The Learning Cape: A critical presentation of a case of transformative learning from a local/global perspective

Learner: Oscar Vallazza – Linköping University

Course:      Global / Local Learning, University of Western Cape

Instructor: Kathy Watters

Tutor: Zelda Groener, Natheem Hendricks

Assignment 2    Date: October 22, 2009                       Words: 3803


A critical presentation of a case of transformative learning from a local/global perspective.

TABLE OF CONTENTS: Each heading has a hyperlink to the relevant section













3.4     DIALOGUE



4.1     A Whole-system perspective





Rhi·zome (rzm)

A horizontal, usually underground stem that often sends out roots and shoots from its nodes. The term is used metaphorically to describe social structures that are non-hierarchical, non-centralised, self-regulating, and formed peer-to-peer. [ ]


This paper presents the case of The Learning Cape (LC) as a viable example of local/global learning for social transformation. The LC has established and now sustains a co-operative network for the regional promotion of learning with the support of civil society organizations, local government agencies, and educational institutions. It is part of a global movement for the empowerment of people through similar cooperative learning efforts.

In this paper I will argue for a systems-based transformative approach to learning that can build on a grammar of inclusiveness for all actors, agencies and stakeholders involved, away from dichotomous and polarized discourses.

The first section will frame the model of The LC and provide a context for understanding relevant local and global dimensions of learning.

Section 2 will discuss theoretical concepts underpinning my analysis and present an overview of the learning practices that inform my argument.

Section 3 is a critical examination of The LC. It will evaluate the interplay of local and global components and the role of government and civil society as they concur in sustaining and promoting transformational learning, active citizenship and dialogue.

Section 4 will present third-culture building as a vision for the future emerging from the LC experience.



The idea of a world-wide movement of learning communities emerged from the 1992 OECD conference on learning cities in Gothenburg, Sweden. In 1996 many regional learning initiatives began to sprout across Europe ignited by OECD and UNESCO reports on community-based learning (Faris, 2004). Though there is no shared definition of “learning region,” the following quote may help understand the concept:

A learning region is characterized by the cooperation between all of the different actors – educational bodies, research and development agencies, statutory bodies, enterprises and non-governmental organisations (‘civil society’) – in ‘learning together’ about how to produce new knowledge/know-how to address local needs. The ‘know-how’ generated in this context can be referred to as ‘social capital’[1] (Román, 2001). Learning regions tend to be self-regulating, self-learning, ‘network-oriented’ and ‘horizontal’ (Nyhan, 2008).[2]

Learning occurs in places “where people gather” and is “embedded in our everyday community settings – the family, the neighbourhood, the school and the workplace” (Faris, 2006, p.2). Similarly to Nadeau’s (1996) views on popular education, the learning region is “a method of group education and organizing that starts with the problems in people’s daily lives” (p.3). This idea parallels concepts outlined by Walters and Manicom (1996) with regard to the intertwined pedagogical and educational dimensions of feminist popular education. “Solidarity between women around the world” (p.1) can be achieved through a serendipitous educational development based on participative, collective, non-dogmatic self-reflection aimed at the production of new knowledge (p.12). Paraphrasing Walters and Manicom (1996), the learning region concept starts from where people are, from their cotidiano, i.e. the daily occupations in every person’s life, which can be intrinsically political and integrated with broader social relations and hierarchies of oppression (p.10).

The learning region model promotes a society that depends “on partnerships and collaborations of multiple kinds, both for economic development and greater social cohesion” (Walters, 2005). While its locus is regional, “it encourages us to think of the world as a single space – not one necessarily mapped territorially according to national borders” (Walters, 2005). A learning region advances citizenship and democracy by focusing on the interconnectedness of local and global dimensions, stressing the importance of social capital, and establishing a holistic platform for local cooperation (Walters, 2005; Toland & Yoong, ND).


In a 2001 whitepaper (PAWC 2001), the Western Cape government recognized the link between learning and development within the context of the LC region (Walters, 2005). That led in 2004 to the creation of the Company for Economic Development in a Learning Province, shortly The Learning Cape[3], as a “vehicle for the promotion of lifelong learning and the creation of a world-class learning region within the province” (The Learning Cape, 2009).

