College of Science, Engineering & Technology

Selling the maths story to more and more potential mathematicians

What factors influenced you to join Unisa?

I was eager to join a university of the future that uses innovative teaching methodologies to reach students who would otherwise be unreachable. I feel that Unisa is the one university that is making the most difference in today’s world, and I wanted to be a part of it.

What kind of education, training or background does your job require?

Academically, a PhD in Mathematics is necessary, coupled with a research track record and university teaching experience.

What do you do? What are the duties/functions/responsibilities of your job?

Teaching undergraduate and postgraduate modules in the ODL context, research and supervision of postgraduate research students.

What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying?

Mentoring students. The potential impact of producing mathematics graduates is far reaching, not only in increasing the intellectual capital of South Africa and the world, but in providing the skills and orientation for students in a wide array of science and engineering disciplines.

What has been the greatest challenge you have faced in your career to date?

Adjusting to the open and distance learning (ODL) mode of delivery. I have discovered that I have so much to learn, and that is both overwhelming and exciting.

What are the major qualifications for success in this occupation?

Dedication, hard work, flexibility, willingness to learn from others.

What particular skills or talents are you bringing to CSET and Unisa?

A wealth of experience in mentoring and supervision of students, a good research profile and ability to teach a wide spectrum of mathematics modules. Each one of my degrees has been obtained from a different continent; hence, I am familiar with various education systems. This enables me to make an input into curriculum and assessment policies.

What advice would you offer learners who are interested in pursuing this career path?

Develop a love for the subject first and foremost; be willing to work hard; don’t give up when you do not get the results that you expect.

What is the future of the field in terms of new and expanding opportunities?

I see a great opportunity in attracting more students into mathematics, in employing innovative ways to improve their performance and in motivating them into postgraduate studies. We can do what traditional universities are not well placed to do—use technologies in exciting and interesting ways to sell the mathematics story to more and more potential mathematicians.

What educational preparation would you recommend for someone who wants to advance in this field?

Willingness to complete undergraduate, honours, MSc and PhD. You have to commit to lifelong learning and to the continuous pursuit of knowledge in the field.

Who would you say has been the most help in your career? How did they help you?

Over the years, I have received encouragement, advice and assistance from a number of individuals: from school teachers, colleagues and academics some of whom are not even mathematicians.

How can I evaluate whether or not I have the necessary skills for a position such as yours?

A love for the subject is one indicator, the ability to be innovative and to solve problems is another.

Can you suggest some ways a learner could obtain this necessary experience?

Practice, practice and more practice. Learners should expose themselves to a variety of problems on each topic, work on problem solving skills and address issues by seeking assistance as soon as they arise.

What exactly does the word ‘success’ mean to you?

To me, success is the attainment of a trajectory that I have set for myself in any area of life. It is making strides on a journey towards a goal that I have set for myself.

Please tell us about any other thing you want to tell us that has not been asked above?

My attitude towards mathematics has never been that of a daunting, difficult, insurmountable subject. It is fun, almost like a game. That is the attitude that I endeavour to have my students emulate.

*Compiled by Nkululeko Mpakama