Teacher-Student Duo Graduates with PhDs

Teacher-Student Duo Graduates with PhDs
Drs Zanele Zama (left) and Thabile Zondi graduate together.

Teacher-student duo, Drs Zanele Zama and Thabile Zondi are elated to have graduated with their PhDs in Education and Geography, respectively - owing much of their success to hard work and determination.

Having met in 1995, Zama was a primary school teacher at Bhongo Primary School, while Zondi was a humble and hard-working learner at the time in her Grade 2 class. Sadly, after that year, Zondi changed schools because her family was relocating.

After 1995, the pair did not see each other again until Zondi greeted Zama at one of the UKZN libraries 19 years later. ‘I did not recognise her initially because it had been 19 years since I last saw or heard from her, so I was so excited to see her,’ said Zama who in 2014 was writing up her master’s thesis.

‘Through our conversation, I discovered that she was a certified high school teacher at Adams College - Amanzimtoti and she was also a master’s candidate at UKZN,’ she added.

They then started using each other as sounding boards in their writing journeys, and although Zama was a hard worker herself, she realised that her former Grade 2 learner was well read, and provided some much-needed assistance as Zama struggled to wrap up her study, which is when they both realised how the roles had switched - the former learner had now become a research coach.

They provided each other with enormous research support during their master’s journey and parted ways when Zama graduated in 2015, while Zondi continued with hers and graduated in 2016.

In 2017, they were reunited again when Zama decided to further her studies and enrolled into UKZN’s PhD programme - only to find Zondi there as a UKZN staffer also pursuing her doctorate degree. They were now colleagues and study buddies.

Zondi’s PhD thesis was a collaborative journey with her co-researchers in assessing the efficacy of using an Inquiry-Based Learning framework for teaching Geographic Information Systems in a Rural Learning Ecology whilst Zama worked on the integrated planning of activities using the National Curriculum Framework in Early Childhood Care and Education Rural Centres.

Zama is currently a lecturer in Early Childhood Education and Zondi is a lecturer in Geography.

Words: Lungile Ngubelanga

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan and supplied


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Humanities Academic Becomes UKZN Fellow

Humanities Academic Becomes UKZN Fellow
UKZN Fellow, Professor David Spurrett.

Professor David Spurrett of the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics (SRPC) was awarded a UKZN Fellowship during the University’s Spring Graduation Ceremony in recognition of his distinguished achievement as an academic and contribution to his field of philosophy.

‘This is the highest honour that UKZN can give to a senior scholar in recognition of their academic achievements and places me in the company of colleagues in a range of fields who I deeply respect and admire. Research is sometimes lonely work, and often focused on what is wrong or needs improving. It is also very focused on climbing over the rocks and obstacles right in front of you at the time,’ said Spurrett. ‘This award looks back at the view, tells me to look also at how high I’ve climbed already, and encourages me to keep going. This wouldn’t have been possible without many mentors and supportive colleagues along the way, and I’m especially grateful to them and my family.’

Having lectured philosophy since 1991, Spurrett studied philosophy at the former University of Natal (now UKZN) and at King’s College London, England. He graduated with his PhD in Metaphysics in 2000 and since then, has co-edited and co-written several books and papers, mostly on topics in the philosophy of science, cognitive science and metaphysics.

His research has involved collaborations with linguists, psychologists, economists, psychiatrists, legal scholars, anaesthetists and other philosophers. His current research is largely focused on questions about agency, including human agency at the intersection of philosophy of biology and philosophy of cognitive science. His recent publications (listed below) give a sense of his current interests.

Among the awards and honours he has received are the Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award (University of Natal, 2003), Distinguished Teachers’ Award (University of Natal, 2003), Colenso Scholarship (St John’s College, Cambridge, 2003), President’s Award (National Research Foundation, 2002), and an NRF “B” rating (2010 and 2016).

In 2010, the National Research Foundation (NRF) awarded him a “B3” rating indicating that his research enjoyed “considerable international recognition”. This rating was renewed for a further five years commencing in 2016, and raised to a “B2” in late 2021.

Spurrett is also the author or co-author of over 60 articles, chapters, commentaries and editorials, including papers in leading journals such as Behavioral and Brain SciencesAnalysisThe British Journal for the Philosophy of ScienceBiology and Philosophy, and Synthese. He has presented his work at over 70 conferences in South Africa, Australia, Canada, Croatia, Belgium, Estonia, England, Scotland, and the United States. He has also made numerous invited presentations around the country and the world.

He possesses many years of experience in university administration, having been a member of the UKZN Council and Senate, and formerly serving as a Head of School and Dean of SRPC.

His current research concerns the evolution of action-selection mechanisms, specifically processes representing the expected utility of alternative actions and the environmental scaffolding of action selection.

This work has been presented at leading conferences around the world.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Creating Opportunities of Change and Eradicating Queerphobic Violence

Creating Opportunities of Change and Eradicating Queerphobic Violence
UKZN staffer and master’s graduate, Mr Nkonzo Mkhize.

‘Despite the fact that the rights of South African queer persons are enshrined in the Constitution, queer youth continue to experience marginalisation and queerphobic violence in communities and schools,’ said UKZN staffer and master’s graduate, Mr Nkonzo Mkhize.

His research study: Being Queer in South African Township Secondary Schools: Experiences of Queerphobic Violence and Creating Opportunitiesfor Changeaims to investigate how, despite the protective constitutional context of the country, queer African youth experience, respond to and resist queerphobic violence in and around their township secondary schools.

Queer African youth in this study showed how they are navigating their school environments and relations with teachers and peers - they described agentic ways in which they engage within the queerphobic township school context to how they have been able to create a sense of belonging and find love and friendships amid queerphobic violence.

‘This research charts a way forward to moving away from merely understanding queer youth experiences in the South African context from the perspectives of those dominant in the school environment. It shows how, and importantly why the voice of those who are oppressed should be centred in the research process,’ said Mkhize.

‘It challenges the single narrative of victim-target-martyr that seems to surround the experiences of queer African youth. It asks those who are interested in such work to look at the plurality of existence and to place the voices of those who are/have been marginalised at the centre,’ he added.

Key findings of this study suggest that ‘schools are configured around unequal gender and hetero-patriarchal norms: queer pupils are still subjected to name-calling, bullying, physical and sexual assaults with little to no support from teachers who are often perpetrators of this violence’.

Informed by their experiences of queerphobic violence, the changes the participants wanted to see in the schools include a change in school policy, for teachers to address queerphobic violence and queer issues, and changing the curriculum to include queer content and affirm queer youth in schools.

Mkhize says the journey to completing his master’s was not easy, having experienced the same injustice while growing up and studying in a township that did not support his existence. For him, however, this was not just an academic journey but a personal one which made it that much more important.

‘This was not just an exercise to get a piece of paper but a personal and political project. As a queer African man having lived and been schooled for most of my life in the township context, it was and still is important for me to show the many experiences of queer African youth,’ he said.

