School of Education

Inaugural Lecture ponders sustainable rural learning ecologies

Professor Dipane Hlalele.
Professor Dipane Hlalele.

Professor Dipane Hlalele of the School of Education’s virtual inaugural lecture was titled, Sustainable rural learning ecologies: A critical analysis.

‘The concept of sustainable rural learning ecologies is coined from a combination drawing from sustainability, rurality, learning and ecology. The United Nations’ quest for sustainable futures in the face of global challenges such as poverty, inequality and more is deemed plausible through the creation and attainment of sustainable livelihoods,’ said Hlalele.

He noted that reports indicate that rural areas are occupied by about two-thirds of the world’s pollution and many learners and children of school-going age come from rural households.

‘Current educational and other research has found that it is no longer desirable, appropriate or useful to define urban in terms of rural or the other way around. To do so is to create a competitive relationship between them, to the disadvantage of rural areas. Such thinking also generalises situations that are actually very different from each other,’ said Hlalele. ‘A uniform approach to policy and its implementation makes it possible to overlook and disregard important aspects of the lives and needs of different rural communities. The realities faced by people in rural areas cannot always be addressed by policy made elsewhere and for everyone.’

He suggested that rural communities have unique attributes which make them attractive places to live and raise a family. ‘Although many negatives are presented in the literature, rural schools are the economic lifeblood of rural communities. This means that there are positive aspects within the rural context and they are critical to the survival of communities.’

Hlalele highlighted that the South African government views rurality as ‘a way of life, a state of mind and a culture which revolves around land, livestock cropping and community’. The Department of Basic Education estimates that just over half of South Africa’s children (54%) live in rural households, which translates into almost 10 million children.

‘Learning is an activity that takes place within, between and across contexts (constituting a learning ecology). A learning ecology therefore, may be seen as a set of contexts found in physical or virtual spaces that provide opportunities for learning. It encompasses different activities, material resources, relationships, and the interactions that emerge from them. Rural learning ecologies are diverse. A combination of elements keeps an ecology sustainable although they may not necessarily apply to others,’ Hlalele explained.

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