It was indeed an opportunity to participate in the international conference on “ODeL in the Global South: Opportunities in times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA)”, August 14-17, 2023; design and executed under the UNESCO Chair at University of South Africa (Unisa), Professor Moeketsi Letseka. Through the opening interaction with this charismatic personality, a marathon athlete, it was clear that this personality demanded action from all, caressed with humility and humbleness. This began the journey to have multitude one-on-one sessions on him and capture the take away from his long-standing journey deluge with exuberance and foresight.
Professor Letseka is clear in his thought that uncertainty is likely the closest response defining a contemporary society, as in today’s context. He claims that “Chaos has always been there, and it is true that it is the biggest impediment that shrinks the comfort zones.” What best suits is the culmination and aggregation of creative ideas that repose trust in building the positive side of VUCA. These words are powerful and as a symphony maestro, attempting to transform the individuals, organisations and communities to be flexible, adaptable, leaner and resilient. It crafts unlimited opportunities leading towards prosperity.
The UNESCO Chair at Unisa ODL has a powerful vision to galvanise the Unisa’s research capacity by leveraging upon R&D and increasing the horizons of ODL advocacy. Professor Letseka spearheads the UNESCO Chair on ODL at Unisa besides being a professor of philosophy of education and Editor-in-Chief of Africa Education review. As a senior researcher in the Human research council (HSRC) Carnegie funded study on higher education industry partnerships under the leadership of Dr Glenda Kruss, he had great contributions to offer in the field of higher education. This research had a unique distinction of offering insights on collaborative approach between industry and public higher education institutions in nanotechnology, information and communication technologies.
Professor Letseka has much to offer from his over 40 years of experience in the education sector from African region. While serving as a principal investigator, he pursued a big question as to ‘why do university students drop out without obtaining a qualification?’ This research was conducted at seven public higher education institutions in South Africa. This research was carried in leading institution like the University of Fort Hare, University of the Western Cape, Stellenbosch University, former University of the North (now University of Limpopo), the University of the Witwatersrand, former Peninsula Technikon, and former Pretoria Technikon.
This, as per Professor Letseka has further raised fundamental questions related to the student retention and lower rate of the graduands progression. These university drop outs has an impact on lifelong learning and has become a major contention for discussions. Probably, these university drop outs and poverty has a correlation. So, as per him, if the educators don’t address as to ‘why students leave and reduce university dropouts, it might me a threat to South Africa’s future.
The UNESCO-Unisa chair has a confident response that he has firmly captured the burning questions in his seminal books, Open Distance Learning (ODL) in South Africa; Philosophy of education today; Open Distance Learning (ODL) through the Philosophy of Ubuntu; and Assuring Institutional quality in ODL in the developing context.
With a clear perspective and mandate to accelerate research and development and a broader advocacy via ODL, he has a broader mission. His mission is to build capacity at improving the quality of coverage of higher education via the ODL mode, thus shaping futures of young minds through African Universities, who shall be in service to humanity. Besides this he has focus on positioning the UNESCO chair as the Southern African hub for an integrated system of research, training, information sharing and documentation in ODL, delivering quality distance education.
The UNESCO Chair encourages partnerships among institutions of higher education, NGOs, foundations, agencies, and public and private sector organisations or businesses. In his leadership, the Chair has been able to forge bonds with African Virtual University (AVU), Open University of Mauritius (OUM), Commonwealth and learning (CoL) and International council for open and distance education (ICDE).
Currently in his tenure he has earmarked tight schedule of activities that engage the following:
- Identification of research projects for post graduate students.
- Inducting new cohort of postgraduate and fellows.
- Increasing presence in the form of research papers in Web of Science/ IBSS / Scopus journals of international repute
- Driving the UNESCO Chair’s annual ODL research conference.
The task is uphill, yet the confidence and astuteness speak the stature of the UNESCO -Chair at Unisa. As a prolific thinker, he brings in like mindedness, embracing Ubuntu. Professor Letseka affirms as a leading legendry thinker, the concept of Ubuntu must be carried forward. It encompasses virtues such as kindness, generosity, compassion, benevolence, caring, and respect for others that is predicated in humanness. It is time to rise and embrace it with kindness and build forward the nation.
Visionary thinker with a foresight
Professor Moeketsi Letseka is a kind hearted and humble individual, approachable and effable. Yet he is a brilliant task master, keeping tight control of projects and their schedules. His globe trotter journeys are extensive but untiring to this marathon runner, who never skips daily schedules summing to over 40 Kms per week. He participates in the marathon events even at the age of over 65 and can beat the younger generation. Mountain hiking and staying close to mother earth as a farmer is what defines his humility and purpose. A strong personality with a confident and compelling purpose has been driving his endeavours in shaping young minds, building Africa with his foresightedness. For this charismatic UNESCO Chair at Unisa, fusion of minds must take place, the purpose must convex and that combining competencies without inhibitions can solve major problems human encounter. The CEOs must learn the art of living and embracing nature though his teachings and build forward humanity.
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