He thanked his supervisor Professor Relebohile Moletsane for her willingness to listen and truly grasp what he wanted to achieve in this study and work with him to achieve it.

He also thanked his mother, aunt and his chosen siblings for the continuous love and support during his academic journey.

Mkhize plans to continue with this research area in his PhD and investigate how township communities might work together with queer African youth to address queerphobic violence.

Words: Lungile Ngubelanga

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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IsiZulu Master’s Research Analyses Storytelling Tactics Used by Legendary Musician Vusi Ximba

IsiZulu Master’s Research Analyses Storytelling Tactics Used by Legendary Musician Vusi Ximba
Master of Arts degree holder Ms Nonjabulo Ximba.

Ms Nonjabulo Ximba was ecstatic to graduate from UKZN with her Master of Arts degree which she wrote in isiZulu.

She is also the daughter of the late legendary musician, Vusi Ximba. In her dissertation, she analyses storytelling tactics used by her father in his music as a way of paying homage to him. She believes that her father is one of the arts innovators who demonstrated huge talent in music by employing a variety of techniques to present his work to the public.

‘I did this research on him simply because no thorough research has been conducted on him despite his talent and popularity. His genre and style are indigenous. He rose from playing his music in taxi ranks and on the streets of several towns and when everyone thought his story would be one of those that ends without success, he rose from the ashes and carved a name for himself, recording several hits that I have used in my research analysis,’ she said.

Her findings indicate that ‘while some listeners thought Vusi’s music is profane, musical experts have concluded that it is in fact very humorous and touches on subjects very few musicians dare to explore, including sex, prostitution, promiscuous men of the cloth, witchcraft, lies and dishonesty.’ The findings also show that while Vusi and his music did not receive the same acclaim as other artists, there is something to be learned from his body of work and notable talent.

Speaking about her support system, Ximba said, ‘My mother Thembisile Nhlangulela took care of all the home chores and kids without complaining (while I was busy with my dissertation). At times when I could not get access to certain songs, she would go around and ask neighbours for songs on my behalf. Most of my dad’s songs are no longer available at music stores. Her excitement about the study made me realise that I need to keep on pushing no matter the challenges.’

Ximba advised other researchers ‘to build a support system and also make use of them. There is a high level of independent research that one has to undertake just in order to grasp the concepts being taught. Planning is the key.’

Ximba plans to pursue her PhD in the future and to publish her research.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Interesting Research Earns Education Students PhDs

Interesting Research Earns Education Students PhDs
Education graduates seen with their supervisors.

Six excited Education students supervised by Professor Simon Bheki Khoza recently graduated from UKZN with their PhDs in Education.

The graduates are Drs Boy Bongani Dlamini, Vusumuzi Ndlovu, Nonhlanhla Nduku, Petty Silitshena, Lerato Sokhulu and Dongwa Tshabalala.

Dlamini’s study: Voices of Eswatini General Certificate of Education Geography Teachers on Teaching Climate Change(co-supervised by Dr Makhosazana Shoba) looked at understanding the voices that drive teachers’ voices through the Currere model. The moments of the Currere model were theorised in relation to identified curriculum themes and categories. The main findings revealed that teachers were predominantly summoned by either professional or societal voices when enacting climate change. It was affirmed that most teachers were torn in two by the tension that exists between these two voices.

Ndlovu (co-supervised by Dr Cedric Mpungose) explored teachers’ experiences through descriptive, operational, and philosophical questions. The findings of this study revealed that there is a lack of teacher content knowledge, and technological and pedagogical knowledge. As a result, teachers are not aware that these aforementioned areas are under the proficient, common, and subjective experiences that they should always be taking into consideration if they want to improve learner performance in financial literacy/accounting.

Nduku explored Teachers’ Perspectives of Teaching Agricultural Sciences (AGRIS) in Secondary Schools in Two Districts of KwaZulu-Natal. The findings showed that not all three perspectives (prescriptive, communal, and habitual) drive teachers when teaching AGRIS. The study discovered that teachers were teaching under the influence of a prescriptive perspective rather than a communal and habitual one. They based their teaching on stipulated policies, documents, and textbooks to ensure that learners pass examinations. This implies that in South Africa, AGRIS teaching addresses the subject needs rather than those of the teacher and society/learner.

Silitshena, who is 65-years-old, focused on Employee Motivation Models on Organisational Performance in Government Primary Teacher Education Colleges in ZimbabweThe major study findings revealed that all levels of motivation influenced employees. It was, however, affirmed that employees were by and large influenced by the system and process model rather than by the personal-needs model. There was limited knowledge of the personal-needs model, both from an operational level and documented literature. This led to a lack of balance between the system and the process models of motivation.

Sokhulu, a UKZN staff member (co-supervised by Dr Nomkhosi Nzimande), explored master’s students’ experiences of using digital technologies in research. This thesis established that with professional and social positions, academics missed the notion of individual internal intelligence as the most important ingredient of any action (personalisation). In other words, students learn when they are internally ready to learn (mindset) based on their individual needs and situations, irrespective of being with groups/friends or with their course content. Students learn through connecting relevant personalisation information that addresses their needs.

Tshabalala explored Lecturers’ Experiences of e-learning Resources in the Teaching of History at Universities in South Africa. Using an interpretive paradigm and the unified theory of acceptance and use of technology, this study reveals e-specialisation, e-generalisation, and e-connection as three important forms of e-learning experience for academics. This study recommends the application of the three forms of e-learning experience as taxonomies of e-learning in order to address professional, social, and personal needs. Taxonomies of e-learning are capable of helping universities to complete academic years in any situation.

Speaking as the group’s supervisor, Khoza said, ‘It is always difficult to supervise students because supervision, like teaching, needs different approaches that are relevant to what the students use in their learning to influence their research projects. My experience of supervising indicates that what informs my students’ performance is their individual reasons for doing their studies. They have been influenced by personal (habits), social (opinions) and professional (facts) reasons.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Doctoral Graduate Unmasks Gender Inequality and GBV in the Faith Context

Doctoral Graduate Unmasks Gender Inequality and GBV in the Faith Context
PhD in Gender and Religion studies graduate, Dr Zama Dlamini.

From high school teacher, school counsellor, and education specialist to lay minister, Dr Zama Dlamini graduates with a PhD in Gender and Religion.

She made a disciplinary shift from Media and Cultural Studies to Gender and Religion and completed her PhD in three years despite many family responsibilities.

Currently working as a researcher for the Ujamaa Centre, Dlamini is also the programme coordinator for Public Theology at UKZN’s School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics. Her research work focuses on gender-based violence (GBV) in the faith context which is highly topical. Dlamini will present some of her research at the Global Network for Public Theology in Brazil next month (October).

She said the switch from Media and Cultural Studies to Gender and Religion was inspired by the brokenness she encountered in ministry, where married Christian women experienced difficulties within their marriages. Dlamini said they struggle with trauma, depression, stress, and anxiety - and often end up leaving the church without any support.

