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11 October 2022 | Story Nonsindiso Qwabe
Qwaqwa research conference
Unpacking the role of research in society. From left: Lukhona Mnguni, Prof Pearl Sithole, Prof Dipane Hlalele, and Prof Percy Hlangothi

From socio-political dynamics and creativity in the Basotho language, to the improvement of water conditions in the upper Tugela River and antifungal studies of Cydonia oblonga extracts (known as kwepere in Sesotho) – these are just some of the highlights of the research presented at the UFS Qwaqwa Campus research conference.

With a theme focused on research as a tool for the betterment of humanity, the two-day research conference provided a space for the campus to showcase its research for sustainable development in the Afromontane region and beyond, conducted by academics and postgraduate students alike. The two-day event comprised oral student and staff presentations and sessions, with shorter presentations on the second day.

As global trends continue to challenge society to solve big and immediate problems, there has been a natural turn towards research that can make a lasting impact on local and global platforms. Through student and academic presentations, the conference provided insights into how the UFS is playing an active role in responding to some of these challenges by being outwardly focused in their approaches to problem-solving.

Balancing the sciences, industry, and society

With an intentional focus on interdisciplinarity, the guest speakers – all in different science fields – offered solutions to conducting impactful research through the lens of their own work. Prof Percy Hlangothi is currently an Associate Professor of Physical and Polymer Chemistry at Nelson Mandela University (NMU) and inaugural Director of the Centre for Rubber Science and Technology, a research entity in the Faculty of Science at the same institution. By describing his work, particularly on the production of tyres, he focused on the importance of achieving rapport between the sciences, industry, and society.

The second keynote speaker was Lukhona Mnguni, a governance, politics and development specialist and PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He currently serves as the Head of Policy and Research at the Rivonia Circle. Mnguni focused his talk on the breakthroughs of research as stemming from people, and not academic disciplines themselves. Mnguni issued a hard call towards a reflection of what the intellectual and scholarly quest for knowledge is doing to society, emphasising the need for societal involvement in issues pertaining to crises in society.

Prof Dipane Hlalele, Professor of Education at UKZN and a C2 NRF-rated researcher (2022-2027), was the final speaker for the conference. He anchored his talk on the importance of having philosophical frames behind scholarship, and spoke against approaching rural areas as lacking knowledge, to a stance of mutual understanding of knowledge schemes and models of intervention.

Campus focused on making an impact outwardly

Marking the opening of the conference, Dr Martin Mandew, Qwaqwa Campus Principal, said the campus was trying to punch above its weight and evolve its research and knowledge outputs. “We cannot just be consumers of knowledge and finished products that come from abroad. We have to produce our own knowledge that speaks to our own unique circumstances and makes complete sense of our capacities,” he said.

The conference also served as the launch platform for the campus research strategy. During the launch, Prof Pearl Sithole, Campus Vice-Principal: Academic and Research, said the strategy was centred on five frontiers. “We are trying to align what we do outwardly in terms of impact and are working on ourselves as per the commitments of the strategy. We do this excellently, because we want to advance knowledge – there is no question about that – and we put pressure on each other to do that. It does not mean that it will be easy, but we are going to engineer it such that originality and the advancement of knowledge is happening.”

The conference concluded with a prize-giving session for the best oral student presentations.

News Archive

Teachers should deal with diversity in education - Prof. Francis
2010-10-08

At the occasion were, from the left: Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State (UFS); Prof. Francis; and Prof. Driekie Hay, Vice-Rector: Teaching and Learning at the UFS.
Photo: Jaco van der Merwe

Prof. Dennis Francis, the Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of the Free State (UFS), recently delivered his inaugural lecture on Troubling Diversity in South African Education on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein.

He urged teachers to be open to what “diversity” might mean in a particular context and how diversity relates to either inclusion or exclusion.

“An approach that promotes the inclusion of all must be based on an understanding of how exclusion operates in ways that may have typical patterns of oppression, but differ in the specific ways that exclusion is expressed and becomes normalised in that context,” he said.

“The good teacher thus seeks to understand how these forms of exclusion may develop in the school’s context and respond through taking thoughtful action to challenge them. It may require creating a climate that enables the silent to speak and recognising that not all groups communicate in exactly the same ways.”

He said teachers also had to affirm the experiential base of learners and students. He said there was an assumption that students would be more effective practitioners if their own experience were validated and explored.

“It is crucial that the students’ own history is treated as valuable and is a critical part of the data that are reflected,” he said. “Equally important is that such stories and similar activities are intentionally processed to enable students to make the connections between personal experience and relevant theory.”

He also urged them to challenge the ways in which knowledge had been framed through oppression.

“Schools are often characterised by messages that draw on one or another form of oppression. Thus, expectations are subtly or in some cases unsubtly communicated, e.g. that girls are not good at physics, or that, while white learners are strong in abstract thought, African learners have untapped creativity, and so on,” he continued.

“For someone to integrate into their role as educators a commitment against oppression means confronting obstacles that one may previously have shied away from, such as challenging authority, naming privilege, emphasising the power relations that exist between social groups, listening to people one has previously ignored, and risking being seen as deviant, troublesome or unpopular.”

Furthermore, Prof. Francis said dealing with diversity in education was always affectively loaded for both students and teachers. He said in South Africa one injunction from educators was to be “sensitive” and thus avoid risking engagement with the contentious issues around imbalances of power.

“If both students and teachers are to confront issues of oppression and power in any meaningful way, we need to design more purposely for the difficulties they will encounter, for example, creating a classroom environment that promotes safety and trust so that all students are able to confront and deal with prejudice and discrimination. Classroom environments will need to balance the affective and cognitive in addressing issues of diversity and social justice,” he added.

He also said that teachers should recognise the need to complement changing attitudes with attempts to change the structural aspects of oppressions.

“To prevent superficial commitments to change, it is important for students to explore barriers that prevent them from confronting oppressive attitudes and behaviours. In this way students are able to learn and see the structural aspects of oppression,” he said.

“Equally important, however, is to get students to examine the benefits associated with challenging oppression. A fair amount of time must therefore be spent on developing strategies with students which they will be able to use practically in challenging oppression.”

He also advised educators to affirm the capacity of staff and learners to act and learn in ways that do not replicate patterns of oppression.

“Many South African schools have survived both the harsh repression of apartheid and the continuing legacy of oppression of various kinds. Despite that, we are often as educators made aware of the ways in which young people in particular affirm themselves and each other in creative and confident ways,” he concluded.

Media Release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Director: Strategic Communication (acg)
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl@ufs.ac.za  
7 October 2010
 

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