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FEATURE: Pioneering climate change curricula in southern Africa

A CDKN-funded master’s curriculum development project has taken off in southern Africa and is now being implemented by several universities in the region.

Two years ago, a consortium of southern African universities, led by the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) at the University of Cape Town, developed a master’s level curriculum framework on climate change and sustainable development. The CDKN-funded project was a response to a mapping study by the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA), which revealed serious regional knowledge gaps in the climate and development field – as well as a lack of courses at masterʼs level to help plug these gaps.

The project aimed to address these shortcomings through the combined efforts of all the universities involved. Rather than having different institutions independently develop their own curricula, the project utilised expertise across institutions, and formed part of the SARUA Curriculum Innovation Network (SCIN).

Curriculum development

“This is African-led curriculum development, tailor-made for Africa’s climate and development challenges and capacity needs,” said Leigh Cobban, manager of the ACDI’s education and capacity development portfolio.

The curriculum consists of seven modules, three of which are core modules that provide an introduction to climate change and sustainable development, transdisciplinary thinking, and mitigation and adaptation theories.

The curriculum details the core theoretical content and learning activities, with cases and examples from the continent to “localise” the teaching and make it more relevant to a southern African context. It also provides a clear outline and set of standards for the development and use of course content, again with cases from the continent.

“The course is ‘cutting edge’ but grounded, bringing in the latest thinking, knowledge and approaches needed to solve the enormous challenge of climate change and sustainable development in Africa,” said Professor Sheona Shackleton, one of the core module developers.

Cobban explained that the design of the curriculum is intended to promote competencies across many different disciplines. “It offers graduates a broad knowledge of the climate change and development challenges the continent is faced with, while promoting inclusive engagement with non-academic communities from different sectors dealing with these challenges.”

Seven universities in the region have already implemented the curriculum, either partially or in full, with each admitting some 20 to 30 students. These are Mulungushi University (Zambia), the Bindura University of Science Education (Zimbabwe), the University of Dodoma (Tanzania), the University of Mauritius, the State University of Zanzibar, the University of Eswatini (Swaziland) and the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Malawi). Four of these universities have maintained contact and collaborated with one another.

Open access

For ease of implementation, this pioneering curriculum is unique in its “open access” nature and in being flexible to suit the needs of different universities. It is possible to adjust and implement in different ways, either partially or fully, to promote knowledge building and with the ultimate aim of addressing capacity gaps relating to climate change in southern Africa.

Each university may choose the type of degree (for example an MPhil or MSc degree) they want to offer, depending on how their curriculum is customised, structured and assessed. The university must then ensure that its chosen course is in line with the specific requirements of the country’s academic accreditation system and includes enough notional learning hours to earn the necessary number of academic credits.

“Although there have been initial challenges with the implementation of the curriculum, the feedback from institutions that have adopted it has been positive,” Cobban said, adding that stakeholders, staff, students and employers are finding both the structure of the programme and the courseware interesting and easy to use.

Dr Mitulo Silengo from Mulungushi University said: “The course has been well received and [has] generated interest from government stakeholders dealing with issues of climate change.”

Dr Chipo Mudavanhu from Bindura University of Science Education agreed: “[The curriculum is] easy to use and encourages student participation.”

Ultimately, said Cobban, the goal of the project is to make climate research and training accessible across southern Africa. “This will provide the climate leaders of the future with the necessary knowledge and skills to guide societies on an equitable, sustainable, low-carbon and climate-resilient trajectory suited to the regional context.”

This article first appeared on University of Cape Town News.

Photo: Consortium members from seven southern African universities gather in Dar es Salaam to develop the masterʼs curriculum. Credit: ACDI.

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