‘The pain of witnessing African women’s experiences in marriage influenced by African culture and Christianity was too much to bear. Patriarchy has always been the template used to oppress, harm, and perpetuate human indignity. The lack of programmes and resources promoting relational wellbeing within the churches had not helped abate the challenges,’ said Dlamini, who pursued her PhD because of a deep desire to unmask GBV in Christian marriages. She sought to understand the precarious nature of the “unholy trinity” (gender, religion, and culture) in the stories of women who suffer abuse and how toxic biblical teachings/culture normalise and sustain women’s oppression.

‘I wanted to expose the lived experiences of GBV survivors, where women’s bodies are vulnerable to abuse in intimate relationships in which they are abused by their spouses in the context of heterosexual Christian marriages,’ she added.

Her research is about GBV in faith spaces, with the aim of unmasking how GBV is a reality not just in the secular spaces, but also how Christian married women survive domestic violence and GBV in their own homes.

This study revealed how gender inequality continues to be pervasively perpetuated religiously and culturally whereby women are faced with inequalities and a myriad of oppressive experiences.

Due to the sensitivity of this study, she encountered quite a few challenges, including difficulty to recruit participants who would be willing to share their experiences. The fact that she began collating data for the research at the peak of COVID-19 made personal contact with participants difficult. She had to use technology to collect data which made it difficult for participants to open up.

‘With all those challenges, the research process has been an enlightening, empowering, and healing journey for me at a personal level. I recognised how traumatic the narratives of participants were and it forced me to pace myself differently and take cognisance of my mental and emotional wellness. The support of the University counselling specialist really came in handy,’ said Dlamini.

She said the findings of this research study ‘will benefit faith leaders and various church communities to rethink and reimagine accompaniments and pastoral care praxis that is survivor informed. Different organisations including corporate entities need to warm up to this conversation and explore indigenous resources that will enable wellness and heal GBV wounds.’

While her PhD journey may have been tough, Dlamini is happy and proud of herself for succeeding. ‘Through a very trying season, my PhD became my source of comfort and my greatest motivation. I kept my faith and focused on the goal. It’s unbelievable that I have finished. I am elated and thankful to the Almighty.’

She thanked her supervisor, Professor Charlene van der Walt, and family and friends who supported and motivated her, especially her husband and mother who is her ‘prayer warrior’.

She plans on disrupting various spaces by creating advocacy around life-denying theologies and cultural traditions that legitimise female oppression. As co-director of Zatho Consulting through which she works with churches, schools, public and private companies in the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) space, she is intentional about transforming toxic ideologies.

Words: Lungile Ngubelanga

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Spotlight on Young Femininities, Sexuality and Violence in Primary Schools

Spotlight on Young Femininities, Sexuality and Violence in Primary Schools
Dr Naresa Govender received her doctoral degree in Education.

Dr Naresa Govender graduated with her PhD in Education for her research that focused on young femininities, sexuality and violence in primary school - dedicating her degree to her late mother.

‘I am ecstatic! My mother would have been too. I was just 16-years-old when she passed on. Now at 32, this achievement is a clear reflection of the manner in which she raised me, her blessings and her heavenly guidance,’ said Govender. ‘It wasn’t an easy journey, but let’s say I created gender equality at home. I reside with my father and he took on extra household chores and cooking so that I had extra time to complete my research and for that, I will always be truly grateful.’

Govender explored how the primary school is an active site through which young femininities are constructed as girls reinforce and challenge dominant gender norms. ‘I chose this topic in particular as primary schoolgirls seldom feature in research. Phenomena such as gender, sexuality and violence have not been explored in detail with 12 to 13-year-old school girls. Their experiences and voices matter too irrespective of age, culture, socio-economic position and dominant gender norms.’

Her research rejects the dominant focus on girls as passive and docile, instead illustrating the complex ways through which young femininities are produced, negotiated and challenged in relation to heterosexuality. The findings also show that primary schoolgirls as young as 12 to 13 are active agents - sexually and otherwise - and are able to construct and negotiate their own gendered and sexual identities.

‘While girls do reproduce dominant gender norms, they were also found to rupture these norms. For instance, girls spoke of how they dressed up in revealing clothing, had boyfriends and had sexual knowledge and engaged in practices such as kissing. Despite having and expressing their agency in diverse ways, girls were not at liberty from the heteropatriarchal society they stemmed from and this infiltrated into the school context where they spoke of how boys teased, touched and made them feel uncomfortable,’ she explained.

Govender believes that working towards increasing gender and sexual diversity and tolerance within the school environment can help facilitate a general transformation in the conventional binaries learners are obliged to internalise.

‘All avenues to help broaden and spread knowledge on the topics of gender, sexuality, femininity and their relationships to rape culture can serve to empower women and girls and make small but substantial changes in addressing gender inequalities in any given social setting,’ she said. ‘There is not only the need for a wave of gender and sexual diversity awareness in South African primary schools, but we also have to facilitate the construction of alternate, gender-equitable forms of femininity and sexuality in a country riddled with toxic versions and visions of hegemonic masculinity.’

Govender extended gratitude to her family, friends and supervisors, Dr Shaaista Moosa and Professor Deevia Bhana.

‘I am excited and look forward to building my academic profile by continuing to write research papers focusing on primary school learners and their experiences of gender, sexuality and violence.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Masculinity and Care in Foundation Phase Teaching Explored in PhD Study

Masculinity and Care in Foundation Phase Teaching Explored in PhD Study
PhD graduate and lecturer in the School of Education, Dr Vusi Msiza.

Dr Vusi Msiza, a lecturer within UKZN’s School of Education, graduated with a PhD in Education for his research which explored ways in which men who are teaching in the foundation phase construct and perform care.

He looked at how this group relates to their understandings of care to their masculinities and as teachers in Mpumalanga.

‘The topic is close to my heart. I am a qualified foundation phase teacher. While pursuing my first degree, I was discouraged and shamed for doing a qualification in an occupation that is historically perceived as for women. Also, my research area is new and emerging in South Africa and for me, it is the right area to contribute my research to,’ explained Msiza.

His research challenges the gendered stereotypes around foundation phase teaching such as the belief that men are not suited to teach young children, while debunking the idea that men cannot provide care. ‘My participants understood care as love and protection. The history of some of my participants’ upbringing of growing up without a father and their teacher identities influenced their caring practices. Men offer care in the foundation phase but are constantly challenged by patriarchal notions of what men ought to be,’ said Msiza.

Through his research, he engaged with senior academics on different platforms within and outside of the University; travelled to Tokyo, Japan, to present his work at an academic conference; and spent three months at the Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City, receiving mentorship on research. This was done through the University Staff Development Programme (USDP) funded by the South African government.

He also received a full doctoral scholarship from the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS).

Msiza thanked his family, friends and supervisor for their unwavering support, ‘They gave me sufficient time to focus on my studies and supported me through frustrating moments of the PhD journey. My friends listened to my ideas and served as my critics.’

