Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures’ in South Africa

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Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures’ in South Africa
Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures’ in South Africa

Stories of collective learning and care during a pandemic

The Environmental Learning Research Centre at Rhodes University, in partnership with the international Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (TESF) research programme, are pleased to release this  beautiful monograph, produced through collective learning and care with eight partner groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The monograph, entitled ‘Stories of collective learning and care during a pandemic’ offers stories from eight carefully crafted reflective research projects by practitioners, researchers and community-based organisers. The stories share insight into the collective shifts and praxis needed to regenerate transformative futures.

The eight reflective stories produced by eight partner groups who responded to the call, explore and demonstrate the kinds of collective learning support, skills ecosystems and capacity mobilisation that are needed for a ‘just recovery’ from COVID-19.  The eight partner groups are:

  • Iqonga loThungelwano, an Eastern Cape-based COVID-19 learning and solidarity network which researched the links between learning, solidarity and care arising in their network activities that were responding to reliable information on COVID-19 in rural areas and other related needs that arose as the pandemic hit.

  • The Tsitsa Natural Resources Management Research Project in the Eastern Cape, which undertook to assess the implications of COVID-19 on the facilitation of transformative learning in rural contexts.

  • Ground Truth, an organisation in KwaZulu-Natal which co-researched transformation within training processes for ‘environmental champions’.

  • The Batlhabine Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Limpopo, which researched rural women’s reflections on the learning needed for transformative futures.

  • A ‘Technological Transformations’ collaboration which explored inclusive digital responses for a vocational education system in crisis.

  • The Amava and Spaza Hub collaboration in Cape Town, which reflected on how young people and NGOs have been collaborating and learning proactively from the pandemic.

  • Ubuntu from the West Coast in the Western Cape, which assessed the work conducted by the Ubuntu Rural Women and Youth Movement in building relationships among rural women, living both in coastal and in-land areas, with respect to their access to land and the natural resources they depend on for their livelihoods.

  • The Cape Town-based Environmental Monitoring Group, which reported on the action learning that they underwent as an organisation to better respond to the crisis of the pandemic.


In South Africa, a country that has to be critically hyper-aware of the social dynamics that reproduce inequality, one could palpably feel the collective gasp last year as we wondered what would appear in the wake of the pandemic here at home. COVID-19 did not surface anything new around the polarised tensions that South African society is locked into. It simply magnified the social inequalities that we have perhaps become too accustomed to, offering a strong moment for their reflexive consideration, and thus also possibilities for regenerative action.

Many have lamented in the past that South Africa has lost the spirit of collective service that made the fall of the apartheid regime inevitable. Perhaps what we have lacked is a galvanising force beyond the mode of politics proper to jolt us back into expressing the urgent responsibility we have to each other, whilst also surfacing the substantive and challenging learning needed to reconcile our efforts with securing a sustainable future on earth.

As quickly as a collective psyche of fear arose in response to COVID-19, so too did an indomitable spirit of collaboration and learning that sent itself down many unknown and generative pathways. This was a time of initiation, a time to convene in new ways, and also, very crucially, a time to properly recognise and weave existing old relationships into new configurations of solidarity and hope. Such learning within a ‘just recovery’ must inform basic livelihoods, new forms of work, climate action and long- term transformations for sustainable futures. The stories can strengthen the efforts of social practitioners, activists, educators and researchers navigating the systemic issues that the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified, and inform ‘Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures’ in South Africa.

Access the full monograph stories here

Edited by Injairu Kulundu-Bolus, Gamuchirai Chakona and Heila Lotz-Sisitka