, Davids, and Khoza (2013) define a lecturer-centered approach as a teaching method where the lecturer is actively involved in teaching while the students are passive recipients of content. This is a traditional way of teaching and learning where lecturers play the role of instructors as they are perceived as the sole source of information (Beeman-Cadwallader, Buck, & Trauth-Nare, 2014; Kisaka, 2017; Priestley, Robinson, & Biesta, 2012). This suggests that students are to take instructions from the lecturers without questioning and challenging statements made.

Student-centered teaching, which relates to lecturers as facilitators, refers to the teaching and learning approach that puts students at the center of the teaching and learning process. Jaramillo (1996, p. 21) states, "Student-centered pedagogy involves less moral discourse or talks time on the part of the lecturer and shifts more time, control and responsibility of learning to students.” Both Killen (1989) and Bridgstock and Cunningham (2016) assert that a student-centered approach is when instruction is geared towards giving students more control of activities. This suggests that in student-centered classrooms, the lecturer, unlike only giving instructions to students, plays the role of teaching and learning facilitator. In various institutions, student-centered teaching is primarily recommended to ensure that students participate in the teaching and learning process. Furthermore, Khoza (2015b) and Hoadley and Jansen (2013) report that understanding the aims and objectives of the module helps lecturers understand content to achieve learning outcomes to drive their lessons, and therefore apply the student-centered approach.

Tools - resources

Resources are texts, videos, software, and other materials that lecturers use to assist students to meet the expectations for learning defined by provincial or local curricula (Amory, 2010; Battiste et al., 2002). Moreover, resources in curriculum terms answer the question, ‘With what is one teaching?’ (Khoza, 2016b; Thijs & Van den Akker, 2009a). An interpretive case study conducted by Khoza (2015c) on university lecturers who used the online environment in the teaching of their modules identifies three types of resources in education: hardware, which can be any tool/machine/object used in education; ideological ware, which refers to activities that we cannot see and touch in education, such as theories and others; and software, which can be any material used in conjunction with tools to carry/display information. Resources in education are used to facilitate teaching and learning effectively (Amory, 2014; Berkvens et al., 2014; Miles & Darling-Hammond, 1998); this suggests the combination of all types of learning resources in education would ensure smooth and clear delivery of content (curriculum implementation).

Hardware resources refer to teaching resources such as machines, objects, or tools (Amory, 2014; Khoza, 2017). These resources can be touched, such as a laptop, projector, and English textbooks. Such resources can be very useful for lecturers to deliver the curriculum effectively. Moreover, Amory (2014) affirms that hardware resources are there to support the theories that guide the teaching of any module, such as English. This suggests that they are needed to ensure a smooth teaching and learning process; however, lecturers can continue to teach without such resources. Furthermore, hardware resources relate to written strategies because there are instructions that one has to follow when using such resources. For example, it is written in the intended curriculum that students need to buy a certain book, such as Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – they do not just decide to buy any book. Moreover, for a lecturer to use a computer, he/she must follow some instructions, such as creating a password.

Ideological-ware resources refer to different theories that are designed for specific modules, such as English. Khoza (2017) and (Amory, 2014) refer to ideological resources as formal theories that drive teaching modules such as English. Moreover, different theories are used when teaching English, which include critical pedagogy, social or cognitive constructivism, and communicative language teaching (CLT). As a result, ideological resources should be those that drive any education lesson because learning is not about technology (hardware or software) but it is about ideology (ideological ware), which involves different theories (Amory, 2014; Khoza, 2013a, 2013b). This suggests that ideological ware should be dominant because students can construct their learning collaboratively.

Other resources, such as software and hardware, should be there to support/complement the ideological-ware resources of the module (English). Habitual strategies influence ideological-ware resources because each English lecturer chooses the theory that guides his/her teaching. For instance, one may use critical pedagogy to influence students to critically engage with issues discussed in the literary texts about their daily lives. In other words, ideological ware should drive the curriculum in education because through specific module theories, the lecturer automatically has all the resources. Software resources are used together with hardware resources, as discussed below.

