ELRC 2015 highlights

Rhodes>ELRC>Latest News

ELRC 2015 highlights 

By Chisala Lupele

2015 was a full and eventful year at the ELRC. Here are a few of the most celebrated highlights of the year.

Two new doctors and nine new masters scholars in the house

The year started on a high note, with the welcome of two PhD graduations in the centre – Drs Dick Kachilonda, and Nina Rivers joined the ranks of PhD scholars graduating through the centre. Their work contributes to our understandings of the expansive learning systems of co-management of fisheries resources in Malawi (Kachilonda), and the mediating processes being used for social learning among a group of women in the eastern Cape, with a focus on the relationship between food and water security. We also celebrated the graduation of 9 masters students at this graduation ceremony.

Engestrom and Sanino visit the ELRC

The ELRC was privileged to host Professor Yrjo Engestrom and Annalisa Sanino, from CRADLE in Finland, for two public lectures on concept formation and agency respectively. Professor Engestrom’s lecture was on concept formation in the wild. In this lecture he sought to elaborate on what epistemic question functional concept answer, including the kind of interactional and cognitive work. Dr Sanino expounded on the hidden side of agency by using an example from her work on double stimulation in the waiting experiment. In her presentation, she related agency as being systematic and associated with visibly active modes of engagement. This visit further developed the growing relationship between our two centres, and included the exchange of research interests and potential areas of collaboration in the future. The visiting researchers were particularly interested in the work being done in the SADC region using the CHAT framework – researchers in the ELRC are opening up new areas of work within the expansive learning arena. This area will become a key focus of the growing collaboration between us.

EESSA Conference

The 33rd EEASA was held in Swaziland this year during the 21st – 24th September. The conference was hosted by the Swaziland Environment Authority (SEA) in collaboration with the University of Swaziland, Swaziland National Trust Commission, Ministry of Education, and Lower Usuthu Sustainable Land Management. The conference theme was: Creating sustainable societies: Scaling up ESD through the global action programme. A cohort from the centre attended the conference and presented on a range of scholarship from the centre’s current work, including green skills, community learning and environmental ethics. 

ELRC Director awarded full professorship

Associate professor Rob O’Donoghue was awarded full professorship on 9th October 2015. He is currently Director at the Rhodes University Environmental Learning Research Centre. His work deals with research on environmental education processes of learning-led change, giving a closer attention to indigenous knowledge practices, social theory and environmental learning in post-colonial curriculum and community contexts.  Prof. O’Donoghue’s work has impacted on environmental education globally, and continues to do so today.

 M.Ed EE Excursion 

The M.Ed class of 2015 took an excursion to Graaff Reinet during a session on environmental ethics, education and the common good. The main purpose of the excursion was to learn more about fracking and what environmental ethics the action may impose.


The Rhodes University Environmental Learning Research Centre held its 25th Murray and Roberts chair of Environmental Education Anniversary in October this year. The anniversary celebrations were centred on seminar series focused on transformative environmental learning and the common good: past, present and future.  The three-day celebrations were well attended by distinguished scholars and alumni in EE and were comprised of three seminars on each day. The first day was on transformative environmental learning, schooling and teacher education, which highlighted activities on presentation on keynote papers by distinguished Professors form University of Cape Town, Prof Lesley le Grange, and KwaZulu Natal, Prof Wayne Hugo. Later in the evening the day saw two book launches, one by Leigh Price and Heila Lotz-Sisitka on, “Critical realism, environmental learning and social-ecological change” and the other was by Mutizwa Mukute entitled, “Developmental work research”. Both these books were launched at a 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.  Critical reviews and future mappings was the second day’s seminar theme with a keynote address from Emeritus Professor Bob Jickling of Lakehead University in Canada. The evening was filled with laughter, warmth, music by NIA and left people’s taste buds watery as they were teased by the aroma of elegant two course dinner which was served after the launch of RU/SADC REEP/ SWEDESD fellowship, a major mile stone in environmental education, and a Certificate ceremony for Amanzi for Food programme. The last day of the celebrations was about the past, present and future with respect to environmental education research for the common good.

 Books Launched

The ELRC launched three books later in the year. The first, ‘Critical realism, environmental learning and social-ecological change’, edited by Leigh Price and Heila Lotz-Sisitka, is a collection of critical realist research from scholars in the ELRC. It is unique in that it shares research arising from the SADC region, and contributes a unique area of scholarship to the global research work being done using critical realism. The second book is titled ‘Developmental work research’, written by Alumni scholar, Dr Mutizwa Mukute. The book provides a valuable resource for those engaging in developmental work in the region. The third book is an output of the larger MESA programme, entitled: Mainstreaming Environmental and Sustainability in African Universities: Stories of Change. The book captures stories of change from a range of African universities engaging in environmental learning and change projects.

 SARCHI chair

Professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka, was awarded a South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) Chair. The research with this work will produce knowledge at the science-society interface, focusing on how learning leads development. This is critical for enabling a climate resilient development path in South Africa, and for facilitating access to new job opportunities opening up within the green economy. This is a big achievement, both for Prof. Lotz-Sisitka, and for the scholarship that has come out of the ELRC over the last 25 years.

 Amanzi for food certificate awarded

On the 15th of October 2015, we held the Amanzi for Food Training of Trainer’s course closing ceremony. The course is a key component of the WRC Amanzi for Food programme, it aims to disseminate knowledge and skills on rainwater harvesting and conservation practices for agricultural water use in homestead food production. This course was held in the Amathole District in the Eastern Cape. Other courses will be run during 2016 on a more national scale.

 ELRC awarded R13 million to lead international project

The Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC) at Rhodes University has been awarded R13 million to lead a project on learning-centred transformation in social-ecological sciences (SES). The International Social Science Council (ISSC) has this week announced the funding of three “Transformative Knowledge Networks” as part of the innovative Transformations to Sustainability Programme. The ELRC is leading the only Network from the South, which involves nine partners from four continents, under the leadership of Professor Lotz-Sisitka.


“Initially over 500 applications were received by the ISSC, out of which 40 were granted seed funds for development of substantive proposals.  In the second round, 99 applications were submitted, of which three were funded” explained Professor Lotz-Sisitka, project leader.