Distinguished Teacher Uplifts Maths Education
Professor Simon Mukwembi, a Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS), was awarded a Distinguished Teachers Award (DTA) at a UKZN Graduation ceremony.
The prestigious award - presented in 2014 to only two academics at the University to acknowledge and reward excellence in teaching - is designed to regularly recognise innovative teachers of a high calibre and is presented through the University’s Teaching and Learning Office (UTLO).
Mukwembi spoke of the award as being particularly rewarding as it formed part of a long journey of consolidating, refining and perfecting his teaching techniques. ‘I am greatly delighted to have received this award,’ said Mukwembi. ‘It is indeed a huge honour to be recognised. It has brought a lot of personal satisfaction to learn that people value my contribution to the University and to society.’
Mukwembi’s societal contribution includes his work with high school Mathematics teachers around the province through the SMSCS’s various programmes. Most recently, he taught part of the MATH130 module, a part-time course offered in the evenings which forms part of the University Extended Learning unit (UEL). The module graduated its first 12 Mathematics teachers earlier this year.
The module was initiated by the SMSCS, who offered it as an option to teachers in the KwaZulu-Natal area. More than half of South Africa’s Mathematics and Science educators are not qualified to teach, an alarming statistic impacting on the teaching of Mathematics.
The module assists each Mathematics teacher to qualify with first year university Mathematics, equipping teachers to teach Mathematics from Grades 10 – 12.
Mukwembi, whose passion for teaching led him to assist with the course, said: ‘Most programmes currently target learners as opposed to teachers, whereas this programme equips a few teachers who then teach exponentially more students than we could reach, making it sustainable for the future.’
Mukwembi has previously assisted on projects run by the SMSCS, also offering support to high school Mathematics teachers. In 2012 Mukwembi, together with Professor Poobhal Pillay, Mr Moses Mogambery and several other academics from the School, ran the UKZN Geometry project. This involved the academics delivering Geometry lectures to over 54 teachers from the Pinetown District to enable them to better instruct their learners.
Mukwembi has over 14 years of teaching experience in the field of Mathematics, having instructed as a Teaching Assistant, tutor, Demonstrator, and Lecturer, and as a Senior Lecturer at different universities, including the University of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Open University and Masvingo State University. He has been at the University of KwaZulu-Natal since 2006.
When asked how he has worked towards becoming an accomplished teacher, Mukwembi spoke of his vocation as a journey which is never fully complete. ‘I still think that there is room for improvement in my teaching as we live in a dynamic society where the ability of our students varies from one year to the next, necessitating constant changes in delivery techniques,’ he said.
‘I am humbled and still in shock to hear that I have been pronounced “a great teacher”. I owe this award to my colleagues and to my students. Teaching is a very long and rewarding journey,’ said Mukwembi.
Mukwembi credits all of his colleagues as playing a role in his success, as well as a few key academic mentors.
‘I am particularly grateful to Professor Peter Dankelmann of the University of Johannesburg, my former PhD supervisor, for his organisational excellence in lectures; Professor A.G.R. Stewart of the University of Zimbabwe and Dr M.M. Mugochi of the University of Namibia, my former lecturers, for their logical and very clear teaching; and Professor H.C. Swart of UCT, my former PhD co-supervisor, for her ability to explain intricate concepts clearly, holding the attention of the class at every moment. Finally, I also thank my friend and colleague, Professor V. Chikoko of UKZN, from whom I have acquired most ideas on education.’
In addition to his teaching commitments, Mukwembi has also published several research articles in his field of study and holds a Y1 NRF rating. He is also Managing Editor of a leading international, Department of Education accredited journal, Utilitas Mathematica.
- Christine Cuénod