The University of KwaZulu-Natal has honoured two of its finest with the Distinguished Teacher’s Award.
The awards – presented at the Hilton Hotel in Durban on Friday night – honoured Dr Aneshkumar Maharaj and Professor Michael Savage, who were the outstanding teachers of 2014.
The awards not only look at teachers who are above average, but also look at the contributions they have made towards teaching and learning.
Maharaj, 55, currently heads the Mathematics Education Research Group in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, and said being honoured was “a good feeling”, for the work he has done over the years.
“I realised with all the teaching problems we have with mathematics, they can’t be solved without technology,” Maharaj said.
Being a teacher was a calling since his high school days, that he decided to respond to.
“Teachers played a big role in my life and I wanted to do the same,” said Maharaj, who has been teaching for 32 years.
What kept him going over the years was the students he taught and the joy he got from helping them with the challenges they faced.
One of the main lessons he has learned was that thorough preparation was essential, and he said: “One teaches the students one has, and not the ones one would like to have.”
He would like to be remembered as someone who helped students to succeed not only in their studies, but in life as well.
Maharaj, of Effingham Heights, started out as a high school teacher in 1983 at Greytown Secondary School, said that when he joined the university in 2003, students used to call him “school teacher”.
This initially worried him until a colleague explained students called him that because he took great care in ensuring that they were able to grasp the material being taught.
“We get students who are not equipped to come to university and we try to turn things around,” Maharaj said.
The award was not his only achievement.
He was also an associate member of the international Multiversity Consortium for the HP Global Education Catalyst, which looks at ways of making learning resources available online.
In 2014, he also received a research grant for three years from the National Research Foundation.
Prof Savage, who teaches agrometeorology, said he would not have been able to receive the award without the help of his students.
Savage, 61, said: “I like teaching, I like imparting knowledge to others.”
Part of the knowledge he imparts comes from his emphasis on bringing real time data to the classroom through a web-based teaching system he developed.
This system has a weather station at the Pietermaritzburg campus which measures soil-water content to leaf wetness for calculations of heat index.
This system provides almost real time data which has led to a greater appreciation of the environment among his students.
Striking relationships with his students also helps him to better communicate and help him to get what he teaches across.
Savage who lives and teaches at the School of Agriculture, Earth and Environmental Sciences in Pietermaritzburg, said in his 40 years as a teacher at high school and university, he had learned to never assume anything, and encouraged other teachers to work hard and know that nothing is easy. “There is a huge shortage of agrometeoroligists and people in the technical fields,” Savage said.
Breaking the divide between teacher and student was important, and this could be addressed by having more students being efficient in mathematics and physical sciences.
Changing technology has been the biggest challenge and also the greatest asset for him.
He counts getting a research fellowship at the University of KwaZulu-Natal as one of his greatest achievements.
Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, said: “Teaching is the core of our business.”
It was important to recognise the efforts that teachers made as they were the people who were shaping the “young generation”.
Van Jaarsveld said it was important that teachers were not only good teachers, but good researchers as well.