The Sunday Independent
For us to be winners, true dedication is the key
PROFESSOR Delia North of the Statistics Department at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) has been at the forefront of finding solutions for teachers to teach statistics at their respective high schools.
Subsequent to hosting ICOTS 6 in South Africa fourteen years ago and the hosting of the 57th Session of the International Statistics Institute (ISI) in 2009, we committed to legacy programmes through which we asked the question, what will make hosting a conference in South Africa different and what will that difference be?
Stats SA and UKZN embarked on a journey of teaching teachers statistics through a legacy programme that we committed to as a Statistics Office and country for hosting the 57th International Statistics Institute hosted in 2009. Enthused by the discipline of statistics, they came from all corners of KZN every Saturday on their own costs to be tutored statistics.
At one of those moments a teacher who received a Casio Calculator would not remove it from its plastic casing but wanted to work on the keys through the casing.
While this caused some amusement, soon we were serious as this pointed in a significant way to some of the deplorable conditions under which teachers, who should be teaching quantitative subjects, operate.
The computer labs were most exciting to teachers but obviously when they went back to their teaching conditions this was a far cry from the labs at UKZN. Nelson Mandela, commenting on education upon receiving Census 96 results, noted these vast disparities.
Now then, the story of Nombuso Zondo, whom Professor Delia North is greatly proud of nurturing, is a lecturer at UKZN and is also pursuing a PhD in statistics, is as follows.
She participated in these efforts of teaching teachers statistics.
It is a story that the village and community must be proud of but only momentarily until we take to heart what Madiba says: “Significant progress is always possible if we ourselves plan every detail and allow intervention of fate only on our own terms. Preparing a master plan and applying it are totally different things.”
Nombuso Zondo said: “Growing up, I’d never heard of Statistics, I just knew I liked Mathematics. During my undergraduate degree, I had to take Statistics modules for degree purposes and it was then that I realized the importance of Statistics, how everything is data driven. Just as it was important to know how to read, I had to learn Statistics.
“Upon completion of my undergraduate degree I decided to further my studies and register for a postgraduate degree, which was not taken well by my family, friends and mentors, as the plan was to complete my four-year degree, graduate, get a job and financially assist my family.
“During every phone call and visit I would be asked ‘so when are you finishing your studies,’ ‘so what job will you have with Statistics, will you be counting people,’ and the most unsettling ‘so will you be earning around R100K monthly after graduating with your PhD?’ Meanwhile, at the university I was being faced with the difficulty of calling my professors by their first name even after they had clearly given me the go-ahead.
“In summary, I have been involved in a Research and Teaching project with the department of Higher Education, Maths4Stats programme, conferences and helping Grade 12 learners from disadvantaged schools prepare for their final Mathematics exams. I have been on both sides of the fence in my academic career and had the opportunity to work with some of the most skilled researchers.
“From my very little experience, variety, variability freedom of thought and working with students to see them develop, are some of the things that academics desire.
“You can never go wrong if you follow your heart and research interests. I acknowledge that the academic journey is not easy and no matter your demographic profile, the quality needs to be high and only motivation and hard work will empower one to make it through. Today, I hold the Pali Lehohla award for ‘The best emerging Statistician’, who would have thought!
“In the end, for South Africa to be a winning nation we need the wisdom of Einstein when he said ‘If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask’.”
Only then can we comply with Madiba’s injunction on how we can achieve the significant progress he envisioned and provide a platform for progress and not subject Nombuso Zondo to a game of chance but enable her to choose a career of choice even if it is in the study of chance – statistics. Only then can we embolden the indomitable and enviable efforts of Delia North.