Advising other scholars, he said, ‘Read widely. It is good to know your field of research, how it is emerging and the key debates.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Unmasking Gendered Experiences of Women in Higher Education Spaces

Unmasking Gendered Experiences of Women in Higher Education Spaces
Master’s in Education graduate, Ms Phakamile Mazibuko.

‘Receiving this degree serves as a testimony that dreams do come true and hard work works! The dream may be delayed but when the time is right, it will happen. I am so grateful to God for answering my prayers,’ said UKZN graduate, Ms Phakamile Mazibuko who received her Master’s in Education.

‘I pursued my master’s degree because of my passion for research, particularly on gendered experiences of women in Higher Education spaces. My research study: Negotiating Gender Identities in Higher Education: Experiences of Female Residence Assistants at Selected Student Residences in Durban was in the context of gender-based violence (GBV) in Higher Education Institutions, particularly in student residences,’ she added.

Her study explored the lived experiences of female residence assistants (RAs) on negotiating gender identities at selected student residences in Durban.

Substantial research carried out in South African Higher Education Institutions suggest that student residences are spaces for gender and sexual violence for and by students. Arguably, a residential experience is a central part of a student’s identity, development, and negotiation, therefore, it is an important component of their overall educational and university experience.

‘I am hopeful that this study will greatly contribute to understanding the overarching experiences (personal and social context) that affect female RAs in Higher Education spaces, especially student residences,’ said Mazibuko.

The study found that female RAs experienced multiple oppressions in Durban student residences such as bullying and harassment as a result of their multiple intersecting identities. The study also found that despite the extreme challenges and pressures exerted on female RAs, they still demonstrated agency, commitment, and resilience towards negotiating for diversity, gender equality, and tolerance in student residences.

Mazibuko’s study has shown that Higher Education spaces, particularly student residences, remain hubs of gender inequality, hostility, and intolerance towards women and the queer community. She suggests that ‘there is an urgent need to study the lived experiences of residence assistants within the queer community as this will be helpful to enhance respect for diversity in Higher Education spaces.’

Mazibuko says the academic journey was not easy, especially with the challenges presented by COVID-19 which resulted in psychosocial challenges that impacted her studies. However, she is grateful to the support services provided by UKZN such as the online webinars and student support workshops which helped her cope and thrive in learning in the “new normal”.

She also thanked her family for their continuous love and support during her academic journey and her supervisor for his support and guidance.

Her advice to other students is: ‘Work hard, stay committed and consistent. This academic journey is a marathon, not a sprint, so it is important to stay committed and be consistent. Take breaks when necessary and occupy yourself with things that make you happy; the journey can get quite lonely, so you need to revive your spirit and energy continuously.’

Words: Lungile Ngubelanga

Photograph: Itumeleng Masa


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Master’s Research Critically Investigates Foster Care Grants as a Poverty Alleviation Strategy

Master’s Research Critically Investigates Foster Care Grants as a Poverty Alleviation Strategy
Master’s graduate, Mr Nkosiyakhe Shabalala.

Mr Nkosiyakhe Shabalala, a social worker at the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Social Development (DSD), was thrilled to graduate with his Master’s in Development Studies.

His study critically examines Foster Care Grants (FCGs) as a poverty alleviation strategy in KZN, and how the FCG contributes to breaking the cycle of poverty among recipients.

He found that some participants expressed gratitude for the FCG, claiming that it provides them with psychological relief because they no longer have to worry about how they will financially support children in the absence of their biological parents.

The responses demonstrated that the grant provided beneficiaries with financial resources such as future savings, the ability to budget as well as monthly income. In terms of challenges and opportunities faced by the FCG recipients, the study’s findings indicated that recipients are faced with emotional and fostering challenges, the grant application process, and the grant amount.

Shabalala believes that his research will benefit the DSD, the Department of Justice and the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) to find new ways to improve the application procedure so that the grant is easily accessible.

He also noted that the DSD is not fully supporting grantees with programmes designed to address the emotional and psychological issues experienced by grant beneficiaries. ‘Some respondents have fostered their grandchildren since their parents are deceased, and so these foster children occasionally remind them of their late daughters and sons. The foster parents have expressed their grief for their children’s deaths. DSD should provide programmes and services to address the issues that the FCG beneficiaries face.’

His study also emphasised the critical importance of social services (DSD) in assisting foster parents, as well as the need to develop new approaches for linking children’s wellbeing.

Shabalala is grateful to his family, friends and supervisor, Professor Shauna Mottiar, for their encouragement and support. He also dedicated his degree to his late mother, Mrs Busisiwe Mafingili Shabalala.

Advising other students, he said, ‘Never underestimate yourself, but keep on digging until you discover the truth.’

Shabalala plans to pursue his PhD in the near future.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Rogan Ward


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Pre-Service Mathematics Teachers’ Experiences as they Solve Euclidean Geometry Problems

Pre-Service Mathematics Teachers’ Experiences as they Solve Euclidean Geometry Problems
Dr Sfiso Mahlaba received his doctoral degree in Mathematics Education.

Lecturer at the North West University, Dr Sfiso Mahlaba loves Mathematics and Euclidean geometry.

This passion led him to graduate from UKZN with a PhD in Mathematics Education. His research looked at improving pre-service mathematics teachers’ (PMTs) knowledge of geometry and their discourses when solving geometry problems.

Mahlaba believes that his research ‘will contribute to training pre-service teachers to teach Euclidean geometry successfully so that they can go into classrooms with competent knowledge for teaching children effectively.’

Findings from this study revealed that most PMTs use ritualistic discourse when communicating about their geometry problem-solving actions. These findings are a consequence of them performing routines for social acceptance instead of generating endorsed narratives.

‘Others used ritualistic discourse because they rely on scaffolding from others to perform their routines instead of developing their own routines. Despite the dominance of ritualistic discourse participation in the current study, there are instances where PMTs seemed to be using explorative discourse but got stuck somehow and returned to ritualistic discourse,’ explained Mahlaba.

He is grateful to his family, friends and supervisor for being a part of his PhD journey.

Mahlaba advised other scholars to ‘set time-related goals and turn them into achievements.’

Words: Sinoyolo Mahlasela

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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PhD Research Examines the Construction of Masculinities

PhD Research Examines the Construction of Masculinities
PhD graduate, Dr Diloshini Govender.

Dr Diloshini Govender, a primary school teacher, graduated with a PhD in Education for her research which examined the construction of masculinities among eight to nine-year-old primary school boys.

Govender’s study highlighted the social processes through which masculine identities were formed - nuanced by race, socioeconomic conditions, culture, gender inequalities, and sexuality; all of which contributed to malleable and plural patterns of masculinities.

