Years of hard work paid off in a big way for Prof Shafika Isaacs, Associate Professor of Practice in the Faculty of Education, at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Prof Isaacs recently won the South African Education Research Association’s (SAERA) Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award, one of the highest honours in her discipline, for her dissertation titled: ‘Towards the recognition of a Soweto boy’s play capabilities in the formal education system‘.
“I am humbled to win this award,” said Prof Isaacs. “Writing a dissertation, like with other large projects, was very challenging. This was intended as a modest contribution to our collective knowledge and understanding of the lives that our children lead as learning subjects, particularly township boys and having the study of their lives recognised in this way, is a huge honour.”
Prof Isaacs has published widely on digital learning in Africa and said she was particularly drawn to this subject to bring attention to the lived experiences of township boy children in particular, their talents and their struggles as a sedge way into developing child-centred policies and practices. “I am hoping that the thesis provides ideas on how we can realise the dream espoused by the DBE that every child is a national asset.”
The educational research Prof Isaacs specialises in centers around the narratives or ‘stories’ about a 10-year-old Soweto boy pseudo-named Kabelo who seemingly exemplifies the ‘underperforming South African learner’. Kabelo shows us how he struggles with reading and how he is labelled in the formal education system as a severely cognitively-challenged, progressed learner with special educational needs. The dissertation compares and contrasts Kabelo’s world of academic performance with his everyday world of play. In this way it exposes his talents and capabilities in his everyday world of play, including his digital play. However these talents and capabilities are overlooked, unseen, and misrecognised in his world of academic performance. The thesis through Kabelo’s voice, makes an appeal for the recognition of his play capabilities in the formal education system as a social justice project.
The South African Education Research Association’s (SAERA) main aim is to professionalise, cohere and improve educational research and academic work in South Africa. It is open to all scholars of education.
Prof Isaacs said that winning this award was particularly significant beyond disciplinary acclaim. “I certainly hope that the award will spark interest in the social justice underpinnings of the thesis and its findings,” she said.