'It does not come better and bigger than this!'

Posted on April 26, 2019

Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr Naledi Pandor was recently awarded a PhD in Education by UP. Dean of the Faculty of Education, Prof Chika Sehoole, told Primarashni Gower about his experience of supervising a high-profile cabinet minister
PG: How did you feel about being the minister’s supervisor?
I really felt honoured after being approached to supervise her. However, the feeling was a bit subdued as we agreed from the beginning that we would keep it from the public until the work was done.
PG: Were you shocked when she first approached you with her request?
Indeed I was. Her office called my office for an appointment. When I went to her office in 2014, she was the Minister of Science and Technology. I thought she was calling me for a possibility of a job in government. But then she told me that she had decided to pursue her doctoral studies and that someone had referred her to UP, and that she must ask for me to be her supervisor, given the topic she wanted to research. That was a shock to me. She then explained that this was something she wanted to do for a long time as her parents always encouraged them to have doctoral degrees. She had reached a point where she could no longer postpone this matter and therefore wanted me to supervise her.
She explained that she had approached two people in other institutions who had discouraged her from studying. One of them told her she does not need that degree, “why does she want to study.” Another said “where will she find the time to study?” Against that background, I relented and decided to take the challenge, and make a success of it.
PG: Was she a good student?
Yes. She was the kind of student every supervisor would like to work with. She worked very hard and did not want to submit sub-standard or mediocre work. In some instances she would miss the deadline for submission and would say “I am not happy yet with the draft. I am still reading further”.
The Faculty of Education has seven mandatory support sessions, which are one week long each for their master’s and doctoral students. Minister Pandor would take leave to attend these sessions.
I was struck by her humility in terms of willingness to learn from students and lecturers who conducted those sessions. She expressed joy in being able to sit in the classroom again.
PG: Please could you describe your relationship with her
I previously worked for the Department of Education, as a Chief Director before it was divided into DHET and Department of Basic Education. At the time Dr Pandor was the Minister of Education. Now after I agreed to supervise her, she set the rules for the relationship and asked me to call her by name and she would call me Professor. The idea to call her by name made the relationship much easier and she really conducted herself as a student. There were times when I was not happy with the quality of the work she produced or the approach she adopted and I would send it back to her. She did indicate in media interviews that she would sometimes get weepy. That was how human she was.
Dean of the Faculty of Education, Prof Chika Sehoole, with Dr Naledi Pandor.
PG: Please explain the supervision strategies you employed
I knew from the beginning that I was not dealing with an ordinary student here. Given her profile as a politician and cabinet minister, I knew that there would be lots of interest in her studies. I therefore had to come up with a plan on how to manage her studies but also how to support her. I knew that the draft work she submitted took lots of time and sacrifice on her part, and therefore she would be anxious to get feedback. I made sure that I gave her feedback within a week, and in some cases within a day or two in order to keep her motivated.
I knew that she could write well and therefore my role was to guide her to conform to the conventions of academic writing, which is something that is different from the writing of speeches or submissions in government
I had to provide her with intellectual leadership to guide her writing for her to produce quality work worthy of her standing and stature. Dr Pandor did not disappoint throughout her studies, hence the work she produced received acclaim from international examiners. I hope that what she learnt through this journey and the outcomes of the study will assist her in her portfolio as minister.
PG: Is she the first high profile person you have supervised?
Yes she was. I have previously supervised students from the African continent who were university officials, but not at ministerial level. It does not come better and bigger than this!
PG: How many PhD students have you supervised in total?
I have now successfully supervised 11 doctoral students to completion.
PG: Why did you become a teacher?
I decided at the age of nine that I wanted to become a teacher. That was the year my mom went to train as a teacher. Ever since, I have been able to teach every grade I was in, from standard one (grade three) until doctoral level. Whenever any teacher did not turn up for class, I would stand in for him/her and get the class to do some work (be it reading, solving a sum). I taught everything. But after I qualified, I taught Afrikaans at college for nine months and thereafter left to pursue my research interests until I became an academic where I taught Education Policy.
 I love teaching and I use every opportunity to share my skills and knowledge.
PG: Why should people choose careers in education and how will their jobs be affected by the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Teaching is a calling and only those who feel that way must follow careers in education. It requires patience, empathy, humility and wisdom to guide someone through the learning process. Much as machines can do certain jobs, they can never replace a teacher in the classroom. Future teachers will be required to be agile and adaptive to the changes and challenges brought by the use of technologies in order to be responsive to the needs of their learners and the labour market.
- Author Primarashni Gower

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