Ubuntu in adult vocational education: Theoretical discussion and implications for teaching international students

  • Ly Thi TranEmail author
  • Tony Wall
Original Paper


Evidence now calls into question the efficacy and appropriateness of pedagogical practices that force international students to adapt to Eurocentric expectations when they enrol in tertiary education outside their home country and cultural environment. In response to calls for alternative perspectives, this article introduces the educational philosophy of ubuntu, an African worldview prioritising “humanness” and interconnectedness, and utilises it as a conceptual lens to examine the key tenets of engaging pedagogical practices in teaching international students. Based on a research project in Australia, the aim of which was to analyse teachers’ adaptation of pedagogical practices in accommodating international students, the authors’ findings point to three main ways in which the ubuntu principle can manifest in teaching international students: (1) humanness; (2) interconnectedness; and (3) situatedness. This article offers new insights into how an under-researched, non-Western philosophy – ubuntu – can serve to conceptualise international education practice. In doing so, it contributes to theory building and at the same time provokes consideration of an alternative pedagogical lens. In particular, this article draws on ubuntu as a critical framework to challenge conventional ways of viewing international students as the “other” in “our” educational system.


ubuntu African philosophy of education international education international students humanness in education teaching and learning of international students adult learners 


L’ubuntu dans la formation professionnelle des adultes : débat théorique et implications pour l’enseignement aux étudiants internationaux – Les données scientifiques remettent aujourd’hui en question l’efficacité et la pertinence des pratiques pédagogiques qui contraignent les étudiants internationaux à s’adapter aux attentes eurocentriques quand ils intègrent un établissement d’enseignement supérieur hors de leur pays natal et de leur environnement culturel. Répondant aux demandes de perspectives nouvelles, les auteurs de l’article présentent la philosophie éducative ubuntu, vision du monde africaine qui privilégie l’humanisme et l’interconnectivité; ils l’utilisent dans une optique conceptuelle pour examiner les grands principes appliqués aux pratiques pédagogiques dans l’enseignement aux étudiants internationaux. À partir d’un projet de recherche réalisé en Australie visant à analyser l’adaptation par les enseignants des pratiques pédagogiques lors de l’accueil d’étudiants internationaux dans le secteur de la formation professionnelle, les auteurs déduisent de leurs résultats trois optiques principales par lesquelles la perspective ubuntu peut se manifester dans l’enseignement aux étudiants internationaux : 1) humanisme, 2) interconnectivité, et 3) contextualisation. Cet article apporte de nouveaux éclairages sur la manière dont une philosophie non occidentale et insuffisamment étudiée, l’ubuntu, peut servir à conceptualiser la pratique éducative internationale. Ce faisant, elle contribue à l’élaboration de théories et en même temps favorise la prise en compte d’une perspective pédagogique nouvelle. En particulier, les auteurs abordent l’ubuntu comme un cadre critique permettant de bousculer les modes conventionnels de considérer l’étudiant international, qui est « l’autre » dans « notre » système éducatif.



We are grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their very useful feedback and suggestions which helped us considerably in improving this article. We acknowledge with thanks the valuable contributions from the teacher participants of our study and the funding from the Australian Research Council for this project.


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Copyright information

© UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning and Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationDeakin UniversityBurwoodAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Work Related StudiesUniversity of ChesterChesterUK

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