Resources work with tools such as laptops to display information (Amory, 2014; Khoza, 2017), such as using Moodle to communicate notes and slides to students. Software resources are used very closely with hardware resources because if the lecturer wants to display slides, he/she uses the laptop, and the notes posted on the learning sites are taken from textbooks used in the module. Amory (2014) and Berkvens et al. (2014) maintain that technology should support complex human, social, and cultural interactions but not drive the teaching process. Verbal strategies influence software resources because they seek to communicate information to the students, just like using Moodle to communicate important information concerning the module.

Cultural, historical, and activity theory (CHAT)

Cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) is a theoretical framework that helps to understand and analyze the relationship between the human mind (what people think and feel) and activity (what people do) (Stetsenko, 2008). This theory originated from Vygotsky's (1978) work in the cultural-historical school of Russian Psychology. CHAT has different features (a). Subjects-lecturer's role. (b) Object content in English. (c) Outcomes-aims, objectives, and outcomes. (d) Rules-assessment and time. (e) Community-teaching and learning activities and accessibility. (f) Division of labour-lecturer and student activity as depicted in Fig. 1. However, only tools and actors will be discussed for this study to create a focus.

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.

Cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT)

Citation: Hungarian Educational Research Journal 14, 1; 10.1556/063.2022.00173

This study adopts the CHAT theory because it consists of different components that are used during the teaching and learning process. In this context, strategies that can be used to decolonize the curriculum are referred to as tools or artefacts; these are used to decolonize the English curriculum. Individuals involved in the teaching and learning process, lecturers, and students are referred to as subjects in this study. English lecturers facilitate the teaching and learning process while students learn through communicative approaches. The object refers to the motivating influence behind the subject's participation in the activity, that is, the module English major, which includes the aims and goals that drive the module.

Moreover, each object or module has rules that guide it, the same in English content and method modules. There are outcomes that we see as a result of the teaching of each subject/module. Tools are different resources that teachers use to decolonize the English curriculum. These tools may include artefacts and resources like computers, overhead projectors, etc. Community refers to the social and cultural group subjects are part of with different rules regulating and influencing their behaviour. Division of labor refers to how tasks and responsibilities are shared among system participants as they engage in the activity. For this study, the focus will be on the subjects, objects, and tools.

What appeals to me is that English lecturers need to have proper knowledge of the features of this theory so that they can have effective strategies to decolonize the curriculum. Therefore, this paper has used different concepts of each feature, in theory, to categorize into different levels of strategies to decolonize the curriculum.

Research purpose, objectives, and questions

The purpose and objective of the study were to explore and understand the lecturers' strategies to decolonize the curriculum when teaching English. The data was generated to answer the following research questions:

  1. What are lecturers' strategies to decolonize the English curriculum at a South African university?
  2. How do lecturers use these strategies to decolonize the English curriculum at a South African university?

Research design and methodology

Approach, paradigm, and style

This is an interpretive qualitative case study of five English lecturers in a South African university. A qualitative case study is important for this study because it is more descriptive, holistic, explorative, and contextual in its design. It also aims to produce a detailed description of the explored phenomena (strategies) (Creswell, 2017). In this research, a qualitative case study has assisted me in establishing the deeper meaning of the English lecturers' strategies they use to decolonize the curriculum in a South African university. Furthermore, this approach is suitable for this study as it aims to gain in-depth knowledge and understanding of lecturers' strategies to decolonize the English curriculum at a South African University. I expected to get subjective responses based on experiences, reflections, and views of different lectures regarding the university curriculum.

The reason why an interpretive qualitative case study was adopted is that the study focuses on the case of five English lecturers that are teaching in one of the South African universities. Each lecture communicated different ways to decolonize the English curriculum using different strategies. Furthermore, qualitative studies allow for open-ended discussions and engagements that help researchers to get rich data as they get time to probe responses during the data generation process (Jwan & Ong’ondo, 2011). Therefore, I needed a more open discussion between myself and my participants, which enabled me to get to the depth of the matter; thus, the research questions were answered properly.

