UJ Educator Prof Leila Kajee changing the literacy landscape through critical pedagogy and social justice

​The Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Professor Tshilidzi Marwala and the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Education Professor Sarah Gravett, hosted the Professorial inauguration of Leila Kajee, Professor in Education and Curriculum Studies at UJ.

The inauguration took place on Tuesday, 05 October 2021 at Ubuntu Chambers, Madibeng Building, Auckland Park, Kingsway Campus.

The inaugural lecture titled: “Unheard voices: Multiple pathways to literacy”, highlights research in the field of linguistic social justice, literacies, and new literacy studies to address literacy inconsistencies among immigrant youth encounters in homes and schools.

Professor Kajee’s research in literacies focuses on the shifting landscape of home, community, work, and schools and gives us set of theoretical constructs for describing the close connections between literacy practices as distinct from those associated with schools.

She said “The role of education as an agent of social change and development is unquestionable. Social change occurs when humans change. In the global South, quality education lies steeped in deeper concerns: exclusion, injustice, inequality, violence, conflict, marginalization, and in South Africa, because of Apartheid capitalism. However, education is not a neutral entity: the system is imbued with power struggles, transgressions, and dichotomies.”

Prof Kajee argued that one of the challenges facing educational institutions where bi/multilingual students are learning an additional language is how to help these students acquire levels of proficiency in it. “Significant too is plurilingualism and translanguaging, as moves to disrupt colonial linguistic hierarchies. While children may not show schooled literacy in the dominant language per se, in home and community settings they demonstrate complex language and literacy patterns and behaviours as they weave their way through multifaceted literacy activities,” said Prof Kajee. “However, these multiple literacies are often not recognized by schools that assume that parents who are literate in the dominant language are children’s primary support in language and literacy.”

Prof Kajee drew on data slices from the “Between two worlds” project conducted in immigrant homes in the greater Johannesburg area. “Given that schools are sites for cultural sustenance, it is reasonable that for us as teachers we must draw on our learners’ cultural capital. To do so we need to critically evaluate our own assumptions and biases and consider how we could include immigrant students’ cultures and experiences into classroom practice. Doing so would ensure equitable access, opportunity, and respect for difference. Teaching becomes an act of love, and a humanising experience.”

Prof Kajee obtained her B.Paed degree at the University of Durban Westville in the 80s, her Honours in Applied Linguistics through UNISA, and her Masters and PhD degrees at UKZN. She began her career as a teacher, and over thirty years ago, made the transition to higher education. She has taught at the Durban University of Technology, KZN, the University of the Witwatersrand, and for the past 15 years, at the University of Johannesburg

To date she has written one book, Constructing identities in online communities of practice, published through Peter Lang, and edited between two worlds: immigrant literacy practices through Codesria, which is currently in print. She is currently working on her third book. Leila has written prolifically, 15 accredited journal articles, 5 peer-reviewed articles, more than 20 conference papers, and 12 book chapters.

Prof Kajee has collaborated on projects locally and internationally with colleagues at the Universities of British Columbia, Nottingham, Lund, Sao Paolo, Campinas, and Western Cape. She has led and participated in projects in “Literacies in-and out-of-School”, “Immigrant Literacies” and “Digital Literacies”. She is currently working on the project “Social change in education: justice, cohesion, and peace” with colleagues in Brazil. Over the years she has raised funds which have subsidised her projects and several student bursaries. She is also recipient of two NRF funding awards for which she is extremely grateful.

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