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Knowledge and knowing in the public management and public administration programmes at a comprehensive university

By Jacqueline Catherine Lück


Knowledge is often tacit and under researched in educational fields. In order for student access to knowledge and its related academic discourses to be facilitated, a deep understanding needs to be gained of the form that this knowledge takes. This study interrogates the ways in which knowledge is constituted in the first year of a Public Management Diploma and a Public Administration Degree at a comprehensive university in South Africa. The study takes a social realist approach that understands reality as fact but sees our knowledge thereof as a social phenomenon. The study was concerned with knowledge structures and knower structures as it argues that these have not been adequately accounted for in the sociology of education research. But this study comes to this concern from a strongly ideological view of student reading and writing. This study calls on a social practices approach that sees literacy as embedded within specific academic discourses, which vary from context to context. It uses this ideological understanding of literacy as the orienting framework for the study of knowledge. The study takes place in a Higher Education mileu that has begun to transform from its divisive past. The transformation brought about new institutional formations such as the comprehensive university, with its mix of vocational, professional and formative programmes and varied emphasis on contextual and conceptual curriculum coherence. Increasingly, the transformation agenda also shifts concern from simply providing physical access to a previously disenfranchised majority to ensuring full participation in the context of high attrition rates in first year and low retention rates. The data was analysed using the Specialisation Codes of Legitimation Code Theory to see what was being specialised in the Diploma and Degree curricula of the Public Management and Administration fields. These fields are characterised in the literature by ongoing tensions about focus, and perceptions of there being a theoretical vacuum and an inability to deal adequately with challenges in the South African public sector. Analysis of lecturer interviews and first-year curriculum documentation showed that both the Public Management Diploma and Public Administration Degree have stronger epistemic relations (ER), with an emphasis on claims to knowledge of the world. The data showed relatively weak social relations (SR), in that there was not the valuing of a particular lens on the world or a specific disposition required for legitimation within this field. The combination of ER+ and SR- indicates that these curricula are Knowledge Codes, where legitimation is through the acquisition of a set of skills and procedures. The programmes were characterised by fairly low-level procedural knowledge, which may point to a workplace-oriented direction that is dominant in the comprehensive university. In keeping with concerns raised in the literature about this field, there was little evidence of theoretical or propositional knowledge in the Public Management Diploma and while the Public Administration Degree had some evidence of this, it was arguably not to the extent expected of a degree as described in the National Qualifications Framework. This study was limited to the first-year of the Diploma and Degree and subsequent years could present different findings. Lecturers showed awareness of student challenges with literacy practices and made concerned attempts through various interventions to address this but they were found to value the surface features of writing practices over personal engagement with the knowledge. Though the expectations of student literacy practices in tests and assignments were aligned to the ways in which knowledge was constructed in the curriculum, there was little evidence of student induction into disciplinary discourses of the field as knowledge was presented as being neutral and student writing primarily took the form of retelling objective facts. The implications of these findings could include student exclusion from higher-level academic discourse, more powerful knowledge in the workplace and, finally, constrain them from becoming producers of knowledge

Topics: Knowledge and learning, Public administration -- Study and teaching (Higher), Knowledge, Sociology of, Learning, Psychology of, Knowledge, Theory of, Educational equalization -- South Africa, Education, Higher -- South Africa, Literacy -- South Africa, Technical institutes -- South Africa
Publisher: Faculty of Education, Centre for Higher Education Research, Teaching and Learning (CHERTL)
Year: 2014
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