SARChI Chair will Research Green Skills

The Transformative Social Learning Chair is aligned with the Department of Science and Technology’s Global Change National Research Plan, addressing the need to better understand social learning processes and systems in response to global change challenges at the intersection of society-economy-environment and politics. Research into social learning systems, especially with a focus on transformative learning and green skills development, is critical for enabling a climate resilient development path in South Africa and Africa more widely, including the facilitation of access to new work opportunities within greening economies.

In a South African context, transformative and expansive social learning involving multiple actors is needed to address ongoing biodiversity loss and to contribute to food, water and energy security at household, community and wider societal levels. It is also central to enabling people’s participation in local sustainable development actions and to enhancing government service delivery at local levels.

The South African Government has expressed the intention to embark on a low-carbon, sustainable development path that will create significant numbers of jobs in a green economy. There is strong consensus that between 300 000 and 400 000 green jobs can be created in South Africa; some estimate up to 600 000. However, much more needs to be done to establish sustainable learning pathways into these jobs, especially from a transformative learning perspective. Transformative learning involves people’s participation in securing improved and more socially just and sustainable forms of service delivery and establishing more co-operative approaches to ownership and management of commons resources (e.g. water, land and clean air). It foregrounds collective agency for transformative change in society.

Transformative social learning is an under-developed and under-researched area of social justice and social innovation in South Africa. Professor Lotz-Sisitka says “to date much of the global change social learning research in South Africa has been experimental and oriented towards consolidating the concept of social learning as being significant to a range of global change challenges”. But, she says, “there has been little systematic research that develops the concept of social learning within a transformative learning and green skills learning pathways framework for the common good.” She explains, “currently learning processes tend to be viewed as a ‘byproduct’ of other processes of transitioning (e.g. policy change or technology development) when they should be seen as central to a more pro-active approach to social transformation towards a more sustainable, equitable and just society”.

Heila added that “The transformative learning approach that we will develop further through this SARChI chair is critical and expansive. There is a proven body of international research that shows that such learning can lead development and change, at multiple levels amongst multiple actors”. Importantly “this requires a less dualistic view of the relationship between formal and informal learning and more substantive research into how global change social learning is conceptualized, mediated, and framed within the national systems of learning and innovation”.

The new SARChI Chair will focus on advancing knowledge of:

  • Transformative social learning and global change responses in an African context
  • Social learning systems and green skills learning pathways into a green economy
  • Ways in which transformative social learning can be systemically developed for societal transformation within a climate resilient, sustainable and socially just path.

Profile of the incumbent

Professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka has been doing environmental education research since 1992. She started her research career using participatory approaches to teachers’ professional development. In the past 22 years, her research has focused on education system development and social learning for green, more socially just economies and societies at local, regional, and international levels. She has successfully supervised and co-supervised 23 PhD and 55 Master scholars since 2000. She has published widely nationally and internationally, and has over the years been invited to offer over 45 keynote papers around the world. In 2014 she was awarded a GreenMatter Senior Fellowship, and the regional Environmental Education Association of Southern Africa Founders’ award for her contribution to transformation in the environmental sector nationally and regionally; achieved through research leadership, supervision of the next generation of academic leaders in this field, and through policy research and engagement at national and international levels. Her core research interests are critical and generative research methodologies; transformative learning and human agency; and the role of education and learning in transformation towards more just, equitable and sustainable societies.