for tomorrow



Language and literacy, science and education. Master’s in Education student Kholisa Papu succeeded in combining all four aspects and brought science writing and education together which resulted in her winning the South African Society for Engineering Education (SASEE) best submission and best presentation awards at SASEE’s Third Biennial Conference held at University of KwaZulu-Natal recently.

Kholisa’s paper, “Investigating the use of argumentation to promote critical thinking in first year mechanical engineering laboratory report writing”, was presented in the ‘academic support programmes and initiatives in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teaching’ strand. Her research findings stimulated lively discussion and was considered to be an innovative and meaningful contribution towards engineering education, particularly in light of current re-curriculation imperatives.

The paper is part of her Master’s research study on investigating the effect of a Science Writing Heuristic approach in first-year mechanical engineering laboratory report writing at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. The Science Writing Heuristic is a laboratory report writing intervention that uses argumentation to promote reasoning about laboratory data and it can be used both by the teacher/lecturer and the student, i.e. there is a teacher template and a student template.

The teacher template guides the teaching of content knowledge before laboratory work is done and the student template provides prompts that scaffold students’ thinking about laboratory work through a writing to learn approach. Importantly, these writing prompts/thinking prompts offer meta-cognitve support that is, they seek to make the student aware of their own thinking and how they have come to learn.

‘’I come from a family of teachers and have always been passionate about language, learning and education. Studying towards a Master’s degree in Education provided me with an opportunity to bring together language literacy and a priority area in education, namely writing to learn in science. I hope to influence young people through the love of reading and writing. I also have great supervisors and there is plenty of support for postgraduate students in the Education Faculty,’’ says 28-year old Kholisa.

And with her specific areas of interest in the education field of helping students to develop in terms of writing to learn and critical thinking, and furthering her research on academic literacies and multilingualism, she aims to do just that.

The Mthatha-born and raised young woman’s journey as a student has not been easy or simple. ‘First I enrolled for a BSc Microbiology degree but I was depressed all the time because I did not enjoy it and I felt that it did not cater for my creative side. So, I changed to a BA Media Communication and Culture (MCC) degree in the second semester of 2006. I think I was an average student except for certain modules where I did well and I was always thorough with my work. My academic performance got better as I progressed to the next academic level. I particularly enjoyed literary studies (literature), African film and public relations studies – those were my majors -but I also loved writing for the media and working on creative projects that involved conceptualising events or campaigns. I completed my MCC degree in 2009 and graduated in 2010,’’ Kholisa says.

She worked in different departments at NMMU starting off in the Disability Unit in 2010 as an administrative assistant. The following year she studied full-time towards a BA Honours degree in English where she was introduced to research work, being critical of the literature and developing your own ‘voice’ as a writer/researcher.

‘’This was the most challenging time as a university student because I struggled financially. Even though I was awarded with two bursaries, none of the bursaries paid on time and the other one did not pay at all,’’ she recalls.

‘’So I was invited to tutor English to first year students and because of the bad financial situation I was in, I ended up taking more modules to tutor just so that I could pay rent and buy food. But even that one did not work out smoothly because I never got paid on time for all the modules I tutored. The first payment I received was only in August 2011 – the entire semester I worked without pay’’.

Until she was paid, she spent the entire semester without a source of income, textbooks, she could not pay rent or buy food or buy stationary etc. but she was determined not to give up. A lot of people helped her from friends to staff and Kholisa is very grateful to her landlady Mrs Anoula Kyriakides (and her family), for not throwing her out all those months she could not pay rent.

A year later she joined the Department of Applied Language Studies (DALS) as a lecturing assistant. During this year she also completed short courses in English/isiXhosa Translation. While she was working with DALS, she also worked part-time as a writing respondent at the South Campus Writing Centre – an experience she cherished.

Kholisa never gave up and in the first semester of 2013 –jobless - Shena Lamb from the 2nd Ave writing Centre called her and offered her part-time work at the 2nd Ave Writing Centre where she was a tutor/writing respondent for a Research Methodology module for BTech students.  

‘’Logistics lecturer Prof Gideon Horn was very encouraging and he invited me to be a guest lecturer, presenting on academic writing and on writing research reports. I formed a lot of friendships with the students I was tutoring and helping with their different research projects. Once while attending a CANRAD Seminar, I met Dr Berit Lundgren, a Research Associate in the Faculty of Education from Sweden, who invited me to join a research project on writing science content essays in English and Home language (isiXhosa) and I translated all the student texts written in isiXhosa into English.

‘’In this research project, I worked with her, Dr Mary Grace Villanueva and Prof Paul Webb from 01 June 2013 to date on various research projects in the Faculty of Education and I have been learning a lot from them. So I started in the Education Faculty as a research assistant then I also joined the Faculty newsletter team and now I work as a Coordinator for the East and South African-German Centre of Excellence in Educational Research Methodologies and Management (CERM-ESA). There is no dull moment in this Faculty.

‘’In February 2014, I registered for a Master of Education degree and I will be handing it soon and I’m crossing fingers to graduate at this year’s summer graduation.

After completing her studies Kholisa would like to step back and reflect on her research journey before attempting to pursue doctoral studies. ‘’While I reflect, I would like to work in academia and travel’’.