Violence and heterosexuality emerged as the most dominant and prevalent ways of expressing hegemonic masculinity and male power. Violence was exemplified through performances of strength, fighting prowess, an esteemed physical body and the denigration of femininity. ‘This was not a uniform experience for all boys. Given their agency, some boys sought to denounce hegemonic masculinity by adopting non-violent subject positions and developed shared solidarity by caring for each other, thus transcending racial divides,’ she explained.

According to Govender, ‘heterosexuality was also a normalising force that regulated boys’ sexuality in ways that constrained or empowered their masculinities. They actively invested in heterosexual masculinity, finding pleasure in it but also navigating the complex terrains related to compulsory heterosexuality, material and economic deprivation and competition for girlfriends.’

Reflecting on her memorable experiences, Govender attended the International Local Democracy Academy which was held at Uppsala University in Visby, Sweden. She presented her research on boys’ experiences and perpetration of violence within and beyond schooling spaces. She also published a chapter in the book: Gender, Sexuality and Violence in South African Educational Spaces by Palgrave Macmillan.

Govender is grateful to her family, friends and supervisor, Professor Deevia Bhana, for their endless support, guidance and encouragement.

Asked about her future plans, she said, ‘I plan to write research papers in order to share the findings of my study which can assist school teachers to better understand the lives of young boys and develop practical interventions to address harmful masculine practices in the primary school.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Staffer Graduates with a PhD in Honour of her Late Father

Staffer Graduates with a PhD in Honour of her Late Father
PhD graduate and lecturer in the School of Education, Dr Lulama Mbatha.

To fulfil her late father’s wish, Dr Lulama Mbatha, a lecturer in the School of Education, recently graduated with a PhD in Education.

Her research examines how various stakeholders understand the interdependence of the different parts of Community Education and Training (CET) college leadership in organisational change, how change is managed, and how effective the organisational change is.

Findings reveal varying understandings of the interdependence of the different parts of the community colleges’ leadership and the management of organisational change management; suggesting that leaders do not view the CET college holistically.

The study also found that CET college leadership lacks an understanding of what needs to be changed. Mbatha argues that ‘there is an enabling environment for the change management process to occur effectively. That is, there is a clear mandate, vision, resources, political commitment, governance structures, and implementation framework to drive change management processes. However, there is inadequately knowledgeable, qualified, and competent leadership and stakeholders to support the planning and implementation of change management processes.’

She noted that monitoring and evaluation of the desired change and contribution by leadership and various stakeholders does not reflect the standardised criteria for CET colleges’ effectiveness.

Mbatha suggests a review of governance and leadership structures, the adoption of shared organisational change by all stakeholder levels of leadership and further training on policy systems by policy experts.

‘The findings of my study may inform future policy and practice. They could help recommend a preferred leadership style and change management framework that may inform initiatives for the successful implementation of CET colleges. This will ensure that CET colleges are meeting their intended objectives as set out in the national policy and are deemed fit for purpose,’ said Mbatha.

She found it challenging to meet the demands of work and studying. ‘I was fortunate that my research project was connected to my work. I am also a perfectionist and tend to put pressure on myself. This nearly left me burnt out because I neglected myself and constantly felt guilty when I was not working on my research. I realised that I needed to find that balance and manage the pace and my time effectively. I started caring for myself and set out time to do other things like walking and watching movies without guilt. I also took an interest in gardening.’

She advised other students to find balance as it is critical. ‘This journey can be lonely and exhausting. One has to balance study and their wellbeing. Consistently take stock of your energies and manage your own time and other people’s expectations of you. Don’t feel guilty about saying “no”,’ she said.

Mbatha thanked her family, friends and supervisor for being her support system.

She plans to contribute to the education sector through further research and publications, and to support postgraduate students with their studies.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Education Master’s Graduate Investigates a Decolonised Philosophy of African History

Education Master’s Graduate Investigates a Decolonised Philosophy of African History
Master’s graduate, Mr Mlamuli Tabhu.

Mr Mlamuli Tabhu graduated with a Master’s in Education for his research entitled, Towards a Decolonised Philosophy of African History: Theoretical Reflections of History Academics in South Africa.

The study investigated the coloniality and decolonised philosophy of African history through critical engagements with the designated history academics in South Africa.

The findings revealed that the academics viewed the coloniality of the philosophy of African history through a modernist conception of the philosophy of African history, emphasis on the African crisis, and Africa as ahistorical.

Further findings on a decolonised philosophy of African history were theorised through an Africanist conception of the philosophy of African history, emphasis on African agency, and African self-consciousness. It is within the consideration of the above research findings that the study aimed at contributing to the looming and continued debates in Africa, and precisely South Africa, concerning the nature of the philosophy of African history in this age of decolonisation discourses with specific reference to History Education.

Said Tabhu, ‘Anyone who reads my study will benefit a lot. First and foremost, the study introduced a decolonial conception of history itself which saw history not as a study of the past but as the clock that people use to tell their political, cultural, and philosophical times of the day. For Africans, history defines who they are, where they have been, and where they should be. Another major contribution of the study was the presentation of that time we call African which is not linear but in cycles.

‘The importance of this finding lies in the whole idea that cycles date from birth, initiation, and death. Our lives are marked by cycles that shade and overlap with each other. That is to say, African philosophy of history dismisses the Eurocentric idea of history, and philosophy of history is permeated by linear modernist thought that can be rendered this way: “ahistory”, “prehistory”, and “History” (with a capital H).’

Tabhu is grateful for the support received from his family, especially his mother, Ms Bukiwe Eunice Hlabe, friends, and his supervisor, Dr Marshall Maposa.

Advising other scholars, Tabhu said, ‘Decolonisation from an African-centred worldview is not a simple task but it requires committed scholars in mapping unconventional ways of being and cognising whose metaphysics is African from the beginning. This metaphysics rests on Ngugi’s injunction concerning a decolonised education which is well known to us all by the following proposition: education is a means of knowledge about ourselves, having examined ourselves, we radiate outwards to discover people and the world around us. With Africa at the centre of things, not existing as an appendix of other countries and literature, things must be seen from the African perspective.’

Of his future plans, he said, ‘A PhD awaits me. I will be grappling with decolonised schools of thought in History Education - intellectual orientations of key historians in South Africa. The attempt is to give meaning and expression to the calls for a decolonised history. To this end, the dissertation is emerging from the literature search of the prolific historian Professor Sabelo J Ndlovu-Gatsheni who grapples with the succeeding question: How African is African history? This is a loaded question that haunts historians today. It encapsulates several epistemic challenges faced by historians as they try to produce African history.

‘Simply put, decolonised schools of thought in History Education emerge from such questions as to how free is African history from the Eurocentric idea of history and philosophy of history,’ he said.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Study Investigates How an English Language Club can Enhance English Acquisition

Study Investigates How an English Language Club can Enhance English Acquisition
Dr Jennifer Sheokarah.

Dr Jennifer Sheokarah was overjoyed to finally graduate with her PhD in Education (Language and Media Studies) in which she focuses on how using an English Language Club (particularly entertaining, unconventional activities) can enhance the learning of English while empowering learners and encouraging them to take responsibility for their learning.

