Developing socially aware students requires more than a lecture

5 Apr 2017 - 08:45

UCT has six strategic goals one of which is to “Enhance the Quality and Profile of UCT’s Graduates” by providing them with an education that is not only academic but also looks at the social and cultural aspects of being a graduate in the South African workplace. 

With this goal in mind the UCT Global Citizenship Programme (GCP) was developed with the aim of exposing “UCT students to broad knowledge relating to global citizenship and social justice through a programme of critical debate and reflective learning activities. The programme further provides opportunities for students to develop and run campaigns that address issues of social injustice and include the broader student population.”

Every year since its inception the GCP has seen 300 students enroll in both curricular and cocurricular activities it runs. Through the years it has also seen an increase in the number of academics interested in developing socially aware students as active citizens. 

Throughout the year there are a number of workshops run in partnership with UCT and non-UCT organisations including Learning to Listen, Ubunye, UCT residences and the UCT Department of Student Affairs. These events are used to create awareness and encourage dialogue on understanding and respecting others and their situations. 

But developing socially aware students requires more than a lecture. On all the GCP short courses learning occurs through peer-to-peer engagement, critical debate, and reflection. Unlike many other courses students are seen as active participants rather than passive learners in the classroom; the learner is at the centre of the learning experience. In the GC1 short course students are asked to consider topics such as poverty and inequality, war and peace, crisis and education and climate change and development. Students on the GC2 short course look at similar themes, but are also encouraged to get involved in community service projects that help them to explore different social justice issues. 

For many UCT students, life beyond the immediate surrounding areas is unknown. The GCP is about taking knowledge beyond the classroom. This is no more evident than in the Social Infrastructures (SI) course, a partnership between colleagues in CHED, EBE, Science, and Commerce and with roots in the GCP, facilitated by the GC team. 

The SI course (which is a credit bearing option for some engineering and commerce students) takes students into communities where they may never have been before; working with Community Based Organisations (CBOs) in areas such as Philippi, District Six and Valhalla Park among others. Here students listen and see for themselves what harsh realities their fellow citizens experience or have experienced; it is a world beyond their own. “Having discovered that a community is more than just a geographical area that a certain group of people occupy, my view and opinion on what a community is has been altered. A community is an interactive body. It’s a movement. A group of people. It’s a family. It’s any one group seeking a common goal for the greater good of everyone regardless of the environment,” commented one student. 

In the SI course students are encouraged to think about how their degrees will actually one day impact society, how their decisions will shape the lives of others. 

In a final critical reflective essay on the course one student wrote, “I have been able to see that a part of the beauty of our humanity lies in its complexity. This complexity needs not only appreciation from artists but also from all who consider themselves citizens of the world. This course has allowed me to identify myself as a global citizen who is able to exert influence in the technical and social arenas. I have learned to examine and analyze the perspectives and experiences of other people and myself. I find this to be beneficial in my ability to empathize and collaborate effectively with people from a vast array of socio-economic backgrounds. I have been able to cultivate and nurture emotional intelligence and empathy towards the diverse groups of people found in every corner of the globe.”

The course also recently won the 2016 UCT Collaborative Education Practice Award that recognises excellent collaborative approaches to enhance the teaching and learning environment at UCT and course convenor Dr Janice McMillan received the UCT 2016 Distinguished Teacher Award

It is clear that the GCP is an important part of supporting students to take their learning beyond the classroom and developing students that understand how their decisions will one day affect the lives of communities who need their support the most. 

If you’d like to learn more about the programme please contact Sarah Oliver on

Photos supplied by the GC team