21 October 2015 Volume :3 Issue :48

UKZN’s Distinguished Teachers Receive National Teaching Awards

UKZN’s Distinguished Teachers Receive National Teaching Awards
Professor Michael Savage and Dr Anesh Maharaj.

The recipients of UKZN’s 2014 Distinguished Teachers’ Awards, Professor Michael Savage and Dr Anesh Maharaj, have again been recognised for their contributions to Higher Education in South Africa.

They have both received National Excellence in Teaching and Learning Awards from the Council of Higher Education (CHE) and the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of South Africa (HELTASA).

Maharaj is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS), and has earned this national recognition for his emphasis on meeting students at their level to ensure their success.

‘I strongly believe that one can only teach the students one has, not the students one would like to have,’ said Maharaj.

Maharaj, whose has been teaching in various capacities since 1983, has demonstrated his concern for students through his work in mentoring bursary holders, and through his exploration of techniques that could assist students to excel. Maharaj has also played an important role in the establishment of the Math 130 programme that assists under-qualified mathematics educators to qualify with first year university mathematics.

He has highlighted the importance of employing clear communication techniques with students to make sure that they understand what is expected of them as soon as they enter the tertiary education system, and that they comprehend the work they are being taught and not simply memorise it.

Along with his empathy for students, Maharaj uses a variety of techniques to purposefully plan his teaching approaches, implement them, and assess the impact of his teaching. He has stated that it is of vital importance that teaching be reflected upon so that teaching styles evolve to suit the needs of the students to enable them to receive the best education possible.

Savage echoed Maharaj’s sentiments:  ‘Excellence in teaching means connecting and connecting very quickly with students.’

Savage’s career at UKZN started in 1975 in the Discipline of Agrometeorology in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) where he has been widely recognised for his innovative approach to teaching.

His research focus is on topics such as adverse weather, biometeorology, energy balance of various surfaces, micrometeorology and open water evaporation. He developed a unique Agrometeorological Instrumentation Mast (AIM) web-based data and information teaching, learning and research system for the agro-environmental sciences. The AIM system is used by many undergraduates and postgraduates and features real time data for a number of agrometeorological measurements, provided by a several instruments set up around campus, which can be viewed and downloaded for use in research and as a visual teaching aid.

Savage has also initiated the creation of an isiZulu-English glossary of terms for Agrometeorology, to attempt to counter the language barrier to learning encountered by many second language English speakers entering universities in South Africa. He emphasises the use of live data, visual literacy, technology and glossaries to stimulate growth in the isiZulu language’s capacity for scientific understanding.

He believes that technology can play an important role in learning, and mentions the importance of visual literacy or ‘iconic’ learning to transcend cultural and linguistic barriers.

‘Teaching is about imparting more than just knowledge; it is also about life skills,’ said Savage.

‘Teaching is an essential part of the fabric of academic life. The young minds of today are the researchers of tomorrow; without good teaching, the future of research is not sustainable.’

He has also been actively involved in making science relevant and comprehensible to the general public, participating in a project with The Witness newspaper in Pietermaritzburg to investigate the temperature and human comfort conditions inside locked cars.

Five National Teaching Excellence Awards and Six National Teaching Excellence Commendations were given in total.  They aim to show support at a national level for excellence in teaching and learning in Higher Education, and to create a conversation and awareness around the topic of what constitutes teaching excellence. Additionally, CHE and HELTASA hope that the academics recognised through these accolades will become identifiable examples of teaching excellence, and who can in turn inspire the development of motivated educators in their disciplines, institutions and regions.

As part of the award, Maharaj and Savage were invited to participate in the compilation of a special feature for The Conversation Africa publication with the other award winners.  They will receive their awards officially in November at the annual HELTASA Conference.

Vice-Chancellor Dr Albert van Jaarsveld warmly congratulated both academics and expressed UKZN’s pride in their achievement, as well as thanking them for the valuable contributions they have made and continue to make in their respective fields.

 Christine Cuénod

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