UP lecturer becomes first South African to join UNESCO think tank on arts education around cultural diversity and sustainable development

Posted on April 12, 2024

Dr Avi Sooful, a Senior Lecturer in Fine Arts at the University of Pretoria’s (UP’s) School of the Arts, has been accepted as an associate member of the UNESCO UNITWIN Arts Education Research for Cultural Diversity and Sustainable Development think tank.

“My involvement in these networks allows for a broader interrogation of art education, specifically with regard to Africa and our relationship with the world,” Dr Sooful said about her new role. “The first task of the Arts in Education Forum within which I will function is to evaluate the new UNESCO Framework on Culture and Arts Education. My experience and African lens will possibly provide new perspectives and research areas that address art education in Africa.”

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. UNITWIN is the abbreviation for the University Twinning and Networking Programme, which was established in 1992 as a way to advance research, training and programme development in all of UNESCO’s fields of competence by building university networks and encouraging inter-university cooperation.

UNITWIN’s Arts Education Research for Cultural Diversity and Sustainable Development think tank brings together arts education scholars from a variety of universities and institutions worldwide. Its mission is to foster high-quality international research in arts education, focusing on issues of diversity and sustainable development.

Dr Sooful’s acceptance into this forum makes her the first member from UP and from South Africa. She says her experience is helping UNESCO achieve its educational goals through her work on two significant committees: The South African National Involvement Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA, of which she is National Vice President), and the Exploring Visual Cultures Network (EVC, of which she is Chair), an international body that comprises art educators from Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Germany and South Africa.

“The tremendous poverty and diversity that shape our lives present UNESCO with long-term challenges in its mandate to promote research, education, culture, and communication,” she said. “The colonial construct is still in place and requires the implementation of progressive measures globally to counteract it.”

UP’s contribution to the UNESCO-UNITWIN agenda is two projects that are currently under way.

The first unfolds in Kenya, where four students from UP’s School of the Arts will join students from Germany’s Dortmund University and the Technical University of Kenya for a three-week project. This interface considers new spaces for education, as well as student learning and engagement from different educational environments. The second project is a three-year project to develop a transdisciplinary textbook for art education, history and geography that will be used by learners in Germany and Ghana.

Dr Sooful says this milestone appointment reflects not only her scholarly achievements and dedication in the field of arts education – “It also underscores UP’s commitment to advancing research excellence, global engagement and collaborations in the field.”

UP congratulates Dr Sooful, and is confident that her participation will contribute significantly to the growth of arts education, research, cultural diversity and sustainable development.

- Author Yolanda Rakobela

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