Positioning the community as knowledge

5 Aug 2015 - 07:30

100 students registered for the Social Infrastructures: Engaging with Community for Change winter-term course. The course is now in its third year, and by word of mouth, the interest for the course has spread through EBE. There were many interested students who were unable to register as the course was full. There has been such positive feedback and students’ faces light up when they talk about the course. They feel that at last they are doing a course that teaches them how to engage with communities around their needs. They are learning how to design with the community as opposed to designing for the community.  During the course, the students had learning exposure trips to various communities: Freedom Park in Tafelsig, Philippi, Valhalla Park, Pine Road in Woodstock, Mothers Unite in Lavender Hill, South Road in Wynberg, and two sites in Khayelitsha.

The students came to realise how important it is to engage with the community and not to think that, as an engineer, you know what their needs are. During a visit to one of the communities, Dr Janice McMillan, the course convenor, had the community members speak in their home language, Xhosa. A few of the Xhosa-speaking students translated for those who did not understand and the students realised how this changed the whole dynamics of the group, and the relationship between power and language.

  The course looks at how students and emerging professionals engage with and learn from communities in our local context. McMillan said, “The students learn all the technical stuff in their degree courses. This course puts their knowledge into a context  by learning from communities; community becomes an important site of knowledge.”