The study also aimed to alleviate anxiety related to learning English by establishing a comfortable environment that recognises learners’ interests.

‘I have always been academically inclined, wanting to get the most out of education. If there is more, I am motivated to achieve it. My thesis topic was inspired by my experiences as a past novice teacher. I wanted to make a difference in the school and empower my second language learners, which is why I decided on participatory action research.’

The study revealed that a comfortable environment that recognised learners’ interests and the use of relatable and engaging activities not only enhanced the learning of English by reducing anxiety, but empowered learners to be involved in making the necessary decisions for the betterment of their learning.

By the end of the study, participants were more conscious of their responsibility in their learning process. When they felt respected by their teacher and peers in the English Language Club (ELC), their fear of the language diminished, resulting in enhanced participation, giving learners a voice that was lacking in the classroom.

The study also showed the importance of critical reflection and dialogue in transforming learning. The use of entertaining activities, competition and prizes were effective in motivating learners, and served as efficient methods in developing learner responsibility.

Sheokarah’s thesis adds to the discourses on educational methods, critical pedagogy and participatory action research, and contributes to knowledge as the study provides a working model of the combination of critical pedagogy and elements of Krashen’s theory to enhance the learning of English.

Speaking about how she was able to maintain a work-life balance, Sheokarah said, ‘I am a busy-body. If I am idle, I am uncomfortable. I think this is my biggest strength - wanting to keep busy. I managed to balance my PhD, teach Grade 12 English and maintain family relationships quite well. It is important to know about taking breaks when necessary. If you do this, getting down to work won’t be a daunting task. I was dating too, and he is now my husband!’

Of her support system she said, ‘I cannot show my appreciation enough to my supervisor, family and friends for the support received during my PhD journey. I can say, however, that I will be eternally grateful to all those who have been rooting for me. I did it!’

She plans to use her findings to better her teaching. ‘I am happy to share my interventions with other teachers. A research associate opportunity has come up quickly after the announcement of my PhD, which I will reveal in time. The elation is inexplicable.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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PhD Research Uses Biblical Character to Enable Conversations About Masculinity Construction

PhD Research Uses Biblical Character to Enable Conversations About Masculinity Construction
Dr Nozipho Dlodlo graduates with a PhD in Biblical Studies.

Dr Nozipho Dlodlo was thrilled to receive her PhD in Biblical Studies in which she engaged the character of David in the Old Testament as a possible reflective surface to enable conversations about masculinity construction and coming of age in the contemporary faith context.

Her work is also embedded within the landscape of gender-based violence (GBV) in the faith context where she asks important and timely questions about men, masculinity and GBV. Dlodlo recently presented her work at the Society of Old Testament Studies in Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

‘My focus on this topic results from an observation in the increasing gender-based violence cases in the past few years. Some men who are religious leaders are involved in cases of GBV, and this is concerning because faith spaces are becoming less of a safe haven, which means there is no respite for the communities affected. My study probes men to process their conceptual understanding vs lived reality towards masculinity construction,’ said Dlodlo.

Her study found that masculinity construction is deeply rooted; that the male body is at the centre of the navigation process of coming of age and owning and constructing the masculine identity. ‘My research zooms in on the role of culture and context where there are rituals and/or tasks that men must perform in the process of acquiring their masculine identity to successfully transition from boyhood to manhood. Some of these rituals/tasks are toxic. Yet men continue to do it in order to maintain the status-quo as men and to belong culturally and contextually,’ she explained.

Dlodlo believes that her research will ‘benefit society as it deals with GBV at the root and shows how we all need to revisit our expectations of men culturally and contextually if we are to begin to see a change and reduction of GBV.’

Speaking about some of the challenges she encountered during her studies, she said, ‘I did not receive any funding and this was difficult. It made me want to quit most of the time. It did teach me though to be an entrepreneur as I found ways of making a living while I pursued my dream. I did things such as being an au-pair to kids, cleaning people’s homes, doing laundry and later picking up kids after school and dropping them off at their homes. I did this to keep myself alive and assist my family.’

Reflecting on balancing studies with family life, Dlodlo said, ‘I missed my family, that’s why I had my grandmother move in with me. You miss out so much on family life as a student especially without funds to travel and be with family as often as you want.’

Dlodlo is grateful to her family, friends and supervisor, Professor Charlene van der Walt for being her support system.

Advising other scholars, she said, ‘Ask for help. Submit whatever you believe is your best to your supervisor. Remain open to learning and have a teachable spirit.’

Speaking of her plans, she said, ‘I am applying for post-doctoral fellowships and lecturer positions while also publishing articles. I am involved in pastoral care duties which is refreshing and at the core of who I am.’

Through her story of resilience, Dlodlo hopes to inspire other Black female graduates to shatter the glass ceiling, especially in academia.

Words: Sinoyolo Mahlasela

Photograph: Supplied


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Research Explores SA Expatriate Teachers and Their Leadership in the Gulf Countries

Research Explores SA Expatriate Teachers and Their Leadership in the Gulf Countries
PhD graduate in Education studies, Dr Ashkelon Govender.

Dr Ashkelon Govender, who lives and works in Ras-al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates, was inspired by his late grandmother to pursue his studies, finally graduating with his PhD in Education from UKZN.

His research, funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF), focused on South African expatriate teachers and their leadership in the Gulf Countries.

Reflecting on his academic trajectory, Govender said, ‘When I registered for my honours degree, I was unemployed. I sold clothes to make money so that I could support myself and pay for my university fees. Fortunately, I received a scholarship from the University. I completed my honours degree cum laude and developed a passion for research, moving on to my master’s and PhD through the efforts of my mentor and supervisor, Professor Inba Naicker.’

While reading for his PhD, Govender noticed that many of his family members and close friends were migrating to the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) country schools for better opportunities. He realised there were no studies done to capture the teacher leadership experiences of South African teachers who migrate to the GCC country schools. Govender, who also works in a GCC country school, knew that South African expatriate teachers had a story to tell.

‘Over the past two decades, teacher migration has become popular among South African teachers who are leaving their home country for GCC country schools because of better job opportunities and salaries. There are six GCC countries in which South African teachers are being recruited into,’ he explained.

Govender’s study makes the identities of the South African expatriate teachers visible, exploring how their personal and professional lives shape their enactment of teacher leadership while simultaneously spotlighting the enablements and constraints within the GCC country schools in influencing the actualising of teacher leadership.

‘Some of my participants expressed that they miss home and their families, which was emotional for both the participants and myself. Hearing their narratives was life-changing. My research impacted me in such a way that I was motivated to begin a talk show on Facebook. The show makes school leadership and management relatable. It brings school leadership and management theories to the forefront of 21st century organisational practices and aims to share leadership and management experiences that help champion teaching and learning. Mr Tyran David, a fellow PhD student co-hosts the show with me,’ he added.