The LC provides a “troubled space of possibilities” (Edwards and Usher,2005) in a province with a population of 4.5 million, where 67% of people live below the poverty line, with 24% unemployment, where 30% of adults are illiterate and 78% of preschoolers do not have access to early childhood development opportunities (Walters, 2005).

Every year the LC organizes a Festival that relies on the cooperative effort of all sectors of society, including “higher education, civil society, trade unions, business, local government, libraries, and the Department of Education”(Walters, 2005). It “aims to create awareness that lifelong learning is an important way of addressing past imbalances in access to education” (The Learning Cape, 2009). It has become “the centrepiece in the promotion of the Western Cape” “aimed to promote a culture of lifelong learning for economic growth, personal development and social justice for all its citizens” (UNESCO, 2004). Thus, the LC appears located at the interface between local and global learning within a collaborative and transformational context.



To support my analysis, I will consider two levels of transformation:

a) personal/local, and b) local/global.

a) Transformation at the local/personal level

This level affects the participation and development of each individual learner. According to a Constructivist progressive orientation, the “educator helps link disparate experiences into a coherent whole” (Dewey cited Fenwick, 2001, p. 3). Educators act as guides and promoters of critical change geared at reforming and redressing system imbalances through a process of understanding civil responsibility and issues of active citizenship. Learners become aware of the level of responsibility required for their educational path.

b) Transformation at the local and global level

This level takes the personal growth of the previous step to a higher level, where educators may engage in the following practices:

  • Promoting the discussion of complex issues
  • Promoting awareness and recognition of issues of governmentability[4], self-subjugation, oppression, and discrimination.
  • Promoting awareness, recognition and critique of socially-relevant dimensions, including cultural assumptions.

Contextualizing and framing conditions of oppression and inequality is a prerequisite to adopting the most effective approach to personal, local and global transformation. This level has a strong political accent and may be approached in different ways, as suggested by feminist radical activists like Nadeau (1996).


I believe that the LC is situated somewhere along the continuum of the following pedagogical approaches that inform my analysis.

Constructivist radical orientation

Here educators act as promoters of conscience that can empower learners and facilitate social transformation. Freire’s (1970) pedagogy of conscientization moves in this direction, transcending the oppressing dictates of banking education. Although his original ideas reflected dichotomous axioms that may not agree with later discourses on transformative education, Freire caught the essence of the imbalances still affecting our societies. The task for us is to incorporate his ideas into the changing context of the third millennium.

A radical approach helps examine and challenge cultural discourses and assumptions; issues of cultural representations and otherization; and personal narratives as found in present-day South Africa. When not polarized, this orientation could be effective at uncovering and possibly overcoming issues of oppression, cultural relativism and essentialism, and eventually addressing imbalances that are still part of our social and educational models

Constructivist transformational orientation

Here educators act as promoters of transformative processes. According to Mezirow (1991), this approach leads “to a dramatic shift or transformation in the learner’s way of viewing the world” by “bringing of one’s assumptions, premises, criteria, and schemata into consciousness and vigorously critiquing them” (Fenwick, 2001, p. 13).

Like in Freire (1973), this orientation challenges cultural assumptions through cognitive reflection. However, one must recognize that not everyone is interested in shifting perspective, or capable of reflecting cognitively, in which cases this approach may feel to some like a piloted operation.

Dialogic communication as envisioned by thinkers such as David Bohm, Martin Buber, Fred Casmir, Muneo Yoshikawa and many others belongs within this perspective. It aims at the development of a high level of dialogue competence (Matoba, 2002, p. 143) that can help address issues of oppression and social advancement.

