The Workers’ College is a Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) which has been serving the labour movement, in South Africa and on the continent of Africa, since its inception in 1992. Its main focus has been to raise the levels of skills, capacities, understanding and the consciousness of trade union activists at a political, social, and economic level, so that they would be able to engage with the challenges that confront them, especially in the workplace, in their sectoral institutions (such as bargaining councils, SETAs, health and safety committees) and in the broader society.
The South Africa’s society is characterised by deeply entrenched social and economic inequalities and injustices which roots may be traced back to the country’s colonial and apartheid history. The education sector is not an exception to the rule as it has been shaped profoundly and continues to be shaped by social, political and economic discrimination along racial, class, gender, and ethnic lines among others. Since 1994 South Africa’s new democratic government has made various attempts to transform the education sector by providing access to institutions of higher learning. These attempts were informed by the Freedom Charter dream of seeing the doors of learning and culture be opened to all. This is capture in the 1996 Constitution as follow: “Everyone should have the right: to (a) basic education, including adult education; and to (b) further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible”. Unfortunately more than two decades into the new democratic South Africa, the dream of the Freedom Charter has not been realised. Access to quality education remains mainly class-based and very elitist in nature, depriving in the process the greatest majority of the country’s population access to quality education. The current model of education can be viewed within Paolo Freire framework as an instrument used to facilitate the youth into the logic of the present system and ensures that conformity remains unchallenged. Workers’ College education strives to challenge this type of education that maintains the status quo, by adopting a transformative approach to education. This transformative agenda makes the practice of education, a practice of freedom. This approach assumes that people address creatively with their daily challenges and re/discover ways to transform their surroundings.
Workers’ College Education as Alternative Access to Learning and Training, Providing therefore an alternative access to learning and vocational training for workers and community leaders who have lost out on the opportunity to empower themselves through the mainstream education channels becomes of paramount importance and justifies the raison d’être of the Workers’ College. As already suggested, worker education at Workers’ College is intimately connected to the agenda of transforming power and social relations. At the college, emphasis is put on social justice values of workers’ rights and social, economic, political, environmental, and gender justice. At the heart of worker and community education lies the systematic and systemic improvement of competencies and capability which builds citizens as responsible workers and workers as responsible citizens as expressed in the National Human Resource Development Strategy (HRDS).
The College perceives working class and community education as the process of providing the space, opportunity and resources for working class people to develop and validate the necessary skills, knowledge and attitudes that allow for people centered development at home, in the workplace and in their communities.
Pursuant to the purpose of worker education by responsible Citizen one should envisage an individual who is analytical of his or her environment, draws from his past experiences and ideological training and functional experience. He or she has a full understanding of class analysis and class struggle. This extension beyond the work place means that working class education is perhaps at the broadest level the framework for the mission of educational and support activities of the Workers College.
The Teaching and Learning Strategy will:
- Locate worker education in the broader context of popular education and working class struggles,
- Use education to raise the class consciousness of the participants who are from participating organisations,
- Develop popular education programmes and practices that sustain the participatory and critical learning processes of participants,
- Recognise and use the prior learning, and struggle experiences of participants,
- Develop research capacity within the College,
- Use worker education as a tool to develop worker leadership through providing intermediary and advanced political and ideological education,
- Assist with developing education capacity in constituent organisations,
- Develop a progressive and collaborative national, continental and global network of education initiatives and programmes with organisations that share our vision,
- Initiate and support transformation at existing public educational institutions, and critically engage in collaborative popular education programmes with such institutions.
- Contribute to the attainment of the Workers’ College vision and mission by developing specific objectives and achievable targets
- Promote and improve teaching as a core academic activity
- Develop performance indicators to monitor implementation and success
This Strategy responds to the South African educational and employment context. It identifies responses to challenges relevant to the working class and community struggles as well as their educational needs. It also seeks to benchmark Teaching and Learning at the Worker College on national and international best practices. It provides objectives for implementation as well as specific activities and budgets.
Implementation of Strategy
Staff development and Training
It is a requirement that academic staff excels with their competence in the knowledge, skills and pedagogy associated with their respective disciplines. To that end, the Teaching and Learning Strategy of the Workers’ College put a strong emphasis on the quality of its staff. Moreover the College will afford opportunities to upgrade relevant academic staff qualifications, and to draw from research findings and publication to empower its academic staff. It will sponsor attendance to academic conferences and other capacity-building initiatives such as seminars and short courses.
As it promotes increased disciplinary knowledge, the policy will also facilitate teaching and learning in the discipline. Increasingly, staff will be required to improve their pedagogic skills and practices, either through a formal qualification such as the PGCE or the Licence to teach, or through short courses, workshops and seminars. Staff will also be encouraged to publish on teaching in their discipline.
Assessment and Evaluation
On-going monitoring of the College’s Assessment Policy, and staff compliance to the policy, will ensure fairness, transparency, validity, and reliability in student assessment and evaluation. Staff will be encouraged to register for short courses on assessment and moderation strategies.
A particular attention is pay to the fact that student prior learning is an important asset to the teaching and learning process at the College. The education programmes are co-created by both the student and academic staff and adopt a learners’ focused approach. Here the lecturer is mainly a facilitator or a coach who provide information and guiding principles to help students achieve their learning objectives. As such we don’t aim at filling empty bucket but lighting the fire of a lifelong learning process.
The Philosophy of student-centred learning is based on the following assumptions:
Each student is a unique individual, with different levels of knowledge and experience, from his or her peers.
Students learn at different paces
Students have different learning styles: some learn best by hearing, others by seeing and still others by doing. Different skills and types of knowledge require different approaches
The goal of education is to produce self-actuated learners, who can employ different learning styles in various contexts
Some students encounter academic, emotional and other obstacles to learning; identifying and overcoming these obstacles liberates the student to learn more effectively
The lecturer’s role is to:
- Create a comfortable learning environment based on respect and not fear, building strong rapport with students
- Encourage students to seek answers rationally by encouraging questions and setting appropriate oral and written work
- Place knowledge into context and make the course content and teaching more interesting and relevant to the student’s life experience and professional life.
Council on Higher Education. VitalStats Public Higher Education 2010. Pretoria: 2012.
Department of Higher Education and Training. Green Paper for Post-School Education and Training: Pretoria, 2012.
Lawrence, P. and N. Nohria. Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2002.
Strydom JF, N Basson and M Mentz Enhancing the quality of teaching and learning: Using student engagement data to establish a culture of evidence. Pretoria: Council for Higher Education, 2012.