01 October 2021

Professor Hilda Israel says that the Faculty of Education, based on the Siyabuswa campus, is committed to producing competent, principled teacher graduates who make an impact in the schools where they choose to lead by serving.

"They are sent out with the purpose of improving our African society through their knowledge of reflective teaching practice, and the need for social justice. They shape the classroom. They define our greatest resource – the children of South Africa."

To teach is to lead. The Faculty of Education therefore educates teachers to lead in an African society, in African languages.

Professor Israel emphasises that in an education situation, the student always comes first. The Faculty lecturers are therefore focused on the students, striving to inspire them to identify with their great calling – to be a Teacher! Content taught is informed by relevance to society today, aligning South Africa’s past with a developing democracy embedded in an ongoing technological revolution, amid a COVID-19 pandemic context.

"Our future teachers engage with the local schools and community so that the theory taught is practised in the classroom. Moreover, students are challenged to know themselves; to develop critical thinking skills; to take responsibility for their words and actions, and to remain lifelong learners," she says.

The education programme offered has a strong focus on African languages, but the Faculty also ensures the inclusion of a variety of African cultures and their heritage. 

"In subjects such as Culture and the Natural Environment, which is taught by Dr Eurika Jansen van Vuuren, the content focuses on the contextual environment. We strive to teach our students about indigenous plants, birds and animals, and cultural practices such as praise singing, and the wealth of African Arts in general. As a main assignment, every student develops their own African Arts Philosophy, with the ‘Ngoma’ principle as a point of departure, she continues.

“We make sure that students understand and appreciate the use of cultural games and toys, like the traditional wire car to optimally develop fundamental movement skills. We develop students to be proudly African before moving onto global concepts." 

Professor Israel added that the focus of the Faculty of Education has been the implementation of the Research Development Framework (RDF) in the era of the pandemic. In 2020, the Faculty appointed a Professor of Education: Professor Sechaba Mahlomaholo, who has introduced research slots for staff, webinars, conference attendance, and publications. Over 30 MEd students are registered in the Faculty. They are all invited to participate on a weekly basis – sharing their evolving work in a cohort under the leadership of a supervisory team of seven UMP academics, who provide consistent support. 

“Every Friday, for the past nine months, the activities of the RDF have been implemented through webinars, with the participation of our Faculty academics, and 11 other universities in South Africa, as well as universities in the Caribbean, Europe, America, the United Kingdom and Africa. The presenters of the webinars are carefully chosen, based on the extent to which their research role models the valued NQF Level 10 competencies,” says Professor Israel.

The purpose of these webinars is to enable participating academics to deepen the cultivation of their own research capacities. Among these presenters have been A and B NRF-rated education researchers, such as Prof Crain Soudien and Prof Aslam Fataar. Presenters are sourced from Research Intensive, Traditional, Comprehensive and Universities of Technology.

“We have also been joined by Vice-Chancellors of Universities, such as Prof Sakhele Buhlungu from Fort Hare, UMP Deputy Vice-Chancellors: Teaching and Learning, UMP's Prof Shirley Sommers and Prof Pearl Sithole from the UFS, and Deans of Faculties."


Staff and student development

The Faculty, through the university, assists staff members to reach their full potential by arranging frequent development programmes and workshops in Teaching and Learning, Engagement and Research. Several staff members are studying at other Higher Education Institutions to improve their academic development and to benefit their students and colleagues.

“There are many research articles in progress – focus is on current issues such as decolonisation, renewal of the curricula to grow with new ideas, novel assessment that is constructively aligned with the curricula, African research methodologies and African philosophy," she adds.

The Faculty places emphasis on multilingualism and mother-tongue education, and plans are in place for expansion through more academic programmes, as well as on Professional Development for local teachers.

Professor Israel continued that research based teaching and learning is already being applied, with Faculty members committing to excellence in the way they serve their students. Mother tongue education is essential for the holistic development of children. In our Faculty, pride is instilled in cultural heritage and students are prepared to add to the growth of their own mother tongue when they go out to teach. Significantly, our student teachers go out to 15 schools within Siyabuswa.

"Innovation in teaching and learning methodologies has been evident in the 2021 Guest Lecture Series – where students attend presentations by selected professional leaders. The focus here is on instilling in students the Graduate Attributes of the UMP. In addition, students have been exposed to international and national collaborative learning through the African Story Book Project," she says.

Professor Israel had her Siyabuswa students to partner with their equivalents at the University of Nairobi, Kenya and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Their stories are ultimately aimed to be published online and to be used as teaching tools for the development of African Languages.

Leading by example

An astute leader, Professor Israel was recently appointed as Chair of the Institutional Forum, which functions to advise the Council on matters affecting the University. Some of these matters may be the implementation of the Act and National Policy on Higher Education, the formulation of race and gender equity policies and the suitability for appointment of candidates for executive management positions.

She adds that these functions also incorporate Codes of Conduct. “The Forum looks into matters of mediation and dispute resolution procedures, the formulation of policy for fostering an institutional culture characterised by tolerance for diversity of opinion, respect for fundamental human rights and the promotion and protection of high academic standards.”

Besides being a Fulbright Scholar, and HERS-USA and HERS-SA graduate, some of her credentials include delivering research papers at national and international conferences on Teaching Methodologies, Multilingualism, Africanisation of the Curriculum, Sociolinguistics, Educational Assessment, Translation & Interpreting as Educational Tools, and Cross-Disciplinary Studies.

She has successfully managed international projects on Applied Language Studies, including the training of translators in African Languages. Most recently, she has researched and compiled manuals on Educational Leadership and Management for South African educators enrolling for Post-Graduate Programmes.

Professor Israel also strives to deliver teaching content that is relevant for society today, addressing topics such as social justice, inequality, HIV/Aids, unemployment, global warming, ethics, gender studies and the impact of technology on the community.

@ Story by Cleopatra Makhaga. Pictures Supplied.