Sampling and ethics

Purposive sampling was used to select the participants, this is where the researcher decides which people or groups to include in the sample, where the researcher picks the cases to be included in the sample based on their judgment of their typicality or possession of the particular characteristics being sought (Safari & Razmjoo, 2016). This was ideal for this study as it enabled the researcher to get a sample that meets her specific needs, in this case, English lecturers teaching undergraduate students; they were also chosen based on their consent and experience in teaching English in higher institutions to participate in the study. Convenient sampling was also used to select the participants. Subjects are selected because of their convenient accessibility and proximity to the researcher (Bertram & Christiansen, 2014). Concerning ethical observations, the lecturers' names are not used, and informed consent letters and ethical clearance certificates were obtained from them and the university; their confidentiality was assured; their voluntary participation was declared, and benefits and anonymity from the university were clarified (Creswell & Poth, 2016) (Table 2).

Table 2.

Study participants' profiles

Participants' profilesExperienceModulesQualificationGenderRace
Participant P110EnglishDoctorateMaleAfrican
Participant P210EnglishDoctorateFemaleIndian
Participant P323EnglishDoctorateFemaleWhite

Data generation, analysis, and trustworthiness

Qualitative research (QR) uses data generation as opposed to data collection (Jwan & Ong'ondo, 2011). Qualitative research requires robust data generation to ensure the documentation of the research procedure and techniques to ensure credibility. An email with reflective activity was sent to all five lecturers to request them to reflect on the strategies they have been using to decolonize the English curriculum. Reflective activity in this context refers to the ability to reflect on a situation and oneself, for instance, strengths, the ability to solve the problem, the impact of the problem on oneself, and emotions while acting upon the situation (Killen, 1989). Lecturer reflection activity requires lecturers to complete a short set of questions about the phenomenon studied (strategies) (Killen, 1989). In this study, reflective activity was used to explore lecturers' experiences and behaviors regarding strategies they use to decolonize the English curriculum at a South African university. Lecturers were given time to reflect on their practices to discover if they have/use these strategies to decolonize the university curriculum. The reflective activity (questions) were formulated using curriculum concepts in the curricular spider web outlined as the study's conceptual framework.

I also requested each participant to dedicate a maximum of 90 min with me for one-on-one semi-structured interviews. As Akmese (2016) asserts that one-on-one semi-structured interview is a technique of generating data that involves gathering data through direct interaction between individuals. One-on-one semi-structured interviews were used as one of the data generation methods. Akmese (2016) defines the one-on-one semi-structured interview as a technique of generating data that “involves gathering data through direct verbal interaction between individuals” (p. 8). Interviews are intended to determine what research participants think about their perceptions or attitudes and/or their reasons for thinking in a certain way. This study adopted semi-structured interviews because structured interviews have certain disadvantages: for example, they narrow the focus of the research and may ignore equally important issues. Moreover, the semi-structured interview allows deeper exploration of responses by participants – probing and exploring emerging dimensions that may not have been previously considered relevant aspects of a study (Keçea, 2015). Therefore it enabled me to explore participants' responses by probing lecturers' strategies used to decolonize the English curriculum at a South African university.

Document analysis was also used as the third data generation method to ensure triangulation. Bowen (2009) argues that document analysis is a systematic procedure for studying or evaluating printed and electronic documents. In this study, document analysis involved a critical review of the English major 420-course outline for 2018, course texts (different literature texts used in the module), module content, and lesson plans. I used English Major 420 course outline to see if the goals of the module include any strategies used to decolonize the university curriculum and assess whether the choice of literature studied in that particular module is used as a strategy to decolonize the university curriculum.

Results

This section presents the results derived from the participants' responses as they explained how they decolonize their English curriculum using pedagogical means that come from personal, formal, and societal perspectives. Personal strategies refer to how individual lecturers approach the lesson presentation to ensure that they are relevant to their students. Formal strategies refer to using what is prescribed and playing around with it to fit the needs of the students in class. Finally, societal strategies refer to adopting what community members accept to teach students about what they see in their societies. To answer the study's two research questions, excerpts were extracted from the participants' responses as they are. In this study, strategies to decolonize the English curriculum are broken into habitual strategies, (personal) verbal strategies (social), and written strategies (formal). However, the study's findings reveal that lecturers only referred to habitual and verbal strategies, while written strategies were not or scarcely adopted to decolonize the curriculum.

  • What are lecturers' strategies to decolonize the English curriculum at a South African university?

