Ethics and Leadership: A Paradigm Shift in Higher Education Curriculum

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Africa is currently challenged with an eroding ethical leadership base across the continent. Africa and South Africa in particular, is at a junction where the quest for a renewed spirit and united front for re-establishing an ethical foundation is eminent. The idea of unresponsive governance is demonstrated in the leaders’ impassive, indifferent and languid attitude towards the concept of citizenry as the real basis for governance. Consequently, one sees among many countries seeming disillusionment and the desire for a better life by plotting to overthrow the government. As such, and especially more recently, there have been some revolutionary movements against the governments of various nations in Africa, as witnessed in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. Higher education and evolving curriculum in typical leadership programmes is important in sewing a ‘golden thread’ throughout every curriculum thus portraying the critical importance of a renewed thrust in strategic community development globally.

In-the-box’ thinking

It is important to take a look back and see where professionalism and teaching and learning ethical methodologies have emerged from. Historically, ethics were taught to address the issues at that time. However, to develop and adapt the teaching of ethics, current teaching and learning strategies should be aligned to current developments.

With emerging economies and technological trends moving at such a fast pace, teaching and learning strategies are continually evolving. With this in mind, as the world is changing, what trends are effective that meet current challenges?

The study of ethics is important not only for individual lives, but also for developing the insight and competence African countries need, including a widespread educational curriculum on ethics in order to face the challenges of the present and the future in a successful way.

‘Outside-of-the-box’ thinking

However, all is not doom and gloom as extensive research in the field of ethics and leadership have been undertaken to look at current research and future trends envisaged.

Innovative techniques are being employed to enhance teaching and learning modes by introducing virtual gaming methods in order to exercise and further develop cognitive and critical thinking skills e.g. strategy games, character simulations, and community development games such as SimCity.

Work Integrated Learning (WIL) objectives need to be continually assessed and incorporated into the current changing curriculum that meets the required changes expected when analysing graduate attributes. These are required in changing environments when searching for new ways of developing ethical leaders and professionals. Business simulations and incubators provide a simulated parallel experience for an individual entering the workplace. WIL activities in collaboration with industry or in the workplace are important to bring the real world into the classroom.

The question whether ethical leadership can be taught by observations in the outdoors and in the field has been investigated. Outdoor education reveals itself as having a minefield of potential. Case studies have generally been the norm as a tool to encourage a certain level of WIL experiences. ‘Live’ case studies are being used to encourage students to develop a holistic view of leadership in a practical manner. Combining a real outdoor experience or excursion with case analysis enhances the overall WIL experience. Examples thereof could include, visits to Robben Island (Cape Town, South Africa) with a parliamentary tour together with interactive case study discussions. Alternatively, a visit to Ushaka Marine World (Durban, South Africa) with a debate around business experiences in an amusement park would be valuable.

A paradigm shift toward ‘without-the-box’ thinking

A number of South African community leaders are not applying best practices to managing resources efficiently in their environments. The evidence of this is currently being observed with regards to the uprising of students on many campuses throughout the country. Thinking needs to include co-creating innovative integrated strategies with the ultimate journey being a new focus on a shift toward ‘without-the-box’ thinking.

In order to implement new ideas and change paradigms in the South African education space, curriculum development, design and innovation involves the cutting of a new ‘diamond’. This analogy reflects a change in curriculum evolving under high pressure environments. Curriculum design involves stakeholder participation reflecting a bottom-up emergence approach whilst aligning to a top-down design.

Fine tuning niche management strategies for community development involves business, government and society being more integrated to create awareness in a global environment.

When adopting a flipped classroom approach looking through new lenses, in some cases, adopting a radical shift towards a flipped module approach may need to be considered as well. An educational environment developing a higher educational space incorporating a holistic student-centred approach is required. This encourages a renewed ethos embedded in an innovative future professional. The professional can emerge focusing on global challenges of concern rather than functional level development as previously was the focus with most business schools globally.

A future evolving curriculum for crossing the ‘Rubicon’ needs to make provision for a ‘golden thread’ of specialisation that includes ethics and leadership evolving in a fast changing technologically driven global context. New developments in teaching and learning strategies that assist with instilling common values, principle-centred leadership and professionalism, displaying global paradigm shifts in thinking must be considered.

The combination of entertainment with education (‘edutainment’) is being utilised more as a tool that can reach various illiterate and even literate audiences which is eminent to change behaviour and habits in societies in the future. As an example, ‘edutainment’ in the environmental industry is specifically being utilised in environmental education awareness and community development campaigns.

In light of our higher education system, it is important to re-evaluate policy, practice and develop curriculum that is in line with global changing trends (off-line and online). Often, unethical behaviour will result in losing trust of others or those that look up to us. It is important to set an example as future leaders for fellow Africans. Curriculum development needs to be inclusive of ethics and professional teaching; learning and innovation should be the golden thread of all new programmes going forward.

In light of the recent student protests, ethics and leadership needs to instil a universal code for an evolving Africa which will contribute to a developing future desired state. A renewed ethos for the next generation will result in an innovative future ethical leader signifying education reimagined and ultimately community victory.

Article compiled by:

Prof. A. E. Rippon, Adv. M. Royan and Mr R. Asmal.

Academics at the Management College of Southern Africa (MANCOSA)       (Summarised version of paper delivered at the UKZN 9th Annual Teaching and Learning Conference.)