PhD '09, Mathematics Education
1) What is your current position and place of employment?
I am a full professor and the head of the Institute of Science and Technology Education at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, South Africa.
2) What path led you to attaining your current position?
Since my graduation in 2009, I became highly involved in research, first in early childhood mathematics education as a research fellow at the University of Northern Iowa in Iowa. In 2010, I was offered a position by the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa as a post-doctoral fellow. In 2014, the council gave me a senior research specialist position due to my publication record. During the same year, the University of South Africa invited me to apply for the position of head of the Institute of Science and Technology at the professor level, which is my current position.
3) How did your education in GSE prepare you for this position?
The research modules and projects I conducted assisted me a lot to become a researcher. In addition, the research assistant position under professors Doug Clements and Julie Sarama equipped me with necessary skills that became so handy when I was working at the Human Sciences Research Council conducting large scale studies and evaluation studies. Currently, I am running my own project on early childhood mathematics.
4) What did you learn in your degree program that was the most beneficial?
Conceptualizing research projects and being able to identify significant problems was one of the highlights of my learning during my degree program. The approach towards understanding different paradigms and how they could be applied in responding to research questions assisted me a lot. I did quantitative research methods with no intentions of employing them at all. However, the education I received became so valuable while I was highly involved in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and Mathematics Teaching for the 21st Century study. Furthermore, I became a leading researcher in designing evaluation studies. The writing skills I attained also played a significant role in writing fundraising proposals for these big studies and I was able to secure funding.
5) What was your favorite part or your most memorable experience during your degree program?
The research component project was one of the highlights of my degree program. It gave me an opportunity to design and conceptualize my own research project and independently learning all the necessary skills I needed to become an independent novice researcher. Turning this work into a paper was so developmental and motivating. Presenting it in a conference knowing very well that it was my independent work was empowering.
6) How have you impacted your local community through your work?
I have produced a research-based mathematics dictionary in my home language (Xhosa). I continuously run professional development for reception class/kindergarten educators in mathematics teaching and learning. I have been commissioned twice by the presidency of my country to review the status of early childhood education and reflect on the quality provisioning of reception class. I am a board member of a non-governmental organization for Co-operative Organization for the Upgrading of Numeracy Training. I am an academic advisor of the Zenex Foundation on mathematics and science education research projects. Under African agenda, I oversee the smooth running of the post-graduate program in Ethiopia and exploring other partnerships with other African institutions. I have been invited nationally and internationally to present on mathematics education challenges and solutions in increasing the cohort of mathematicians. I have also been invited to make contributions on gender challenges and diversity in the higher education sector. Nationally, I have become an education advisor and contributor through conferences and South African Broadcasting Company. I review funding applications for the National Research Foundation on Indigenous Knowledge Systems agenda.
7) What accomplishments (e.g., awards, publications) have you achieved that demonstrate the work you do?
I have more than 20 publications, including two articles I co-authored this past year: “Realities in Grade R classrooms: The South African perspective” published in the International Journal of Educational Sciences and “Left behind in a democratic society: A case of some farm school primary school teachers of natural science in South Africa” published in the International Journal of Leadership in Education Theory and Practice. I was honored with a Distinguished Scientist Award in 2016 from the Venus International Foundation, and I received a Diversity Scholar Award from Michigan University in 2009.
8) What advice would you give to current students looking to enter your field?
Hard work really pays. However, without courage it becomes impossible. Dedicating more time on your studies pays off. Having a goal and a time-frame to work within is also an important planning strategy. In the mathematics education field, there is a lot of research needed. However, it is important to know the experts and ancestors of the field. It is also important in mathematics education to acknowledge diversity of learners and contexts. Broadening your mind by attending other classes outside your field plays a significant role in your career. Reading journals in your field and learning the writing styles used becomes an asset at a later stage. Mathematics education challenges are across schooling and tertiary education levels. The changes that occur globally are too fast and need researchers who do not fear challenges and taking chances. Being relevant today does not mean you will be tomorrow. However, keeping up with research by being a member of the academic social media will assist a lot in knowing relevant researchers in your field. Do not be scared to ask and communicate with the seasoned researchers in your field through emails. Attend conferences because they develop your esteem as a researcher.