Saturday 30 August 2014

Seminar by Michael Apple on the task of the critical scholar activist in education

Michael Apple (left), with Dirk Postma (right), who organized the seminar
Michael Apple gave a seminar at the University of Johannesburg Education Faculty on the 29 August 2015. Drawing from his latest book, Can Education Change Society, he spoke on the tasks of the critical scholar activist in education.  

What he said was relevant for the SOTL @ UJ - Towards a Socially Just Pedagogy project. He began by drawing distinctions between the neoliberal tendency, neoconservative and authoritarian, and asserting that there are not simply two social classes: middle and working classes. Of particular relevance to those of us working in higher education, is the fraction of the middle class that advocates evidence, accountability and measurability, and mobilizes resources accordingly. Interestingly, there were quite a few questions from the participants about this, and the fact that as academics, many of us are complicit in this quest for measurable outputs. Andre Kraak drew my attention to an interesting article on performativity and academics' contestation and compliance:  Carole Leathwood & Barbara Read (2013) Research policy and academic performativity: compliance, contestation and complicity, Studies in Higher Education, 38:8, 1162-1174, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2013.833025

According to Michael, it is our job to document what the right is doing (incidentally, what is the 'right' in South Africa, or are we responding to the international 'right' in the US and other countries?) and to disrupt this, with relational analyses, feminist epistemologies and work on intersectionality. Our tasks are:
  1. to tell the truth
  2. to show spaces for action
  3. to act as a 'critical secretary'
  4. to keep critical traditions alive, critically (i.e. to be critical about these traditions too)
  5. to give of our expertise (our knowledge is 'paid for', we must give it back)
  6. to build progressive communities (one can't do it on one's own)
  7. to practise critical teaching, to demonstrate this in one's own work)
  8. to open spaces for those who are not there. 
Whilst all of these tasks may be important for our work, the task of practising and demonstrating critical teaching, and of opening spaces, are the most immediately pressing. 

Saturday 23 August 2014

Inclusion in Higher education

Dr Tshediso Makoelle 
At the SOTL@UJ seminar on Thursday 21 August, Dr Tsediso Makoelle discussed the concept of inclusion in Higher Education. The presentation is included in the blog and Tsediso had so much fun in developing the seminar that he is already considering the article that he will write on this! As inclusion is really important when considering social justice, it opened lively discussion on various aspects of the topic. The discussion on link between cognitive justice and indigenous knowledge systems was particularly lively, but as this is the topic for a seminar in September, I will leave the discussion on IKS till later. However, it was not only the topics themselves that set the scene for the discussion.

What do we mean by inclusion? It can not only mean the inclusion of disabled students nor is it limited to looking at racial representation at enrolment. Tsediso stated that “inclusive education means providing equitable education and widening participation of all learners regardless of their background”. The variety of definitions that exist combined with the different theoretical orientations applied to inclusive education has led to a situation where many people and institutions have formed fixed views of what constitute appropriate responses when dealing with the challenge of increasing inclusivity.

The call to academics and practitioners in higher education, to reflect on their pedagogical practices and underlying assumptions that result  in practices and behaviours that could lead to exclusion, was heard by everybody present. This led to furious scribbling of notes and intense questions as the audience engaged with the reality of implementing inclusiveness in higher education.

For myself, I started reflecting on the relationship between massification and inclusion. The concept of massification in higher education creates strong emotive responses among academics and higher education practitioners. Many would consider that pedagogical approaches that foster inclusivity may be very difficult in a massified scenario and that it would lead to situations where exclusion will occur. Massification is seen as a means of commercialising higher that will lead to reduced quality and even to a situation where the knowledge that students acquire and produce may have a reduced economic utility. And yet, massification of higher education is also associated with the democratic need to move away from education as an opportunity for the elite and a direct mechanism to increase educational inclusion. The relationship between inclusion and massification may be seen in many different ways and it would be worth considering why a response that is directly aimed at increasing inclusive education is seen as leading to a conflicting outcome. It is definitely necessary that a responsible approach to massification and not an unbridled increase in numbers is necessary. Innovative and progressive structural and pedagogic responses are needed. There were divergent views on the issue of massification, though, with others saying that this does not mean that one cannot cater for diverse needs at all, one just has to find innovative and more forward planning ways to do this.

When faced with the reality of the challenges to inclusive higher education in South Africa – what would be the appropriate pedagogical responses? This very important question drives the activities and planned research linked to SOTL@Uj and it was clear that all the participants at the seminar are excited and energised by it. 

Seminar participants:

Tsediso's presentation

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Seminar on Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam and the School for Peace

Nava (in the middle) with some of the participants at the seminar
Against the back drop of the world currently focussed on the situation in Palestine, on Thursday the 14 August Nava Sonnenschein, Director of School for Peace (SFP) at Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam (NSWAS) in Israel/Palestine visited the University of Johannesburg. In a most timely lecture, Nava shared her experiences of life in Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam, a peaceful community, and the only one of its kind, where Jews and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel/Palestine live together harmoniously and collaboratively. Home to about 60 families, (and growing) this village provides a model of possibility for peaceful co-existence amidst the surrounding violence and devastation.

