Transforming working and learning in a local and global context


The 10th International Researching Work and Learning (RWL) Conference took place at Rhodes University last week, convened by the Environmental Learning Research Centre and attended by Vice-Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela.

The  conference, Transformation and Transitions in work and learning, was a collaboration with the Wits University Centre for Researching Education and Labour (REAL) and the South African Qualifications Authority. The second RWL conference to be held in South Africa this year had 220 registered delegates from 18 countries.

“This event always boasts a strong conference programme and is a leader in the field of work and learning,” said Mabizela, who was attending his third RWL conference. “The theme, transformation and transitions in work and learning is very important for South Africa as we seek to include more people in work, during complex times.”

“This is an incredible platform to develop new forms of working and learning with rapid technological and social environmental changes, new strategies to advance innovations and insightful interventions in knowledge creation. Your deliberations are bound to help us advance the realisation of a more just, humane, fairer, equitable, caring, inclusive and compassionate society,” he told attendees.

The RWL is a leading conference in the field of work and learning, it creates dialogue between experts, researchers and professionals to advance the fields of working and learning. Established in 1999 by researchers at Leeds University, the conference is convened in countries all over the world every two years.

“Work and learning research is of high significance in the world but in particular in South Africa where we are faced with high levels of unemployment, few skills, and associated challenges which need to benefit from credible and relevant research insights,” said Professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka of  Murray & Roberts Enviro Education at Rhodes.

She added that, research is necessary to help communities adequately understand the work and learning interface from an education and training systems perspective, including Higher Education.

A plethora of papers influenced by different social conditions are part of the programme, which includes topics such as employability skills versus human development skills, utilising student’s heritage for cultural understanding, knowledge democracies and exploring learning conditions in a public service organisation during a transformation attempt, among many diverse presentations.

Visiting Professor Annalisa Sannino presented a groundbreaking paper on how Finland eradicated homelessness titled, “The work and learning of an enacted utopia: The struggle to eradicate homelessness”. Prof Sannino is renowned for producing high quality research and is committed to transformation of societies.

“Research focussed on social justice helps us understand dynamics and processes of institutional and social relations,” she said. “Eradicating of poverty in all its forms and dimensions is the number one goal of the UN Agenda 2030. Evidence is available that most people believe that poor people are poor because they lack individual agency, instead of being seen as victims of lack of collective transformative agency within civil society.”

She also took the opportunity to commend the research work being done at Rhodes. “It has had a profound influence on my research work. South Africa has really impressively good scholars.” Sannino holds an Academy Research Fellowship at the University of Helsinki in Finland.

Professor Johnny Sung presented a keynote address on Skills policy, business model and job quality for inclusive society. Sung is an international expert in the areas of comparative analysis in national workforce development systems and the role of skills in high performance working organisations.

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