Discussion of results will be linked with the related CHAT theory's actors and tools. CHAT theory consists of different components such as an object, actor, community, subject, tools, rules, and the division of labor. However, for this study, not all components will apply, but a few that will be discussed are relevant to this research. Strategies are discussed on three levels, as the literature suggested: written, habitual and verbal strategies to decolonize the curriculum.

  • How do lecturers use these strategies to decolonize the English curriculum at a South African university?

Subjects-lecturer role

Actors in this section refer to English lecturers as they discuss their teaching and learning and how they implement strategies to decolonize the curriculum. The paragraph below shows participants' responses as they are labelled P1 to P3.

P1:The primary role in class is to facilitate learning … I prepare four poems to teach, so I walk into a lecture hall with four poems that I have prepared and by the end of the lesson, I’ve only taught two poems

P2: “Absolutely, you have to be an instructor, you are a facilitator, but you also have to be an instructor in explicit teaching. You can’t facilitate if students don’t know … The students are going to write a test and an exam on your section; time shouldn’t be the driving force, but it also has to be considered.”

P3: “I just see my role as not being somebody who is standing in the front with the knowledge and just filling in empty vesselsthen one has to be an instructor… there is no way around that I pretend I’m not working towards content.”

P3 asserted that “absolutely there is no way around that I pretend I'm not working towards content”. This is in line with P2 when she mentioned that the students are going to write a test and an exam on your section… time shouldn't be the driving force but it also has to be considered”. In addition to the above, some lecturers are driven by the content, according to their responses and attitude toward teaching time. However, some participants responded contrary to this, as P1 stated that “I prepare four poems to teach, so I walk into a lecture hall with four poems that I have prepared, and by the end of the lesson, I've only taught two poems”.

The reviewed literature indicated that despite the many roles lecturers may play in their lectures. The most important role is to transmit knowledge to their students (Balbay and Erkan, 2018; Maharajh et al., 2013). Furthermore, studies indicated that the lecturer's role might be viewed in three propositions: assessor, instructor, and facilitator.

Findings revealed that all lecturers believed in playing the role of facilitators in their teaching, encouraging students to learn on their own through social and cognitive constructivism (student-centered teaching). This suggests that lecturers used verbal strategies to decolonize the English Major 420 curriculum since strategies were derived from students' opinions and beliefs. In this case, students were allowed to share their ideas about teaching and learning and other social issues. Moreover, the findings also revealed that lecturers acted as instructors and as educational leaders in the lectures, which sought to control group discussions, time used, and activities during the teaching process. This suggests that lecturers also used habitual strategies because before coming to class, they already had ideas of what they wanted to achieve or to pass across through the lesson. However, the English Major 420 course outline (2018) was silent regarding the role the lecturers are to play when teaching the module. Therefore, in this aspect of the lecturer role, verbal and habitual strategies were mostly used to decolonize the curriculum.

  • How do lecturers use these strategies to decolonize the English curriculum at a South African university?

Object- English content

The motivating factor behind subjects' or lecturers' participation is the English content that is delivered to the students in such a way as to decolonize the curriculum.

P1: “I try to see if my students can relate to the themes in the novel and the setting in the novel, and if they don’t, I try and help them relate … as much as our teaching should embrace the local, I also believe that it is our responsibility to expose our students to the rest of the world … Whilst we expose them to African literature, we are aware that at some stage we have to move on and introduce them to Western literature”.

P2: “Our basic content is literature; in literature, there is poetry, short stories, novels, plays, and films … a lot of students who say we have got to decolonize Shakespeare, and I said you are university students, but I am Shakespeare, ask me everything you want to ask me and I would answer as Shakespeare, and they did. We use a basic principle in English: if you are teaching novels, we must do a South African text, we must do an African text, and then we do a text from out of Africa.”

P3: “I choose a novel that I feel students can identify with, and when I was teaching literature from outside of South Africa, I would choose a novel that has something around their profession, something that they can relate to … I don’t see decolonizing the curriculum as getting rid of literature or material that is from outside of Africa, what has to change is how we approach teaching. I get students to discuss issues related to them and one thing that worries them as young adults… you draw their experiences into the novel rather than just putting the novel out there and teaching themes, characters, and so on”.

