Chancellor’s Medal for graduate investigating learners’ understandings about scientific inquiry

Penn Mafor, a Master’s graduate in the Faculty of Education has earned herself the highest student honour in the Faculty’s cohort of the 2020 autumn graduates, following her selection as the most meritorious study of 2019. Mafor passed her Master’s studies with distinction at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), for her dissertation topic “Grade 12 physical and life sciences learners’ understandings about scientific inquiry“.

Her study investigated the Grade 12 Physical and Life Sciences learners’ views and understandings about scientific inquiry and how these understandings compare and contrast in differently resourced school types within three education districts of the City of Johannesburg and its environs. Mafor undertook the research to establish how, in recent decades, the teaching and learning of science as inquiry has become the international position for curriculum reforms in science teaching and learning for K-12 internationally and R-12 in South Africa. In her study, she says: “within the parameters of science education, scientific inquiry is multifaceted in that it is a ‘means’, a pedagogic approach for science teaching by science teachers, and also an ‘end’, a learning outcome for science learners.”

She was one of the 13 000+ graduates who were supposed to walk across the stage at the graduation ceremony to receive their qualifications, but could not do so due to the COVID-19 pandemic and nation-wide lockdown. “I was supposed to receive the Chancellor’s medal for the most meritorious master’s study in the Faculty of Education, 2019. It would have been a great moment of pride to walk that stage, but due to the pandemic, the University did its best considering the circumstances, in providing virtual ceremonies and digital certificates,” explains Mafor.

She is currently registered for her PhD and works as a Lecturer at the Department of Childhood Education (DCE) in the Faculty of Education, at the UJ Soweto Campus. As many people had to switch to an online mode of working, teaching and learning due to the pandemic, Mafor says she has also now adapted to teaching online via the platform provided by the Centre for Academic Technologies (CAT) of the University. “The journey has been one filled with new learning and systematic adjustments to the ‘new normal’. In terms of studies, I am currently dealing with some fears about how data will be collected for the completion of my PhD studies, in the case that things don’t go back to normal. However, as the saying goes, ‘when life gives you lemons you make lemonade’, I will find a strategy to adapt to the new reality.

Regarding graduations, Mafor says that virtual graduations were a better option, “but the opportunity to share this celebratory moments with loved ones would have been better for memory’s sake. I do not know if it will be necessary to walk across the stage a later stage IF the University will host graduation ceremonies for graduates.”

Mafor says the lockdown has taught her to appreciate the little things in life, “like meeting people face-to-face, going out, playing sport and worshiping at church. At first, I was scared of what could become the ‘new normal’ for teaching and learning, but thanks to the continuous online support from UJ, colleagues and partners, I have now adapted to the status quo.

“Some of the attributes that I will take from the situation going forward in life include adaptability, versatility, grasping opportunities and a positive attitude towards life. In the face of this pandemic, I have since acknowledged that time is an important factor in all that we do and procrastination must be shunned. The greatest lesson, is to take every worthy opportunity that comes one’s way and run with it. This is because tomorrow is never ever certain.

About receiving the Chancellor’s Medal, Mafor says that she is excited, honoured, and above all humbled: “It really feels good when hard-work is recognised.”

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