University of Johannesburg: SARChI Chair, Prof Motala aims to promote scholarship through evidence-based research

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) hosted the official inauguration of SARChI Chair: Teaching and Learning (T&L), Professor Shireen Motala on Thursday 3 March, 2022.

The Inaugural Launch Seminar under the theme Higher Education in the Era of 4IR – Teaching and Learning beyond COVID-19: Promises and Peril, saw Prof Motala outline her research programme aims and goals.

Prof Motala is currently the Head: Postgraduate School (PGS), University of Johannesburg (UJ) and a professor in the Faculty of Education (FoE), UJ. The SARChI: T&L is located within the FoE.

She has held numerous leadership roles including that of chair of the Education Policy Consortium and the inaugural president of the South African Research Association (SAERA) among others.

Prof Motala discussed the programme of the Chair, its strategic direction, some theoretical starting points and activities.

“The main aim of the chair is to promote scholarship through evidence based research in T&L, strategy and pedagogical approaches within a theorised and holistic framework and most importantly to contribute new knowledge to the field,” stated Prof Motala.

She expressed that some of her research has been to investigate the relationship between education, equity and social equity especially in the current context of poverty and societal disadvantage.

“An explicit aim of the SARChI chair is to build the capacity of young researchers and to contribute to the next generation of scholars.”

Prof Motala voiced how the position of the chair as an intellectual hub of T&L through national and international collaborations and partnerships will make a meaningful impact on policy making and discourses.

“The key focus of the research programme addresses and expands on the interlocking of teaching, learning and decolonisation of the curriculum within the themes Teaching Excellence, Equity Access and Success, Socially Just Pedagogy and the Decolonisation of the Curriculum.”

Conceptual starting points include social justice, cognitive justice, epistemic access, equity of access, transformation of academic and institutional cultures and humanising pedagogy.

“There were things that struck me about T&L in our current context. The first were big societal issues, the other was knowledge issues about whose knowledge we are delivering, third was the purpose and content of T&L, the environment and social justice issues.”

Professor Letlhokwa Mpedi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic, commented on how the Covid-19 pandemic showed how fragile the socio-economic fabric of the country was and how unevenly prepared South Africa has been in terms of national infrastructure and capacities to switch to alternative modalities of T&L. He enthused over the research Prof Motala would be embarking on to tackle such issues.

Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UJ, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala said it was his hope that through initiatives like the establishment of the SARChI chair, with a focus on the post-secondary education and training sector, the best minds can be brought to the table to convene globally and nationally to discuss and tackle the challenges faced in T&L .

“While we use complex metrics to measure success, I challenge Prof Motala to actively promote research think tanks and other forums in the areas that continue to perpetuate social injustice, inequity and inequality,” he added.

Professor Saleem Badat, Research Professor in Humanities: University of KwaZulu-Natal, gave his keynote address focusing on human agency within the 4IR.

“As we grapple with the unfolding new conjuncture, the new normal and its implications for T&L, we must simultaneously confront what will not change – social structure and what that, too, means for Teaching and Learning.”

In closing, Professor Saurabh Sinha Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation, congratulated Prof Motala on the work that has already been done and said the university was committed to the mission to undertake undergraduate and postgraduate training, with the angle to produce research output but most importantly research that matters, builds on curiosity, applied aspects of knowledge and brings about impact.

The South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) was established in 2006 by the then Department of Science and Technology (now Department of Science and Innovation) under the custodianship of the National Research Foundation (NRF).

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