Environmental Learning Research Centre
The Environmental Learning Research Centre is the home of a vibrant and diverse community of scholars and environmental education practitioners, and forms a regional hub of environmental learning innovation.
The centre hosts a postgraduate research programme of between 50-60 scholars, approximately 20 of whom are PhDs. We increasingly work with local, national, regional and international partners to develop research-informed and research-led short and certificate courses; the ELRC enjoys collaborative partnerships with over 50 partners across the world. Linked to this, the research and teaching programme of the ELRC continues to increase in size and scope and enjoys a high demand for its courses and programmes. Through these partnerships, centre aims to promote and encourage social scientific methodological innovation to produce knowledge of African education and social–ecological contexts.
In support of this collaborative approach to knowledge-building, the ELRC’s Sustainability Commons has been developed as a space for social innovation, engaging the border zones between the academy, public sector and civil society; between theory and practice; and knowledge, learning and human agency.
The ELRC was established 25 years ago through the Murray & Roberts Chair of Environmental Education, Africa’s first and only Chair of Environmental Education. In 1997, the ELRC expanded to include the Gold Fields Service Centre, forming the Rhodes Environmental Education Unit, which offered expanded professional development, and policy development services to South African post-apartheid system building, and South Africa’s expanded interactions within SADC. It started the SADC International Certificate Course in Environmental Education, which has graduated over 1000 professionals in the Southern African region.
In 2007 the programme at Rhodes University was recognised by the United Nations University and the Ubuntu Commission as a UN Centre of Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development. It is one of 11 such centres in Africa, and is part of a global network of such centres providing expertise to strengthen educational practices that support sustainable development. One of the key themes of the UNU Regional Centres of Expertise (RCE) is Water Education. The RCE provides a structure for university-community integrations, and involves multiple stakeholders in diverse research-based community education initiatives.
The Chair also serves on the UNESCO International Reference Group for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, and provides Education for Sustainable Development research support to the SADC Regional Environmental Education Programme, which works with SADC protocols and priorities. A key focus of these activities involves improving the quality and relevance of education and training initiatives focussing on environmental concerns.
The ELRC Centre
The South African National Biodiversity Institute planned an Environmental Education Centre attached to the Makana Botanical Gardens. This Centre was built using poverty relief funding as part of the development of the Makana district, and to make the environment and sustainable development resources and capacity that exists at Rhodes University more accessible and integrated into the Makana district. The building was finalised in 2011, and initial programme development work has taken place to ensure a seamless interface between university and community.
Since the building of the ELRC we are able to house 25 full time resident staff and students in our Phd and Masters areas. The centre offers a vibrant and welcoming space for collaborative work, with 2 teaching rooms and a smaller meeting room, as well as an open courtyard and work tables around the centre. The centre is regularly used for collaborative workshops, and running a wide variety of environmental learning courses.
The teaching rooms and sustainability commons are also used regularly for courses run by other departments on campus.
The centre therefore provides a unique platform for university-community research, training and community engagement activities focussing on various sustainability questions and practices.
The ELRC has a number of small-scale demonstration projects which it is developing to demonstrate sustainability practices. The focus is on community engaged research to support learning to adopt/adapt such sustainability practices. The organisations involved include the student environment committees, Umthathi Training, St Mary’s Development and Care Centre, Inqaba Yegolide Youth Co-op and the local Eco-Schools. There is also an exhibition by Michelle Cox and Tony Dold as well as partnerships with various local craft businesses and entrepreneural activities.