Shirley Walters is a leading figure in adult and continuing education in South Africa and has been recognized internationally for her pioneering work. She was the first woman professor of adult education in the country and was founding director of the Centre for Adult and Continuing Education (CACE) at University of Western Cape (UWC). UWC is a historically black university that was at the forefront of anti-apartheid activities.
Dr. Walters was an anti-apartheid campaigner during the difficult, repressive 1970s and 1980s. The adult education research, teaching and outreach all fed into the social movement for democracy and her research and writings have been committed to the furtherance of adult education that supports the disenfranchised and the poor, particularly women. CACE was instrumental in bringing adult educators from inside the country, together with those in exile for a conference in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1989.
Dr. Walters has been centrally involved in the international networks of adult educators through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO and was invited to present to three separate commissions (Women and Gender, Democracy and Higher Education) at the World Conference on Adult Education in Germany in 1997. In recognition of international contributions, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Linkoping, Sweden, in 2001.
During South Africa’s transition to democracy, Dr. Walters was actively involved in building the field of adult education and developing its policies. CACE was instrumental in developing the first gender and anti-racism popular educational methodologies and training materials which have subsequently circulated internationally. Innovative, flexible learning methodologies were also developed to support the professional development of community based, rurally located facilitators.
Dr. Walters' innovative approaches to teaching and learning have most recently resulted in the development of the intercontinental masters degree in Adult Learning and Global Change, a collaborative web-based course administered jointly by universities in Australia, Canada, South Africa and Sweden. Her ability as a facilitator was recognized when she was invited to act as organizational consultant to the Office of the President Nelson Mandela in 1994.
Since 1997, Dr. Walters has been a leader in South Africa and internationally for the promotion of lifelong learning within higher education and in the broader society. She is currently the founding director of the Division for Lifelong Learning that is mandated to assist UWC attain its lifelong learning mission. She has been appointed by the Minister of Education to Chair the South African Qualifications Authority, a key instrument nationally to provide access, redress and development through the National Qualifications Framework.
In the broader community, Dr. Walters is the chairperson of a regional consortium of civil society, government, business and educational organizations that has implemented an annual, month-long Learning Cape Festival which is part of a provincial strategy to develop a learning region. She continues to campaign for those on the margins of society and was co-founder of a non-governmental organization, the Women’s Hope Education and Training (WHEAT) Trust, which helps poor women to further their work in communities through adult education and training.
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