P1 stated that as one of the ways she uses to decolonize the curriculum, she selects literature texts that address an issue that students can relate to in their local contexts. In line with what P1 said, P2 asserted that even when she teaches Shakespeare, she teaches in a way that students can relate to their contexts. This suggests that even when they teach Western literature, she does it in a way that learners get to understand those issues in their contexts. P3 asserted that the decolonizing curriculum has nothing to do with getting rid of western literature but with changing the teaching approach to one that will be meaningful to the students.

Research findings indicate that most English lecturers taught literature that exposed students to different genres, as indicated in the literature that was reviewed in chapter two. The literature core texts that lecturers taught were The Tempest by William Shakespeare (play), Hard Times by Charles Dickens (novel), and The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald (film). This suggests that English lecturers were influenced by habitual strategies to decolonize the English Major 420 curriculum, which sought them to pick texts that best served their goals for teaching the module. Although not explicitly taught, language is inherent in the literary texts studied and thus is indirectly taught. Furthermore, almost no lecturer responded to using social preparation content (creative writing). This suggests that English lecturers did not use verbal strategies which seek to address society's (students) needs, values, and beliefs to decolonize the curriculum. The findings reveal that lecturers used habitual strategies to decolonize the curriculum to select content to be taught to students. The lecturers did not mention the influence of the department of higher education in the selection of content. Therefore, written strategies were not followed to decolonize the curriculum in this concept.

  • How do lecturers use these strategies to decolonize the English curriculum at a South African university?

Tools- resources

Lecturers use different resources in the teaching and learning process. This section unpacks lecturers' responses on how they use different resources as strategies to decolonize the English curriculum.

P1: as long as there’s a blackboard and a whiteboard somewhere I could write on with chalk or whiteboard marker… I am not that reliant on technologyI do use PowerPoint… Communicative Language Teaching as a second language, so I have subscribed to the theory.”

P2: “I would use, you know, handouts or whatever; I’m used to having course packs, the pictures in the course packs. I use a laptop sometimes to project the slides … I use the scanner so that they see and write on that document as it emerges… I use critical pedagogy as my guide. You teach to make a difference; you teach to make students critical thinkers.”

P3:I use PowerPoint as my resource, and I use a lot of visuals… in English, we have a lot of texts and text is content and text becomes the resource … I’m culturally responsive in teaching and constructivism, am very much a constructivist.”

P1 indicated that “as long as there's a blackboard and a whiteboard or somewhere I could write on with a chalk or whiteboard marker”, and in line with this P2 stated, “I would use, you know, handouts or whatever, I'm used to having course packs, the pictures in the course packs. I use a laptop sometimes to project the slides.” P3 affirmed that “in English, we have a lot of texts and text is content and text becomes the resource” (hardware resources).

The reviewed literature indicated that resources are divided into three propositions: hardware resources, ideological-ware resources, and software resources (Amory, 2014; Khoza, 2016a). Hardware resources cause English lecturers to be driven by written strategies to decolonize the curriculum because one has to follow instructions when using a computer, and the course texts are prescribed in module templates for students to buy (Khoza, 2015c). Ideological-ware resources refer to theories that guide the teaching of any module, such as communicative language teaching (CLT) in English education. As a result, ideological-ware resources cause lecturers to be driven by written habitual strategies because each English lecturer selects theories they work with. For instance, one English lecturer might use critical pedagogy, and another might use constructivism (Amory, 2010; Khoza, 2016b; Thijs & Van den Akker, 2009b). On the other hand, software resources were said to be those that can only be displayed, such as displaying a certain scene of a play or displaying pictures using slides.

The findings indicate that all lecturers have and believe in certain theories that guide their teaching of English Major 420. This suggests that English lecturers used habitual strategies to decolonize the curriculum since they believe in different theories that guide their teaching. Khoza (2015c) concurs with Amory (2010) that for any module to succeed, it should be guided by certain theories. The findings also showed that some lecturers used hardware and software resources in their teaching, which suggests that English lecturers were also influenced by written and habitual strategies to decolonize the curriculum. This is in line with what Amory (2010) stated when she argued that hardware and software resources are used to support ideological-ware resources. The English Major 420 course outline (2018) revealed that all resource propositions (hardware, ideological ware, and software) were used in teaching. Most lecturers were influenced by habitual strategies to decolonize the curriculum using resources in the teaching and learning process.