Nava also shared insights about the School for Peace (SFP), also the first educational institution of its kind, which offers workshops, training programs and special projects, to a range of Jewish and Palestinians participants. The school is aimed at advancing personal change as well as fostering broader commitments towards agency and activism, particular in areas where the most impact can be made, such as within environmental and social development sectors, schools and the media. The SFP develops participants’ awareness of the conflict and their role in it, enabling them to take responsibility to change the present relations between Jews and Palestinians. In emotionally charged and often painful dialogic workshops, equal numbers of Palestinian’s and Jews are engaged with facilitators from both sides. These engagements are characterised by mutual vulnerability, multilingual sharing of experiences aimed at creating the possibilities of new and different narratives for change. Opportunities for sharing stereotypes, fears and demonisations of “the other” are engaged with, in attempts to transform understandings of each other. Drawing on theoretical frameworks such as social identity theory, development theory of racial and ethnic identity, research on whiteness and post-colonial theories, the approach taken by the SFP has been evaluated, researched and studied and opportunities to extend the approach are underway internationally.

The community are currently working towards the establishment of a Peace College that will provide an accredited Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution with the University of Massachusetts Boston.  Set to begin in the fall of 2015 in USA the college will be named after the late Ahmad Hijazi who was the much loved and respected Director of SFP between 2008 and 2012.   Since it was established, 60,000 Jews and Palestinians have participated in School for Peace programs and more than 1000 facilitators have been trained to lead workshops, many of whom are also involved in social advocacy within the sectors where they work and live. SFP collaborates with community and social organisations, NGOs and other institutions and has impacted on many participants, with sometimes life changing consequences.

The discussion that ensued after the lecture raised important considerations for social justice educators, activists and scholars in the South African context. There are clearly lessons to be learned from the experiences shared by Nava which offers up new visions of hope, possibility and imagination for what is possible in any conflict-ridden spaces so as to advance our common humanity. Perhaps a deepened discussion and a problematizing of discourse is necessary (such as what counts as “conflict” and what “egalitarian” implies). How the SFP’s methodology is potentially applicable in our context or even in other arenas outside of education (for example within the SA mining sector, with all its complexities) requires more thought. Some consideration for how issues of history, power and access impact upon participation in such endeavours as the SFP, particularly after participants have been through such  learning experiences, could also be very useful.  Nava’s visit and insights certainly highlighted important questions and issues for further dialogue.

More information on the School for Peace can be found at

Monday 18 August 2014

Next SOTL @ UJ session: Tsediso Makoelle

The next SOTL @ UJ seminar will be on Thursday 21 August at 1.00 pm at the Library Commons 2. 

Title: Inclusion in Higher Education: A quest for epistemic access. 


Dr Tsediso Michael Makoelle, has obtained D Ed from Unisa, South Africa and PhD in Inclusive Education from University of Manchester, UK. He has published and presented a combined total of 50 research pieces which include conference papers, journal articles, books and book chapters in Inclusive Education to both national and international audience and readership. He is currently a Senior Lecturer in Inclusive Education in the Department of Educational Psychology at University of Johannesburg. He teachers Inclusive Education to both undergraduates and postgraduates and supervises Masters and Doctoral students in the field. His research interest are philosophy of inclusion and pedagogy of inclusion informed by Critical Pedagogy, Structuration Theory and Critical Realism.


In this presentation I focus on the notion of inclusion in higher education. The concept of inclusion is deconstructed from the view of those excluded using the framework of Critical Pedagogy and Structuration Theory. The relationship between epistemology and inclusion is highlighted by drawing a comparative theoretical contrast between positivist, behaviorist and post-positivist, constructivist conceptions of knowing and how this relates to inclusion or exclusion and epistemic access within the pedagogic practice. Drawing from Bernstein knowledge discourses I demonstrate how knowledge economy is manipulated to withhold epistemic tools for access to knowledge. Furthermore I analyze from a social justice perspective the implications of such for cognitive justice and indigenous knowledge epistemologies. The presentation further disentangles through  a Critical Realist lens the notion of inclusion by unmasking the empirical conceptions and the underlying generative mechanisms. The presentation concludes by making theoretical suggestions for developing an enabling pedagogy, employing transformative epistemology and dealing with underlying relational exclusive mechanisms.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Seminar by Nava Sonnenschein, School for Peace - 14 August 2014

Nava Sonnenschein, Director of the School for Peace, will be giving a informal talk about her work on Thursday 14 August at 1.00 pm in B302, APK Campus, UJ. If you would like to attend, RSVP to Ria Vosloo (

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Two interesting journals

Two journals relevant to the SOTL@UJ project have just put out new issues.

The first is the International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (IJSOTL) which is published in Georgia, the US. Issue 8.2 covers a wide range of topics, including concept mapping, feedback by graduate assistants to biology students (I thought this was rather useful), learning about mathematics, statistics and race. The journal has free access, at:

The second is Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning (CRISTAL), which is published by the University of the Western Cape. This also has free access. There are several articles relevant to our project concerning social justice, but the one I would most like to highlight is that by Lis Lange, entitled: Rethinking Transformation and Its Knowledge(s): The Case of South African Higher Education. She argues that the concept of transformation has been impoverished, and makes a useful distinction between knowledge of transformation, and knowledge for transformation. Her comments on universities and their pasts, which require re-examination, as well as her comments on different kinds of knowledge, make this an important contribution. The journal is accessible at:  It is a pity that South Africa has such a strong push towards incentives for particular journals only, as I would really urge people with a critical, transformative inclination, to publish here. This issue also has articles on educational change, social work and knowledge in engineering.