UKZN Professor wins 2014 National Excellence in Teaching Award

Professor Simon Mukwembi, an Associate Professor in Mathematics at UKZN, has won the coveted National Excellence in Teaching Award 2014, which acknowledges and rewards excellence in teaching.

The National Excellence in Teaching Awards is a project of the Council of Higher Education (CHE) in collaboration with the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa (HELTASA).

The National Excellence in Teaching Award is open to all academics at all South African public higher education institutions. Candidates were considered for one of the categories: Leader in the field of learning and teaching, excellent teacher/teaching team or teacher/teaching team that excels in challenging and under-resourced contexts.

Professor Mukwembi was considered for the second category, Excellent Teacher. He adds that applications were considered holistically, ‘the committee evaluated the degree of reliability of data, and alignment of claims articulated with evidence provided. Awards were made on the basis of evidence of some or all of the following: effectiveness of teaching, the impact of one's involvement with teaching and learning within the university and beyond.’

On his selection Mukwembi said, ‘the committee commented in the award letter that, “The quality of candidates was extremely high, and your selection is a great achievement”. They congratulated me on my inspiring teaching and learning philosophy and the practical applications of mathematics to the wider community.’

‘I am still under shock to learn that I have been selected as a recipient for this award. In general teaching is a complex task. Teaching Mathematics is however even worse as many view the subject as a necessary evil and it has become an accepted norm in communities to say that “I cannot do maths”. Being a recipient of this award, as Mathematics lecturer and researcher, is indeed a great honour and I am humbled. I would like to thank my family, especially my wife, for allowing me to be away from home working without having applied for “leave”, ’ said Professor Mukwembi.

When asked what the award meant for him and his Department, Professor Mukwembi said ‘I consider this rating, at a national level, to be a reward for my contribution to society through teaching. In the School, we work as a team. We believe that we have brought a trophy home to UKZN. We have taught so far about 332 Mathematics High School teachers over the past few years. As a result, every year, close to 100,000 High School learners will benefit from the expertise acquired by the teachers through this programme. This award is a true testimony that our efforts are being recognized nationally.’

Mukwembi further highlighted that ‘In mathematics, it is important that one changes the negative attitude that students have on the subject, inspire them, build in them the need for doing mathematics, and assure them that mathematics is not difficult.’

‘In addition, there is need to be knowledgeable in the subject, and be able to use a blend of delivering techniques for different groups of students. Moreover, one should know how to use feedback for identification of areas requiring remedy, and provide an enabling environment that is essential for learning, among other things,’ explained Mukwembi.

Professor Mukwembi joined UKZN, as a lecturer in 2006 and in 2008/9, was listed as one of the emerging researchers. In 2010, he was promoted to the level of Senior Lecturer. In 2013 he was listed in place in the Top 30 Researchers of UKZN, and also received the DTA award. He was promoted to the level of Associate Professor in 2014. He is an NRF rated researcher and a managing editor of a top, DoE accredited, journal in his field of research.

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