Enactivist orientation

This perspective promotes a new learning paradigm derived from whole-system thinking. It transcends the confinements of established Western worldviews and embedded traditional education practices. Educators act as communicators, story-makers, and interpreters (Fenwick, 2001, p. 49).[5]

It entails an investigative, self-reflective, open-ended approach to learning that is not separate from teaching, and uses a grammar conducive to understanding relations between systems. It presides over the co-emergence of an interrelated pattern in which “each participant’s understandings are entwined with those of other participants, and individual knowledge co-emerges with collective knowledge” (Fenwick, 2001, p. 49).

Enactivist educators “can provide feedback loops to a system as it experiments with different patterns leading out from disequilibrium” (Fenwick, 2001, p.50). This resonates with Ervin Laszlo’s work on macroshifts (Laszlo, 2001) and relevant views of a paradigmal change.


It is important to note how the preceding orientations differ from populist approaches to transformative education. Briefly, let us compare Youngman’s views (1996) with Mezirow’s (1991, 2000).

Youngman’s perspective derives from political economy. He believes that transformative adult education stems from a political analysis of issues of oppression. He views transformation through adult education as a collective process through which people are able to conquer issues of social inequality, disenfranchment, marginalization, and discrimination. To a lesser degree than Freire (1973), Youngman presents a perspective that is still heavily informed by the juxtaposition of capitalist and Marxist considerations on political economy.

Mezirow (1991, 2000) instead believes that at the core of transformational learning lies individual learners’ ability to construe, validate, and reformulate the meaning of their experience. The emphasis is on “perspective transformation” as a means to promote personal growth and, eventually, the emergence of a new society. Rather than a polarized society, Mezirow envisions a society that displays the traits of a third-culture, where the new is not just a better version of the old, but is instead based on a new thinking paradigm. Mezirow’s transformational learning is dialectic, suitable to challenge and discuss cultural assumptions through cognitive reflection, which leads “to a dramatic shift or transformation in the learner’s way of viewing the world” by “bringing of one’s assumptions, premises, criteria, and schemata into consciousness and vigorously critiquing them” (Fenwick, 2001, p. 13). “Others’ views can act as mirrors for our own views, opening dialectic, helping us ‘unfreeze’ our ‘meaning perspectives’ (Mezirow, 1991) and assumptions” (Fenwick, 2001, p. 13). Mezirow’s theory confronts and challenges the taken-for-granted norms, leading to a dramatic shift or transformation in the learner’s way of viewing the world.

To summarize, I believe that Youngman’s views on transformation stem from polarized political discourses and focus on social issues from a political economy perspective. Conversely, Mezirow views transformation as an individual process of growth derived from self-reflection and a dialectical approach with others. This will possibly give raise to something new akin to a third-culture. Mezirow’s theory is clearly systems-based. I believe that, along with other whole-system perspectives, it is suitable to address the complexity of relations and interdependence found in the LC model, as discussed in Section 4.


I consider the LC as an example of transformative learning in practice; it is both the means to achieving social transformation through learning, and the learning itself. This is a pivotal point in my analysis. The LC functions as a meta-framework for glocal[6] cooperative learning and a powerful learning experience aimed at doing things differently.


The LC model provides a learning forum for the diversity of cultures and traditions in the Western Cape. Its scope, however, is much broader, as it “follows a growing international trend, spearheaded by countries in Europe and North America, towards the development of learning societies that equip their citizens with the knowledge and skills needed to compete effectively in global markets” (South African Government, 2003).

As part of the LC, the Festival covers a broad spectrum of learning activities[7] ranging from adult literacy, early childhood development, health, science, small business skills development, sports and recreation, and second chance learning with individual and community development (Walters, 2005). It strikes me as a genuine effort to create web-like cooperation among many stakeholders and civil society organizations in the region. In this respect, the LC resonates with Swedish Study Circles, which provide “a system that is very much adapted to support diversity […] used in practice as a place to produce and reproduce diverse identities” (Larsson, 2002, p.11).

I see the LC as both a community and pedagogy, in line with the spirit of the 2007 Cape Town Open Education Declaration – “a statement of principle, a statement of strategy and a statement of commitment” meant to “spark dialogue, to inspire action and to help the open education movement grow”(2007). Both initiatives expand from the locality of the Western Cape to include global issues and create a web of learning strategies that may grow into a movement of “millions of educators and institutions from all corners of the earth, richer and poorer” (2007). By ensuring local access to learning opportunities and interfacing with global agencies, the LC enacts the spirit of the CTOED, creating conditions “to dramatically improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world through freely available, high-quality, locally relevant educational and learning opportunities” (2007).