Discussions and conclusions

The conclusions are drawn from the findings (literature reviewed and data analysis) of the study and are discussed following three CHAT theory aspects (Subject, Object, and Tools) that structured lecturers' strategies to decolonize the English curriculum at a South African University.

Table 2 highlights curriculum concepts versus strategies mostly used in each theme when decolonizing the English curriculum. The following discussion will indicate which strategy was mostly used in each curriculum concept (Table 3).

Table 3.

CHAT concepts versus strategies most used in each concept

CHAT ConceptStrategies mostly used to decolonize the curriculum
Object (Content)Habitual strategies
Subject (Lecturer role)Verbal strategies
ToolsHabitual strategies

Lecturer's role was defined as different roles a lecturer chooses to play during curriculum implementation: assessor, instructor, and facilitator (Balbay and Erkan, 2018; Beeman-Cadwallader et al., 2014). Findings from data analysis revealed that lecturers acted as facilitators more than as instructors and assessors. This is exactly in line with what the literature revealed, emphasizing the importance of lecturers using a student-centered teaching approach (as facilitators) during curriculum implementation. Consequently, verbal strategies were mostly used to decolonize the English Major 420 curriculum at the South African university.

Resources for teaching and learning were described as tools to support the teaching process, which were divided into three parts (hardware, ideological ware, and software resources) (Amory, 2014). Findings from the analysis showed that ideological-ware resources were mostly used by English lecturers rather than software and hardware to teach English Major 420. This suggests that habitual strategies were used more than written and verbal strategies to decolonize the curriculum. This is in line with the literature reviewed, which stated that lecturers should mostly be driven by theories and use software and hardware resources to support such theories.

The research underscored lecturers' strategies and explain the lessons that can be learned from their strategies to decolonize the curriculum at a South African university. To fulfil these objectives, the following research questions were asked: 1. What are lecturers' strategies to decolonize the English curriculum at a South African university? and 2. How do lecturers use these strategies to decolonize the English curriculum at a South African university? The main answer to the first question, based on the findings from the literature, is that lecturers' strategies used to decolonize the curriculum can be formulated at the professional level (written strategies), personal level (habitual strategies), and societal level (verbal strategies) (Berkvens et al., 2014; Gul & Rafique, 2017; Plonsky, 2011).

Regarding the second question, findings revealed that English lecturers' mainly used students' everyday knowledge in the form of experiences and beliefs to connect the content taught in class with the student's local context. For instance, participants indicated that while students must be taught internationally recognized knowledge, what has to change is how lecturers approach teaching such knowledge. Hence, findings revealed that English lecturers mainly based their teaching on students' experiences and not purely on the texts' content. Mbembe (2016) and Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2015) concur that knowledge from Western scholars must not be excluded, but lecturers must find ways to bring it into the local context. This chapter has provided the summary of the entire study, where findings from the literature, English Major 420 course outline (2018), and course texts were compared. Strategies mostly used in each concept were identified in Table 5.1 and the discussion that followed. Recommendations based on results for the spiderweb curriculum concepts were outlined. Suggestions were made for further studies and training (Mbhele, 2018).

Limitations and further research of the study

The reviewed literature revealed that few studies have been done on strategies used to decolonize the English education curriculum. To close this gap, other researchers can consider looking at this issue in other HEIs in this country or other African countries. Further studies must be done on strategies that are used to decolonize the English curriculum, especially in the education field. I suggest using the curricular spiderweb framework as it guides the teaching of all modules. It would be valuable to examine the importance of English lecturers having personal strategies to decolonize the English curriculum in a post-colonial Southern African country. Another potential study based on this study's findings could be on how the physical environment plays an important role in decolonizing the university curriculum, which links to verbal strategies to decolonize the curriculum compared to habitual and written strategies.

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  • Safari, P., & Razmjoo, S. A. (2016). An exploration of Iranian EFL teachers’ perceptions of the globalization and hegemony of English. Qualitative Research in Education, 5(2), 136166.

