'For whom is your learning?' Community activist reflects on academic journey with OISE graduating class, evoking grandmother's words

By Tshweu Moleme, edits by Natalie Neumann Butler
May 13, 2020
Tshweu Moleme

Thuto ke lesedi (education is light), my late South African grandmother Mma would often remind me as a young boy as we fought our way through apartheid in Johannesburg, trying to make sense of the world or letting the world make sense of us.

As a new grad of OISE, I can hear grandmother’s words again, “Education is light...” These three simple words remind me that with learning, there’s advancement both individually and collectively – be it through sharing learning with your community; at work, in the classroom, church, anywhere your knowledge can be shared and shaped by others.

I am also reminded of our recent convocation address by fellow alum and activist Zanana Akande that learning happens in many ways. It will even come in informal and incidental ways.

"Share in the knowledge you gain and be open and welcoming of knowledge you receive from those around you," she said.

Reflecting on the journey to OISE

I am a father to two boys, Mookodi (rainbow) and Thuto (enlightenment/learning), and a husband to my beautiful wife, Sarah. When I decided to apply to OISE, there was a lot happening in my life – challenges related to my academic path and deeply personal ones. Now that I look back, I wonder how I pulled through. We all have our moments of courage.

I was at the end of my undergrad at U of T in political science, African studies and equity studies. I was and still am working as a full-time Union Representative with Unifor. While studying, I met New College Professor June Larkin, who took great interest in my work and where I wanted to go in terms of research on youth and trade unions. This culminated in her helping me develop my research project on youth activism and youth voice in these spaces. I also delivered a paper at an academic conference at the college.

Professor Larkin guided me to OISE where she believed my work would be welcome. I applied, started praying, and dreaming about life at OISE. I was accepted! Professor Larkin's encouragement, selflessness and trusting of a student in this way, reminded me of Akande’s words about the role of the teacher or sharer of knowledge:

“Recognize and cultivate the strength in each person that you engage. Even if your encouragement and their intelligence sees them move past you. You have contributed to that."

A community of inspiration and encouragement

I found myself in my first year at OISE, enrolled in Professor Peter Sawchuk's advanced class in workplace learning which was filled with both masters and PhD students. Frankly, I felt intimidated. A classmate and I would often joke, “What were we thinking?” as we began unpacking advanced theories and major questions in workplace learning and social change, fresh out of undergrad.

While it is difficult to name just one person who had an impact on my learning during my degree, I must honour Professor Sawchuk. His class became a community for us all, where students at all levels taught one another and were given a chance each week to stand before the class, share progress and research, and receive all the help and ideas in the room.

Professor Sawchuk took time to understand not only my comprehension of course material, but what ideas I had and how they connected to the class. I was fortunate to have him direct my independent master's thesis in our shared research area of labour movement studies and workplace learning.

With patience, he helped advance my learning goals and perspectives. He “recognized my individuality,” which Akande concluded is a crucial part of teaching and learning.

Involved beyond the classroom

Across my time at the university, I've also participated in a number of ways outside of my courses. I was a researcher at the Munk School of Global Affairs; I am a researcher with the Youth, Activism, & Community (YAC) group of scholars, a New College and OISE based research initiative; and I was Vice President, Academic of the students' association at my home department at OISE.

My involvement in these groups offered great returns by contributing and growing well beyond the university. Community engagement is useful for practical learning. Despite being a busy commuter student, I made time to fit all my roles together. 

As Akande said of her own learning, the University of Toronto has made it possible for one’s mind to travel. And so, I will keep travelling. I plan to enrol in a PhD program in the future at OISE. I look forward to contributing my ideas to the world – to continue learning.

For whom is your learning? 

To all my fellow OISE graduates, may you consider your education some form of light in your own lives and the lives of others. Let your learning bring light where and when it is needed.

My grandmother Mma asked me when I was boy in school, "for whom is your learning?" I believe this is a question worth asking of oneself and the world, as you embark on the next phase of your journey.

Congratulations, graduates. Your education is light.

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