From a post-modern perspective, Cohen and Arato (1995) believe that “social movements constitute the dynamic element in processes that might realize the positive potentials of modern civil societies.”

As mentioned above, the LC parallels Swedish Study Circles in that it reflects the shift from a context dominated by popular movements to one that values participation as “individual and private rather than something that is supporting the influence and power of a civil society versus other societal powers” (Larsson, 2001, p.13). Thus the LC focuses on learning venues that strengthen people’s active participation in democratic society by offering a plethora of topics and opportunities representative of diverse worldviews.

The LC proves how local administrations, departing from the traditional functions of states, may engage in building a collaborative meta-framework for education and learning. What is more effective and people-centered than a local government that is mindful of peoples’ needs and of the impact that political decisions have right there where they are made? By engaging in effective networking among all parties and stakeholders, local government would also empower minorities and tackle issues of marginality. As advocated also in the EU Memorandum on Lifelong Learning (2000), this may result in a multileveled dialogue aimed at the development of lifelong learning experiences towards the construction of professional competencies and active citizenship at the local, national, and international level.

Walters (2005) recognized local government as being “key to taking governance to the people” (p. 6), “as a counter weight to the hegemony of a rigid and autocratic central state” (p. 7), and “a distinct sphere of government, the foundation stone of democracy and the first line of service to local communities” (p.8).


The LC provides a diversified learning environment where participants and organizers engage in self-reflection and processes similar to conscientization, which Freire (1970, 1973) considered instrumental in achieving political and social change. The LC experience shows how Freire’s (1973) idea of active participation would lead to Active Citizenship, which, according to the 1998 UNESCO’s Mumbai Declaration,

“connects individuals and groups to the structures of social, political and economic activity in both local and global contexts, and emphasises women and men as agents of their own history in all aspects of their lives” (UIE, 1998).

Such transition corroborates Mezirow’s (1991) “Transformative Learning Theory,” which postulates emancipatory change through individual transformation. In her analysis of transformational learning, Lena Wilhelmson (2002) also believes that “perspective transformation leads to a revised frame of reference, and a willingness to act on the new perspective” (p.187).

The LC seems to move from Freire’s radical orientation towards a transformational orientation, fostering the conditions for a paradigmal change. This process may eventually lead to a more enactivist perspective on learning and relations between state, civil society organizations, and relevant agencies and stakeholders.

In line with The Cologne Charter on Lifelong Learning (1999), Faris (2004) believes that Active Citizenship develops through a lifelong learning approach to building a political economy that recognizes the contribution and synergy of human and social capital, central to community capacity building and sustainable economic, environmental and social change.

3.4      DIALOGUE

I see dialogue as the pillar of transformative processes. It is both the goal and the context needed to overcome polarized discourses. In the LC, dialogue supports the region’s multilingual, multicultural and multiethnic make-up within complex communication dynamics located at the interface of local, national and global processes.  

When considering alternative models of development from a dialogical perspective, Evanoff (2001) believes that the decision-making process should be democratized “in a way that fully takes the interests and concerns of non-elites into consideration” (p.4).

Kathy Watters wrote in our forum about the need “to work without an ‘expert’ towards transforming one’s own community.” Her approach echoes Bohm’s (1996) ideas on dialogue, which view successful transformation of existing conflicts as premised on equality, openness and coherence of thought (Kleinemas, 2008). This expands on Freire’s idea of conscientization by stressing each individual’s responsibility in finding coherence among a diversity of thoughts and meanings.


Firstly, the LC encourages processes of transformative learning informed by aforementioned orientations. Dialogue helps in dealing with the complexity of views, cultures and languages found in the Western Cape, connecting the personal, local and global levels of transformation outlined in Section 2.