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    • Export Citation
  • Sawaki, Y. (2017). University faculty members' perspectives on the English language demands in content courses and reform of university entrance examinations in Japan: A needs analysis. Language Testing in Asia, 7(1), 116.

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    • Export Citation
  • Stetsenko, A. (2008). Collaboration and cogenerativity: On bridging the gaps separating theory-practice and cognition-emotion. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 3(2), 521533.

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    • Export Citation
  • Steyn, P., Salehi-Sangari, E., Pitt, L., Parent, M., & Berthon, P. (2010). The social media release as a public relations tool: Intentions to use among B2B bloggers. Public Relations Review, 36(1), 8789.

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    • Export Citation
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    • Export Citation
  • Ramrathan, L. (2017). Learner poor performance: Provoking Bourdieu’s key concepts in analyzing school education in South Africa. Southern African Review of Education with Education with Production, 23(1), 2336.

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    • Export Citation
  • Safari, P., & Razmjoo, S. A. (2016). An exploration of Iranian EFL teachers’ perceptions of the globalization and hegemony of English. Qualitative Research in Education, 5(2), 136166.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sawaki, Y. (2017). University faculty members' perspectives on the English language demands in content courses and reform of university entrance examinations in Japan: A needs analysis. Language Testing in Asia, 7(1), 116.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stetsenko, A. (2008). Collaboration and cogenerativity: On bridging the gaps separating theory-practice and cognition-emotion. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 3(2), 521533.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Steyn, P., Salehi-Sangari, E., Pitt, L., Parent, M., & Berthon, P. (2010). The social media release as a public relations tool: Intentions to use among B2B bloggers. Public Relations Review, 36(1), 8789.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Thijs, A., & van den Akker, J. (2009a). Leerplan in ontwikkeling.

  • Thijs, A., & van den Akker, J. (2009b). Curriculum in development.

  • van der Westhuizen, G. J. (2013). Post colonial perspectives on education policy research. Africa Education Review, 10(4), 689708.

  • Vandeyar, S., & Killen, R. (2007). Educators' conceptions and practice of classroom assessments in post-apartheid South Africa. South African Journal of Education, 27(1), 101115.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Socio-cultural theory. Mind in Society, 6(3), 2343.

  • Wa Thiong’o, N. (1994). Decolonising the mind: The politics of language in African literature. East African Publishers.

  • Wa Thiong’o, N. (2000). Is the decolonization of the mind a prerequisite for the independence of thought and the creative practice of African cinema? Symbolic Narrative/African Cinema. Audiences, Theory and the Moving Image, 9396, ed. by June Givanni.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yemini, M. (2017). Internationalization under intractable conflict: The influence of national conflict on Israeli higher education institutions’ internationalization efforts. European Education, 49(4), 293303.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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Senior Editors

Founding Editor: Tamás Kozma (Debrecen University)

Editor-in-ChiefAnikó Fehérvári (ELTE Eötvös Loránd University)

Assistant Editor: Eszter Bükki (BME Budapest University of Technology and Economics)

Associate editors: 
Karolina Eszter Kovács (University of Debrecen)
Krisztina Sebestyén (Gál Ferenc University)

 

Editorial Board

 

Address of editorial office

Dr. Anikó Fehérvári
Institute of Education, ELTE Eötvös Loránd University
Address: 23-27. Kazinczy út 1075 Budapest, Hungary
E-mail: herj@ppk.elte.hu

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2021  
CrossRef Documents 56
Crossref Cites to Date 170
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Wos H-index 3
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2019  
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48

 

Hungarian Educational Research Journal
Publication Model Gold Open Access
Submission Fee none
Article Processing Charge none
Subscription Information Gold Open Access

Hungarian Educational Research Journal
Language English
Size B5
Year of
Foundation
2011
Volumes
per Year
1
Issues
per Year
4
Founder Magyar Nevelés- és Oktatáskutatók Egyesülete – Hungarian Educational Research Association
Founder's
Address
H-4010 Debrecen, Hungary Pf 17
Publisher Akadémiai Kiadó
Publisher's
Address
H-1117 Budapest, Hungary 1516 Budapest, PO Box 245.
Responsible
Publisher
Chief Executive Officer, Akadémiai Kiadó
ISSN 2064-2199 (Online)

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