The Department of Educational Psychology professor, who has a special interest in career counselling, chats about what drives him, what his greatest dream is and why he never dispenses advice.
Professor Kobus Maree of the Department of Educational Psychology tells Tukkievaria about the importance of lifelong learning and what drives him to continue to be of service to others.
Tell us a bit about your upbringing.
Having grown up in a poor family in an impoverished rural environment, and seeing the suffering and loss of so much talent, I took a particular interest in the impact of poverty on people and the hardship it caused. I was always regarded as an “outsider”, as I’d grown up as the child of an English-speaking (Catholic) mother of Lebanese origin and an Afrikaans (Protestant) father in an Afrikaans milieu at the height of apartheid.
It was if I was “lost” in an intersectionality trap. I never felt like I really belonged to any group, and so I often felt at home among marginalised people. Over time, I began to realise that every poverty-related challenge carried with it the opportunity to make a small contribution to a person in need. And each time any of us makes a difference in the life of a distressed person, we benefit as much as the recipient does: in healing others, we are also healing ourselves.
What does your role at UP entail?
As a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, my main research areas are counselling for self- and career construction, social responsibility, and emotional intelligence. My main responsibilities include supervising students at master’s and doctoral levels, conducting research, writing scholarly articles and books, and editing scholarly journals.
What are you most passionate about, and why?
Administering career counselling by eliciting and drawing on people’s stories and test scores is my passion. I have devoted my life to developing an innovative, qualitative-quantitative counselling intervention strategy that can be used in groups and individually, in rural areas, townships and in urban contexts, here and abroad.
The emphasis is placed on identifying people’s deep-seated strengths and motives, and using innovative techniques to empower them to reflect on their life stories (as well as their test scores, if necessary) and to use these reflections to initiate action and momentum their lives.
I derive great satisfaction from giving whatever I can to those who have very little to empower themselves. My dream is to one day establish a self-sustainable orphanage (with food gardens, etc.) where we can welcome people that have nothing or very little, and enable them to rediscover a sense of self, meaning, dignity, hope and purpose.
You have three PhDs. What are they in?
After completing my first doctoral degree, in Education, I realised that times were changing rapidly and that the degree did not necessarily make me employable. So I enrolled for, and completed, a doctoral degree in teaching and learning mathematics, with special emphasis on the psychology of mathematics. I’d always been interested in psychology, and decided to enrol for a doctoral degree in that subject.
You seemed to have embarked on the principle of lifelong learning. Why is this important and what advice do you have for young people?
Learning is so rewarding, so much fun and has so many benefits – why deny yourself that wonderful opportunity?
It was only after I had completed my third doctoral degree that I felt well equipped to inspire others and had the skills to conduct research, be published, and experience a sense of meaning and purpose in my work. I began to feel that I was making a small difference in the lives of others. I felt more employable, and realised just how quickly “new” skills become obsolete. I realised that I had to keep learning if I wanted to remain relevant in the workplace.
As for advice – I never dispense it, as no person can ever be an ‘expert’ on another person. However, given the pace at which the world is changing, I urge every young person to utilise every learning opportunity optimally. The keyword and associated skill in today’s occupational world is “adaptability” – this fosters employability. Without work, irrespective of how you define that concept, life often loses meaning. I’d encourage students not to focus on skills that would merely help them to find a job or work, and instead try to acquire skills that will make them employable.
You are a familiar voice and face in the media, commenting about issues in education and offering learners study and career information. Why do you do this?
We are called professors because it is believed that we have something to ‘profess’. Sharing information with others means we are merely doing what we are supposed to be doing. I see this as part of our social responsibility: delivering a much-needed, free “service”, making a small social contribution.
I am happy to provide information that others might find useful, especially if what I share helps to improve someone’s life. Sharing the little I know could perhaps help someone in pain or contribute to their education, help someone to develop and grow, or understand themselves better.