Govender believes that ‘his research will assist teachers intending to work in the GCC country schools to get a first-hand experience of what South African teachers are facing abroad. My study also reveals how the personal and professional identity of South African teachers make them assets in the GCC country schools. Other teachers may read this and mobilise their lived experiences in enhancing their teacher and teaching practices. South African teachers can apply their teacher agency and become influential social actors in their respective schools. This study should benefit other teachers by sowing the seeds that teacher agency is a core ingredient for the growth of teacher professional capital.’

Govender is grateful for the support from his family, friends and supervisor Professor Inba Naicker who said, ‘Ashkelon was indeed a resilient student. Given that the entire supervision of his PhD project took place online, his commitment to time on task as well as being technologically savvy helped immensely in negotiating some of the obstacles of online supervision. He was never afraid to take risks and try out innovative research methods, analytical tools, and forms of presentation in a discipline known for its conventionality.’

Govender’s wife, Yashmika added, ‘His dedication, enthusiasm and insight during this journey has made him successful. He never wavered from being a husband and a father. He continues to amaze and inspire our sons, Ezra and Isaiah, and I.’

Govender intends to use his PhD as an avenue to do further research on South African teachers in the GCC country schools.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Sethu Dlamini


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Perceptions of Social Support Among Individuals with Cancer in eThekwini

Perceptions of Social Support Among Individuals with Cancer in eThekwini
Ms Noliwe Gwiza, Master’s in Development Studies graduate.

Ms Noliwe Gwiza was thrilled to graduate from UKZN with her Master’s in Development Studies for her research that explored the perceptions of social support among individuals living with cancer in eThekwini.

‘This study was personal to me. I lost relatives and friends to cancer. Looking back, I realised that there is so much people do not know about this illness, especially about what cancer really is and how to support someone who is going through this illness,’ said Gwiza.

‘Cancer is one of the most feared diseases because of the painful treatment, side effects, and statistics. People fear cancer more than other life-threatening illnesses. The physical, mental, social, and economic problems caused by cancer have a significant impact on the patient and caregiver’s family. Cancer brings out negative emotions such as anxiety and depression which may affect the patient’s recovery. Without immediate intervention, this can result in reduced quality of life. Social support is therefore imperative when going through this type of illness.’

Gwiza conducted in-depth interviews with twelve cancer patients and two social workers at the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) Mkhuhla Care Home in Durban to gain an understanding about perceptions of social support among individuals with cancer.

The study findings revealed that social support is a vital resource for individuals with cancer and it promotes health wellbeing. Participants expressed that cancer diagnosis was a life-changing experience which not only affected them psychologically, but was also a burden on their relationships. Psychological factors such as anxiety and depression were reported by most participants. Social support was found to come from a patient’s social network, mostly family, friends, neighbours, church, health professionals, and social media.

The study highlighted that social support systems such as emotional support, informational, and tangible support play a crucial role in reducing the burden of cancer diagnosis among patients. The findings revealed that emotional, informational, appraisal, and tangible support were crucial in protecting patients from traumatic experiences caused by a cancer diagnosis.

‘The lack of social support increases stress and anxiety which negatively impacts an individual diagnosed with cancer. Cancer stigma still exists in society as some patients have experienced it, and there is a lack of cancer awareness to educate people about the disease,’ said Gwiza.

She also felt the impact and significance of her research. ‘The study participants were excited to be part of the study because no one had ever given them a platform where they could talk about their feelings regarding the illness, the challenges they faced and the assistance they desired to get. The interviews ended up being a place where participants would vent and feel like someone was listening to them. Some felt that I was someone they could talk to, laugh with and help them forget about some of their worries. I would just sit and listen to their stories and we would laugh together. It gave me joy that I managed to put a smile on someone’s face and lighten their mood.’

Gwiza believes that her research is going to have a beneficial impact on society. ‘My research contains information that helps educate people about cancer, what cancer is, challenges that are faced by people with cancer, cancer stereotypes, and the different types of support that one can offer to someone going through this illness or the people taking care of that person. Cancer does not affect a patient only, but it also has an impact on those around the patient especially the family.’

She is thankful for the support from her family, friends and supervisor, Professor Shauna Mottiar. She plans to pursue her PhD.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Rogan Ward


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A Teary PhD Victory

A Teary PhD Victory
PhD graduate, Dr Bolanle Susan Olaniyan.

An excited Dr Bolanle Susan Olaniyan graduated with her PhD in Education for her research that explored the role of Indigenous Knowledge (IK) in root and tuber farmers’ responses to climate change in Nigeria.

‘IK has been a recourse for local people in responding to changes and challenges brought about by climate change. Indigenous science of weather forecasting helps farmers in planning their farming activities to enable their crops to get enough rainfall for a good harvest. Local farming practices that lead to water conservation, retention of soil fertility and sustainable land management have also helped them adapt to climate change,’ explained Olaniyan.

Her study documented the IK embedded in root and tuber production and how such knowledge is used in climate change adaptation at a farm level. IK was employed at different stages of the decision-making process during the farming season and the resultant outcomes were also identified. The study proposed possible topics for introduction in the Agricultural curriculum and mainstream climate change adaptation policies.

During her PhD journey, Olaniyan lost her great aunt while waiting for her student visa that she received two days after her death. ‘She was my recourse for family history and indigenous knowledge systems. Then came May 2018: as I was preparing for my research proposal defence, my cousin developed a tumour in his brain and the journey of hospitals, tests, surgery and treatments began. My beloved cousin died as I was preparing to conduct fieldwork in 2019. Somewhere along that journey my brother-in-law was killed by unknown gunmen. During fieldwork, my laptop was stolen along with the audio data and other resources for my PhD.’

Thankfully, Olaniyan was able to retrieve most of the data. In a turn of events, after nine years of marriage, she found out that she was pregnant. An overjoyed Olaniyan gave birth to a girl, who sadly died in May this year.

She expressed gratitude for the support of her husband, Mr Ademola Olatide Olaniyan who encouraged her to apply for study at UKZN while on his postdoctoral fellowship at the University. She is also grateful to her supervisor, Professor Nadaraj Govender ‘who believed in me and helped me gain strength in the midst of the tears and encouraged me to forge on and honour the memories of the departed with the completion of the study.’

‘To the indigenous farmers of Kwara state (Nigeria) who opened their hearts and homes to the city girl, the need for your voices to be heard and the IK embedded in root and tuber production that enables you to adapt to climate change kept me pushing past the tears and continue writing. Teary pages, indeed but success with consistent focus and hard work,’ said Olaniyan.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


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Momentous Achievement for UKZN Staffer who Earns First Social Sciences Degree

Momentous Achievement for UKZN Staffer who Earns First Social Sciences Degree
Graduate Mr Marlon Lazarus with his wife, Gabrielle (left) and mother, Mary.

Administrator within UKZN’s College of Humanities Student Academic Services Division, Mr Marlon Lazarus recently graduated with his Bachelor of Social Sciences degree majoring in Industrial Psychology and Management.

