Posted on September 07, 2018
Tumisang Loate taught herself higher grade maths when she was in grade 12. This week, she became Dr Loate when she was awarded her PhD in Economics at the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences graduation ceremony.
In her matric year, Dr Loate was one of a small group who took the maths higher grade examination at her school in the North West. While teaching herself, she also helped her fellow learners. “Myself and the other grade 12s were all taught standard grade maths, since the majority of learners chose this grade, and only a handful of us were doing higher grade. There was no separate class for higher grade maths, so our group was encouraged to work on difficult equations and questions on our own.”
Dr Loate also credits her success to an aunt who pushed her and a cousin to do maths and science on the higher grade. “It forced us to work harder instead of trying to choose the easy way out. I had a schedule for myself, to ensure that I covered all the chapters that we were required to cover before the exams.”
Most of the maths was based on self-learning and entailed watching former television mathematician William Smith’s maths programmes, supplementing the textbook with exam question-and-answer guide books, and collecting newspapers’ maths and physics revision exercises.
All her hard work paid off – she passed with distinction and was among the top five matriculants in the North West’s Bojanala district. “Passing maths with distinction is still one of those moments I will never forget.”
Dr Loate then acquired a BCom degree in IT Management at the University of Johannesburg, where she subsequently did her honours in economics. Her master’s studies in economics, at UP, came with new challenges. “I had not studied for several years, and the transition from UJ to UP was a shock, as the two institutions had different systems at that time.”
She says her master’s “was hard, because that’s when I changed universities. At the time I was living and working in Johannesburg, which required commuting to Pretoria for the 16:30 classes twice a week and coming on weekends to use the labs and some econometric software. I was fortunate to have had managers who allowed me to leave work early on those days.”
She was then awarded a South African Reserve Bank Scholarship to do her PhD in economics, with a focus on monetary policy and banking. “Getting my PhD was not part of my plan,” she says. “But an unexpected opportunity arose – and I always like learning.”
The first year of her PhD required much discipline and reading “to finally have a sense of direction in my research. It also required a mindset shift, since I was used to working and being around colleagues, whereas with a PhD it’s a different environment. I had to move to Pretoria so that I could be close to campus and focus.”
She also had a supportive supervisor, Prof Nicola Viegi, who exposed her to conference and presentation opportunities. “The department is also full of lecturers who are supportive, and you are able to get support and feedback on your work through seminars.”
Dr Loate says she enjoys economics “because it’s everyday life; every day we read about what’s happening in South Africa and worldwide. It’s an interesting subject because it helps us unpack the complicated and integrated world we live in, and human behaviour. I also enjoy working with data and modelling.”
She is now a post-doctoral fellow at UP, and her advice to school learners who struggle with maths is that “discipline and consistency are key to learning, not just in maths but in general. It’s a subject that gives you more study opportunities in varsity, which is important if you’re not sure yet of what you want to do. It’s important to start getting good grades as early as you can in high school. That’s what I did, which made it possible for me to get funding, reducing the financial stress for both myself and my parents, who didn’t earn a lot.”
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