Secondly, The LC fosters the emergence of a transformation that “understands social conflict as evolving from, and producing changes in, the personal, relational, structural and cultural dimensions of human experience.” Such transformation “seeks to promote constructive processes within each of these dimensions” (Lederach & Maiese, 2003).

Furthermore, the LC enacts a multilayered approach based on Freire’s (1973) call for a new epoch in which oppressed people will eventually enjoy the benefit of just-for-all participatory democracy. Given the level of instability affecting our current world-system, Freire’s ideas may later give way to a new era as heralded in Laszlo’s Macroshift (2001), a paradigmal change that occurs at certain points in human history.

As we see, transformation seems to move like a wave from education, to learning, to society and “brings into focus the horizon toward which we journey, namely the building of healthy relationships and communities, both locally and globally. This process requires significant changes in our current ways of relating” (Lederach & Maiese, 2003). This is also supported by Mezirov (2000), for whom “transformation refers to a movement through time of reformulating reified structures of meaning by reconstructing dominant narratives” (p.19).



Today, many people linger on current socio-economic models, in spite of their obvious failures. As Youngman recognized (2000), neo-liberal, modernist, and post-Marxist discourses still hold sway.

The cooperative LC model merges “romance”, “vision”, and structural intervention within a diversified framework of agencies, people, stakeholders, and individuals, creating opportunities for government structures to “connect up” with organizations that are the expression of civil society. Such complex, holistic scenario can only be appreciated through “telescopic” lenses (Walters, 2006), i.e. from a whole-system perspective.

“Circular understanding suggests that we need to think carefully about how social change actually develops. This notion of circularity underscores some defining elements of transformational change processes. First, it reminds us that things are connected and in relationship. Second, it suggests that the growth of something often “nourishes” itself from its own process and dynamic. In other words, it operates as a feedback loop” (Lederach & Maiese, 2003), providing the link between the transformative and enactivist orientations outlined in Section 2.


The LC scenario seems to support a third-culture context as a flexible framework for future developments in social change and education. “When dialogue between people from different cultures begins, we can also speak of an integrated ‘third culture’ perspective in sociological terms. When third-culture individuals from different cultures begin working together with each other, they may evolve entirely new ways of doing things” (Evanoff, 2001, p.23).

Synergy may be the key to the success of third-culture building. It is loosely defined as “the relational interdependence” that constitutes the building block of third-culture development (Shuter, 1993). Any synergistic approach is based on a shared vision of a new emerging paradigm, a vision not enforced from the top down. Casmir (1993) called it an approach “from the bottom up,” which resonates with the “connect up” model envisioned by Walters (2006).


We should not forget that many people’s life in the Western Cape is still very difficult.

People stay awake worrying about their lives. You must see how big the rats are that will run across the small babies in the night. You must see how people have to sleep under the bridges when it rains because their floors are so wet. The rain comes right inside people’s houses. Some people just stand up all night (Zikode, 2006).

This paper has shown how the LC model for collaborative lifelong learning shapes education practices that promote Active global Citizenship, and provides a perspective of hope by which people may conquer current dramatic economic and social difficulties. Expanding on Freire’s support for conscientization, the LC is creating new learning opportunities within a very complex web of personal, cultural and social relationships, embracing a whole-system approach to social transformation.

The effectiveness of the LC finds resonance and indirect recognition within relevant international statements. “Adult education and training has a central role to play in alleviating poverty and promoting sustainable development.  It is a catalyst for growth that equips adults with the skills and confidence to speak out and participate meaningfully in community life and it facilitates the growth of a vibrant economy and democratic society.” (UNESCO, 2004)  The LC represents an example of a “generative” stage where entirely new forms of culture are creatively produced, (Evanoff, 2001, p.25) and is emerging as a meta-arena for paradigmal change.

