College of Education

Tribute to a life spent researching education ‘at the margins’

Prof Veronica McKay, Executive Dean of the College of Education, has received the distinction of being awarded a UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) Honorary Fellow.

The awarding of this title acknowledges her dedication to working in the areas of UIL’s mandate and her “substantial contribution to the development of lifelong learning on a global scale”.

By conferring the fellowship, UIL recognises the outstanding work and commitment McKay has shown “as an advocate of adult and continuing education, literacy, and non-formal basic education”.

The honorary fellowship will be conferred on 16 May 2017 at the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning in Hamburg, Germany.

McKay, who has received a number of local and international awards in education, says that she was overwhelmed by the unexpected accolade. She says she has “been working across the lifelong learning continuum for nearly three decades—from pre-school to post-school—and was excited that her work had been recognised by UNESCO”.

McKay has spent much of her academic life researching and working on “education at the margins”. From 2007 to 2011 she was seconded from Unisa to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) where she was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of the South African Mass Literacy Kha Ri Gude Campaign that enabled 4.7 million adults to become literate. Through her leadership the literacy campaign received a number of awards, including the coveted UNESCO Confucius Literacy Award in 2016.

Awards and honours

Over the years McKay has raked up an impressive array of awards and honours, which now includes the UIL Honorary Fellow.

  • UNESCO Confucius Literacy Award for Kha Ri Gude, 2016
  • National Ubungcweti GCIS Award for Kha Ri Gude, 2009
  • PANSALB Award for the Kha Ri Gude materials in 11 languages plus sign and braille, 2010
  • Expanded Public Works Programme Kamoso Award, 2012
  • Adult Learner’s Week Outstanding Achievement Award, 2012
  • Department of Labour Gauteng Youth Employment Award for Kha RI Gude’s role in the public work’s programme, 2014
  • McKay was the winner of the Shoprite/SABC Woman of the year award for Education, 2000.
  • Commonwealth of Learning (COL) award for excellence in teacher development materials, 2002
  • Unisa Council award for Community Engagement, 2004
  • DVV/Adult Learning Network/DOE award for lifelong contribution to adult education, 2006

McKay has been active in education at national and provincial levels. She is a member of the South African National Commission for UNESCO, Education Sector, and served as an Honorary Advisor to the Commonwealth of Learning for ten years.

She was previously the Chairperson of the Board of Directors: Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership, a member of the Ministerial Committee on Literacy, a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee for Learner and Teacher Support Materials, a member of the Presidential Working Group for Women, member of various Standards Generating Bodies in the early days of the NQF.

However, McKay says that besides being the Dean of the largest College of Education in the country, she feels her most important contribution was establishing the Department of Basic Education’s national workbook project, where she played a key role in coordinating and writing school materials for learners from Grade R to Grade 9. Through providing a lesson a day, the materials were intended to improve learning outcomes in schools and to assist in operationalising the CAPS (curricula) as they were being written and implemented. To date the DBE has published and delivered 250 million books which were developed by her and her team of academics mainly drawn from Unisa. The impact of the materials will be evidenced in the about-to-be-released results of the SACMEQ assessments.

*By Achieve Ubisi

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