Fort Hare academic acknowledged at the Women in Science Awards

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 Every year during the month of August, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) honours South Africa’s top women scientists through the Women in Science Awards (WISA). The awards are meant to encourage and reward women scientists and researchers, and also profile them as role models for younger women. This year’s edition of the awards was held on the 15th August 2014 in Johannesburg, with University of Fort Hare’s Professor Matseliso Mokhele receiving an award for being the first runner-up in the Category of Distinguished Young Woman Scientist (Humanities and Social Sciences) in recognition for her contribution in Science and Research.


Ten years ago, Professor Mokhele began her journey into research as an unpaid volunteer Research Assistant on a major Research and Development Project in science and mathematics education at the University of Pretoria.  As a volunteer honours student, Mokhele did everything from making telephone calls to set up interviews with participants, setting up data storage and retrieval systems, cleaning up data, and later participated in data collection and analysis.  It is out of that experience that her passion for research was ignited, leading to her first ride on the plane to present a research paper at an international seminar in Makerere University in 2006.  Mokhele has maintained her presence on the international stage by presenting at least one paper at an international conference every year since 2006. 


Professor Mokhele completed her doctorate in Education at the University of South Africa (Unisa) in 2011, where she was recognised as a finalist for the Youngest Doctoral Awardee on the staff of that University that year. She later received the “Resilience in research” award (women in research) in 2013. Her research focuses on what has become a large in industry in South Africa – the industry that provides Teacher Professional Development and Support to the many primary and secondary school teachers across the different provinces.  Her interest is to understand this industry and its potential benefits and liabilities from the perspectives of the intended beneficiaries, the teachers.  Her research findings pointed to the rather mute benefits of most of the Professional Development that is offered to teachers in the country and suggests the need for a rethink.  A major recommendation of the work is that Professional Development and Support programmes have to provide more than just the skills and knowledge to do a particular job at hand but have to provide personally meaningful experiences to the beneficiaries to change not only their working lives but also their personal and/or private lives. Such experiences are a necessary condition for changing what teachers do in their schools and classrooms with the learners.


At 35, Professor Mokhele’s research star has continued to rise from her humble beginnings as a Research Assistant at the University of Pretoria, a Research Officer at the ETDP-SETA, a Research Manager at the HSRC, a Senior Lecturer at the University of SouthAfrica, and now a Research Associate Professor at the University of Fort Hare.  She has published over 15 articles in the International and local journals and has received the coveted National Research Foundation (NRF) Y2-rating for young researchers.  Her current research continues the inquiry into the perspectives of the intended beneficiaries of Teacher Development and Support programmes, but has turned the tide around to focus on those programmes that are conceived of and carried out by the beneficiaries themselves.  That is, her focus is now on the teacher-led professional development programmes, an important but hitherto neglected area of research in our country.  In February 2014, Mokhele was awarded a 3-year Thuthuka Grant by the NRF to undertake this research on Teacher-led Professional Development Programmes.  She has also received an award from the prestigious American Educational Research Association (AERA) to present her work to international audiences.


Professor Mokhele is not only passionate about her own research, but takes keen interest in supporting especially other Black women researchers to break into the research and publications environment.  Despite her age, she has mentored and supported four other Black women researchers, all much older and more experienced in the academy, to co-publish their first research articles in international journals with her in 2012 and 2013.  She currently supervises 4 PhD and 3 Masters Students and is co-responsible for the postgraduate and staff research training programmes in education faculty at the University of Fort Hare.


You can refer to the Mail&Guardian dated 22 August 2015 for the full story.