I believe that in our challenging times it is important to imagine. Survival in the global age depends on new ways we can envision a different world. “Apartheid was a political and economic system actively promoting distrust and, not surprisingly, has left a legacy of a culture of distrust” (Walters, 2005, p.5). In an attempt to break away from antagonisms rooted in such heritage of conflict, discrimination, and oppression, the LC offers a multifaceted arena for the cooperative achievement of cultural, political, social, and personal transformation based on dialogue, trust, and openness. It is a rhizome-like model of local and global reach aiming at the promotion of a culture of multiple views and value systems.


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The Learning Cape

An overview of the 2002 Learning Cape Festival:

Western Cape:

Cape Town Open Education Declaration

Cologne Charter on Lifelong Learning

European Commission Memorandum on Lifelong Learning:

David Bohm: On Dialogue, On-line version:

On dialogue:

On Global Education:

Coyote #13, Intercultural Dialogue

On Civil Society, and Cohen and Arato:

On conflict transformation (Lederach, P. & Maiese):

[1] Social Capital is defined as “the values and beliefs that citizens share in their everyday dealings and which give meaning and provide design for all sorts of rules. The word ‘capital’ implies that we are dealing with an asset. The word ‘social’ tells us that it is an asset attained through membership of a community” (Peter Maskell, 2000 p. 111).

[2] More information on the concept of Learning Region is found at this link:

[3] Excerpt from :  “Ours is a vehicle for collaborative partners to nurture a culture of lifelong learning within the Western Cape. We believe public awareness campaigns and projects will demystify the concept of learning, promote the benefits of education and learning, and share the pitfalls of not learning or not being educated. Our people will become aware of learning benefits. Their interests in learning will grow. […] Together we will develop participatory methodologies that engage and support, learning and educational opportunities with our partners.”

[4] Governmentability: defined by Foucault (1991) as “A form of power that is exercised through an ensemble of institutions, procedures, analyses, and reflections, which results in the formation of a specific governmental apparatus” (Fenwick, p. 42).

[5] “The educator’s role might be first, a communicator: assisting participants in naming what is unfolding around them and inside them, continually renaming these changing nuances, and unlocking the tenacious grasp of old categories, restrictive or destructive language that strangles emerging possibilities. Second, the educator as story-maker helps trace and meaningfully record the interactions of the actors and objects in the expanding spaces. Third, the educator as interpreter helps all to make community sense of the patterns emerging among these complex systems and understand their own involvements in these patterns of systems” (Fenwick, 2001, p. 49). In this way, issues of social, gender, national, ethnic, and racial inequality (to mention just a few) would be discussed within a framework that does not forcibly support juxtaposed and polarized discourses.

[6] By definition, the term “glocal” refers to the individual, group, division, unit, organisation, and community that is willing and able to “think globally and act locally.” The term has been used to show the human capacity to bridge scales (from local to global) and to help overcome meso-scale, bounded, “little-box” thinking. From:

[7] Here is an overview of the 2002 LCF:

One Response

  1. EVALUATION BY Natheem Hendricks

    Dear Oscar Vallazza,

    Thanks for presenting an excellent and interesting assignment. I am not going to discuss the nature of your assignment however; I want to problematise some of your arguments.

    First, on page 4 you suggests that the ‘learning region is a method of group education”. I want to take issue with this idea. The learning region from my perspective is a vision rather than a programme. In the case of the ‘Learning Cape’ the vision is still within its advocacy stage rather than at implantation stage.

    There are also some conceptual considerations in discussing the idea of the learning region, is it a policy or is it an educational programme of implementation – perhaps neither in the case of the Learning Cape. Education is defined as a planned learning intervention; the question that needs to be considered is who is planner the learning intervention. My reading of the situation is that no centralized learning interventions are initiated. Rather there are expectations that individuals will coordinate and plan their own learning. But that happen all the time if learning is defined as the process of adaptation to ones environment.

    From the above I argue that the idea of the Learning Cape is “truth received” from Europe and transplanted in the Cape.

    You suggest that the participation in the learning region is a transformative project (p. 6) in that it draws on progressive constructivism. This idea can be challenged because learning programmes associated with the Learning Cape subscribed to different philosophical orientations including instrumentalist, behaviorist and critical.

    These are the thoughts I want to leave with you.

    November 24, 2009

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