The Univen Teaching and Learning Day took place on 16 March 2016 at the Univen campus. The theme of the event was “From Theory to practice: towards excellence in teaching and learning”. Vanessa Merckel a member of the HELTASA EXCO, was the keynote speaker. The title of her powerful presentation was “Creating spaces for the development of the “whole human being””
Vanessa left the house spellbound as she opened her speech by sharing a few thoughts on teaching in troubled times from apartheid to colonization, #feesmustfall, #Rhodesmustfall, decolonization and management’s response to all this. She continued by drawing the house into the classroom reminding us of the troubled knowledges and the pedagogy of discomfort. Merckel argues that we should “grow a graduate who is a radical, a transformative, and a public intellectual…”. To achieve this, teachers should first ask themselves a question, “who am I and what is my story?”. Stories about knowing, doing and being should be told in the classroom by teachers. We need to question the kinds of research we do to inform our teaching content. When in class question what you do with students to support their learning. She challenges university teachers to become critical activist scholars (Apple (2014: xvii-xx). That is they should interrogate and challenge policy and become intellectuals who advance powerful knowledge which is capable of liberating and emancipating students and ourselves through mutual dialogue. She argues that teaching should be of and for social justice. That’s when Merckel brought the importance of care and love in the classroom. She ended by saying “teaching is a very personal journey of becoming…..that never ends”.
This presentation opened up a necessary dialogue that students led in the room. To some it was an opportunity to challenge academics about their practices. At the end of the day a peer mentor came to my office to share with me the concerns that her mentees have about a programme of study they are enrolled for. They question its responsiveness to national and social needs. With Merckel’s presentation she felt the genuine-ness of her mentees’ concerns about the study programme. As the Univen community, we hope to take ideas shared during the 2nd Teaching and Learning Day forward to advance our teaching practices that will help cultivate a whole human being.
The event was attended by three HELTASA EXCO members, Vanessa, as Keynote speaker, Langutani as chair of the organizing committee and Luyanda as programme director of the event. Luyanda got the VC Prof Mbati to answer some tough questions on the spot. He wanted to hear from him what management would do change the status quo about the lack of a structure that closely looks into students’ difficult life (poverty, hunger etc). Prof Mbati then responded by promising to engage with the registrar of the university on the matter.