25th Anniversary

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25years of Africa’s first chair in Environmental Education


By Chisala Lupele

Rhodes University’s Environmental Learning Research Centre held its 25th year celebration of the Murray and Roberts Chair of Environmental Education in October 2016. The anniversary celebrations were centred on a seminar series focusing on Transformative Environmental Learning and the Common Good: Past, Present and Future.   


The Murray and Roberts Chair of Environmental Education (M&R Chair in EE) was established in 1990 through the work of Professor Pat Irwin, as the director of the Environmental Education Unit who was later succeed by Eureta Rosenberg. After a decade after its establishment, the chair was taken up by Professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka in 2000.. When the formal funding contract ended, Rhodes University took on the funding of the chair, working in collaboration with Murray and Roberts until the present day. The centre now includes two chairs, five academic posts, and a large cohort of postgraduate scholars.


Over the last 25 years, the work of the chair has incorporated a focus on the Millennium Development goals (MDGs); this work includes an interest in six essential elements including dignity, prosperity, people, our planet, justice and partnership. The interest in these aspects of the MDG’s can be seen in multiple forms across the scholarship and research produced through the centre over the last 25 years.


The M&R Chair has been influential in providing academic leadership in environmental education in South Africa, the SADC Region and Internationally. This body of work has helped us to look at our planet during the anthropocene, when we are asking ourselves the perennial existential question, “how we should live” and what are the implications for social-ecological justice in terms of social transformation of education/society against a background of apartheid and post colonial legacies/oppression and partnerships.


The three day celebrations were well attended by distinguished scholars and alumni, as well as a range of environmental education partners and supporters, comprised three days of seminars spanning the collected work of those in attendance.  The first day focused on transformative environmental learning, schooling and teacher education, which featured presentations on keynote papers by distinguished Professors from University of Cape Town’s Prof. Lesley le Grange, and University of KwaZulu Natal’s, Prof. Wayne Hugo.


The evening included the formal launch of the new SARChI Chair in global change social learning systems in transformative learning and green skills learning pathways by deputy vice chancellor of research, Dr Peter Clayton. One of the special moments of the evening was a collaborative keynote presentation by Dr Eureta Rosenberg (the first M&R Chair), Prof Heila Lotz-Sisitka (current chair), and Prof Rob O’Donoghue (the director of the ELRC). One of the highlights of the evening was the presentation of beaded hearts to Prof Pat Irwin who established the chair 25 years ago, and representatives from Murray and Robert who have provided on going support for various projects within the ELRC over the last 25 years. Later in the evening two books were launched; the first one by Dr Leigh Price and Prof. Heila Lotz-Sisitka on, “Critical realism, environmental learning and social-ecological change” and the second by Dr. Mutizwa Mukute entitled, “Developmental work research”.


The second day included critical reviews and future mappings, with a keynote address from Emeritus Prof Bob Jickling, of Lakehead University in Canada. The day’s theme looked at green skills and professional learning research, and community learning and citizen science research. The day was packed with numerous activities including presentations from alumni and current scholars, as well as group discussions around the three sub themes, with plenary report backs. During the evening, we enjoyed a partnership function in the new Room 20..This saw recognition of Murray and Roberts and sector partners such as GreenMatter, Department of Environmental Affairs, Department of Basic Education, WWF, SWEDES, WESSA and many more. The evening was filled with laughter, warmth, music by NIA (the ELRC’s favourite band) and an elegant three course dinner, which was served after the launch of RU/SADC REEP/ SWEDESD fellowship, and a Certificate ceremony for the Amanzi for Food programme.


The last day of the celebrations focused on environmental education research for the common good. The discussions within this theme where on postcoloniality, decolonisation and EE/ESD research in Africa, including transgressive environmental learning, ethics and the common good, and transformative research methodologies in times of change.  Covered in the day were discussions about theory and practice from transgressive learning, transformative research,  citizen learning and community science. There was also a discussion about the future of the chair, and the spaces currently being opened up through the work of current scholars in the centre. This included an interest in interrogating what constitutes knowledge within spaces of scientific and non scientific knowledge, and unbundling the ‘colonial curriculum’. 

From 14th to 16th October 2015

Comprised of three seminars on each day.

14th seminar on transformative environmental learning, schooling and teacher education

15th seminar on critical reviews and future mappings

16th seminar on Past, present and future: Environmental education research for the common good.   


14th – book launch (pre launch) on critical realism, environmental learning and social ecological change. Edited by Leigh Price and Heila Lotz-Sisitka (due November 2015)

Book Launch 2: Developmental work research by Mutizwa Mukute

15th – launch of RU/SADC REEP/ SWEDESD fellowship by Sheperd Urenji and Jim Taylor

Certificate ceremony for Amanzi for Food programme managed by Prof. Rob O’Donoghue, Tichaona Pesanayi and Kim Weaver .


Closing remarks in a summary