Centre for Education Rights and Transformation (CERT)


CERT was established in 2009 as part of the Faculty of Education University of Johannesburg. The Centre aims to contribute towards knowledge creation and social transformation. It combines academic research with action learning, promoting educational change at the grassroots.

The Centre’s ideals include “social, political and economic democracy; racial, class, gender and language equity; diversity in knowledge creation, discovery and dissemination. It defends education and human rights and promotes transformative teaching and learning.”

The staff members of CERT have a long history of involvement in educational struggles in South Africa, including trade union and workers education during the anti-apartheid struggle and education rights struggles post-apartheid.


CERT’s purpose is to promote education and human rights in all educational institutions and people’s organizations; to develop research capacity; to implement education projects and programmes; and publicise research findings in both academic and popular mediums.

Target Participants

CERT works with social movements, community organisations and trade unions in South Africa and with educational institutions globally. Grassroots work is mainly done with communities in Gauteng, such as Freedom Park and Sebokeng.

Focus areas

The work of the Centre focuses on:

  • The history, sociology and development of South African education
  • Globalization and educational changes and challenges in Southern African and internationally
  • National, African, and international policy studies in education
  • Pedagogies in classrooms, lecture rooms and community halls
  • Public advocacy, community participation and engagement. CERT tries to link with social movements, trade unions, popular organisations in the work that they do.

CERT’s projects include:

  • Community Literacy and Numeracy Group (CLING)
  • Education Rights Project (ERP)
  • The Right to Education of Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants in South Africa
  • Learning to Trade in the Informal Economy
  • Amplifying Voices Study
  • Adult Education Implementation Strategy
  • Outcomes-Based Education Teaching in Rural Schools

The Education Rights Project (ERP) was launched in 2002. The key components of the project include participatory action research, community involvement, policy advocacy, research and publications. The ERP has published 10 Rights Booklets based on issues raised by communities at the various ERP workshops including the cost of education; HIV and AIDS; disability; sexual harassment; school governing bodies; language and religious rights. The ERP continues to develop, translate and distribute the booklets as an educational and organising tool for community, social movements and trade unions.

The Community Literacy and Numeracy Group (CLING) Project is located in poor communities in Gauteng, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. The project uses participatory action research to understand community problems and design activities that support literacy education.


CERT’s community education approach is best illustrated in their CLING Project.

The CLING Project entailed long-term work and commitment to particular communities. Importance is placed on the building of community organisation, and not individuals. Value is also placed on maintaining organic links and relations with community members, taking into cognizance the power relations that exist between academic institutions and communities. It was acknowledged that building and maintaining these relations are difficult given university pressures to conform to the agenda set by university management of research output rather than building community struggles and undertaking useful work.

The CLING Project started with a 5 year research project in Freedom Park. The following activities were undertaken with community members:

  • Community mapping;
  • Identification of key community problems;
  • Workshops on (nature and causes of) problems identified e.g. youth unemployment and publication of booklets;
  • Community mobilization to address the problems.

The above process led to the establishment of groups to assist with literacy and numeracy through activities such as:

  • Reading clubs for children;
  • Story telling;
  • Educational games;
  • Cultural activities

The approach described above focuses on community needs and how education can respond to communities’ needs and challenges, grounded in a respect for working class communities and the knowledge and experiences they carry. One staff member identifies traditions and philosophies drawn on in their approach including Paulo Freire, the workers’ education movement in South Africa, workers’ cultural clubs, the US Civil Rights Movement and intellectuals such as Neville Alexander, Malcom X and Rosa Luxemburg.

Understanding of popular education

Popular education is understood as a tool in the struggle for emancipation – there is no distinction between the method and political purpose of popular education, in other words, the aims are practiced throughout the education process.

Popular education is political in purpose in that it is directly linked to social change and social action by challenging dominant forms of power whether they be of patriarchy, capitalism, racism or others.

The process by which popular education is a tool for change is through the affirmation of ordinary working class people’s experiences and knowledge; the understanding that everyone is a learner and a teacher at different moments; and through the facilitation of a collective and democratic process of dialogue, discussion, building on experiences and past struggle as well as analyses of power to decide on collective action.

One staff member commented that popular education today has become increasingly delinked from struggle; its participatory method appropriated by neoliberal agendas and is used to advance individuals’ careers rather than to build working class struggle for emancipation.

Type of organisation: 
Democracy & Rights