John Jacques William Aitchison of South Africa has a career spanning various forms of adult and continuing education, including developing access courses for disadvantaged learners into higher education, staff development and professional development of adult educators.
He is a graduate of the University of Natal where he received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Aitchison started as an educator in the area of theological education in 1970 and by 1980 had moved to the University of Natal, where he built the Centre for Adult Education into the most active adult education facility in the country today. He has built the faculty of many black adult educators and activists through training programs, collaborating research projects, and mentoring participation in many different organizations. He has also been involved in nearly all the efforts of the democratic movement and the democratic government to put adult literacy and basic education on the map.
Aitchison has continued to argue for poor people’s right to adult education in many different ways, from policy formation, to analyst, to writer, to educator and even trainer. In addition, Aitchison has been a public commentator working through the media and speaking out against abuses of human rights. He became the head of the new School of Adult and Higher Education at the University of Kwazulu-Natal where he was promoted to senior professor in 2002.
His key contributions relate to his unstinting commitments to being a scholar-activist, combining roles as advocate, researcher, administrator and leader, in the area of literacy and adult basic education, and as a political commentator and analyst, particularly relating to the periods of oppression and transition in his home province, Kwazulu-Natal. During the last 25 years he has been a key commentator, policy analyst and advocate for literacy, and also as a detailed analyst of violence in his home province during the late 1980s and into the 1990s.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Aitchison started his adult education practice setting up theological training that was socially engaged. He went on to improve the Centre for Adult Education at the University of Natal, later the University of Kwazulu-Natal, to be a leading force in the area of adult basic education and training (ABET). He retired in 2007 after leading the National Literacy Campaign for the Department of Education in Pretoria.
In a context where funding for research is very limited, he has been the primary driver of providing statistics on the numbers of learners in the area of ABET. He has always been forthright, hard working and committed to social justice. Throughout his career he has been in leadership positions either in his formal workplace, or in the various civil society organizations he has helped to establish and run for many years.
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