Passionate about leading people, Lazarus believes that majoring in this field will provide him with the foundational knowledge needed for his career. While his greatest challenge was to strike a balance between work, life and full-time study, he managed to push through to the end.

‘My undergraduate academic years on campus were empowering, but as someone who had not studied in a while - it was intimidating. However, the entire experience was not as stressful as I thought it would be,’ he said.

Lazarus revealed that during his first year, he struggled with time management due to work commitments and planning his wedding. He found his final year the most difficult but also rewarding as he became a father for the first time.

He sees his sacrifice as temporary with the reward of graduating with his degree as the main goal. ‘I’m grateful for my work colleagues and family for not being too hard on me. I’m forever indebted to them for the time they have invested in me,’ said Lazarus.

Through hard work and commitment, he sees his degree as his greatest achievement and urged his peers to always trust the success process, never the event, adding ‘failure is never a person, but rather something that happens’.

Lazarus is grateful to everyone who supported his journey, especially his wife who was always in his corner. To his spouse, he said, ‘Thank you for always being the most reliable and supportive person I could ever hope to know. It feels awesome to have a strong safety net - knowing I have you to turn to. It gives me the strength to do it all again. Thank you for supporting me. You are my lifeline.’

He plans to further his studies by doing an honours in Management or Industrial Psychology.

Words: Sinoyolo Mahlasela

Photograph: Rogan Ward


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UKZN Staffer Explores BSS4 Students’ Experiences in Master’s Research

UKZN Staffer Explores BSS4 Students’ Experiences in Master’s Research
UKZN staffer, Mr Skhumbuzo Mtolo graduates with his Master’s in Population Studies.

Academic and Administrative Coordinator of the BSS4 programme in the College of Humanities, Mr Skhumbuzo Mtolo, graduated with his Master’s in Population Studies for his research that explored the academic, social, and psychological experiences, as well as challenges faced by students within the programme.

Popularly known as BSS4, the Bachelor of Social Science Extended Curriculum degree is an alternative qualification that caters and is designed for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have not realised their academic potential due to disadvantaged educational backgrounds.

His study interrogated how University academic support strategies, initiatives, mechanisms, and services assisted early completion programme (ECP) students in attaining their academic goals, while also assisting in developing strategies that seek to improve the programme and support that is accommodative to the needs of the current generation enrolled in the programme.

According to the study, lecturers, tutors, and administrators play an important role in redefining the university experience and making it more manageable for students, thereby enhancing their sense of belonging.

His study will benefit the perceptions and attitudes of students who have gone through the programme. Graduates of the programme indicated that they appreciate and recognise its relevance, some however expressing negative attitudes regarding its duration and the attached stigma of “intellectual inferiority”.

‘My research will disseminate positive and impactful stories to change the narrative about the programme and inspire students to achieve their educational goals,’ he added.

Besides the inconvenience of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mtolo also had to balance his work responsibilities and his research. ‘There were moments where I thought I had written my thesis well and then received feedback from the supervisor with red corrections. Although this discouraged me at times, it motivated me to push even harder. When I received positive feedback, it showed an improvement. This encouraged me further and propelled me to succeed.’

Mtolo is currently working on his PhD proposal. ‘Be consistent, don’t let peer pressure consume you, and remember that this is not a group journey but an individual one,’ he said while urging his peers.

Words: Sinoyolo Mahlasela

Photograph: Rogan Ward


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Primary School Teachers’ Perceptions of Sex, Gender and Diverse Sexualities

Primary School Teachers’ Perceptions of Sex, Gender and Diverse Sexualities
Master’s graduate, Ms Navisha Sewnath.

An excited Ms Navisha Sewnath graduated with a Master of Education degree for her research that investigated the perceptions that a selected group of intermediate phase teachers in a primary school have of sex, gender and diverse sexualities.

The key findings from the study revealed that such educators have varying understandings of sex, gender and sexuality diversity, with the majority having a limited understanding of these concepts and a culture of heteronormativity prevailing in the school at large.

Educators did not regularly engage with sex, gender or sexuality diversity in their classrooms and many understood it as being the domain of the Life Orientation specialists. They cited lack of preparation and general discomfort with the topics of sex, gender or sexuality diversity as the main reasons. Sewnath argues that all educators, regardless of the subjects that they teach, should have the requisite knowledge of gender and sexuality.

‘I hope that society at large will enhance its understanding of sex, gender and sexuality diversity. This might ensure that learners who identify with sex, gender and sexuality diversity do not have to endure bullying or harassment based on their sexual or gender orientation,’ said Sewnath. ‘Consequently, they will enjoy their time at school. The teachers who have agreed to participate in this study might benefit by enhancing their knowledge and awareness of sex, gender and sexuality diversities. The educators might also develop an interest in (the topic of) gender and sexuality.’

Sewnath advised other students to not give up. ‘Studying for a master’s degree is a tough process but the sacrifices and effort are definitely worth it in the end.’

She is thankful for the support from her family, friends and supervisor, Professor Shakila Singh. Sewnath plans to pursue her PhD.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Grade 12 Learners’ Understandings and Problem-Solving Approaches to Work-Energy-Power

Grade 12 Learners’ Understandings and Problem-Solving Approaches to Work-Energy-Power
Dr Jayanthi Siva Kumaree Maharaj.

An excited Dr Jayanthi Siva Kumaree Maharaj graduated with her PhD in Education for research that explored Grade 12 learners’ understandings of, and problem-solving approaches to Work-Energy-Power in Physical Sciences in high schools.

‘Work-Energy-Power resources are now a scarce commodity in the global and southern African states and knowledge about their constituents, production and application becomes far more relevant in our daily lives. There is also ongoing competition regarding ownership of Work-Energy-Power resources globally,’ explained Maharaj, adding that this makes her research important in the school curriculum. ‘All life needs energy to exist. How well the learners understand and solve problems involving this topic has a positive impact on the way the country competes on the international stage.’

A large part of Maharaj’s study involved listening to the verbalised thinking of participants which she described as ‘taking a peek into the thinking of participants. She found that although all learners in the study did display scientifically correct understandings of some of the concepts involving Work-Energy-Power in certain contexts, they also displayed alternative conceptions regarding this topic. Overall, she identified 14 alternative conceptions displayed by learners and seven problem-solving approaches pursued by learners.

‘The patterns of variation espoused in Variation Theory provided explanations for the prevalence of alternative conceptions and problem-solving difficulties. The study deepens our knowledge about learners’ difficulties with this topic and provides a basis for improving learning and teaching,’ she said.

Maharaj is grateful to her family, friends and supervisor, Professor Nadaraj Govender who believed in her and her capabilities. ‘He constantly encouraged me to go beyond the personal challenges that I faced and to complete my studies.’

She dedicated her PhD to her late parents, husband as well as participants who welcomed her into their school and deepest thoughts about Physical Sciences. ‘This study was successful because of everybody’s unbridled cooperation,’ she said.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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