Change the world


You too can make your life-time change” says Ayanda Simayi, whose PhD research, developed a teaching strategy that enabled her rural teacher colleagues to name initially avoided sexual concepts in the Life Sciences curriculum.

Ayanda, a Science lecturer in Nelson Mandela University’s Faculty of Education, will graduate on 14 December with her PhD in Education.

As Life Sciences teacher for 27 years and a Deputy Chief Marker for Grade 12 Life Sciences, Ayanda heard from teachers how culture prevented them from talking about sexual concepts and processes, which form part of the curriculum.

This drove her to investigate how terms such as menstruation, sexual intercourse and sexual parts were shared in the classroom.  

Her initial findings revealed that Xhosa culture regarded sexual issues as taboo and teachers indicated ‘asibizi, we do not say these things’ and the avoidance of naming was more problematic in deep, rural areas where she did her field work.

To address the contradiction between the cultural authority and stubbornness of Xhosa indigenous knowledge and a prescriptive Grade 12 science curriculum, she developed a professional development strategy to mediate between the two worlds of science.

A culturally structured indigenised teaching strategy was created to teach, for example, the menstrual cycle with Xhosa indigenous terms such as ‘engceni’ (on the grass) and ‘exesheni’ (on time) before transitioning to English terms. A linguistic framework was used to explain the use of different Xhosa terms in a deeply, culturally determined Xhosa community.

At the end of the study, findings revealed a change from the stubborn, cultural authority of asibizi using this culturally responsive indigenous strategy. And it suited the teachers’ school contexts, using the rich language and historical cultural practices of Xhosa indigenous grouping.

This teaching strategy also improved teaching as teachers confronted the Eurocentric view of science by developing and using harmonising, cognitive strategies that integrate indigenous knowledge with Western Maths and Science without conflict.

Cultural practices and language of indigenous grouping language were also elevated and integrated into modern science teaching, crossing barriers set by cultural inhibitions.

Ayanda’s future research will focus on developing experiment booklets with indigenous knowledge-based strategies and materials for teaching science in rural contexts. And she wants to present professional development sessions to more rural schools, pending the pandemic.

“I am giving hope to a rural girl and struggling teacher that we can change our situations,” says Ayanda, who herself was a rural girl from Celetyuma village in Peddie.

She was raised by a ‘migrant’ domestic worker, her late mom Ntombithini Vukuza-Njongi and passed around to uncles and brothers. She grew up poor, walking barefoot to primary school and eating amaqhoba (indigenous sweet tubers) and muncwane (leaves of wild berries) with classmates during break time because they did not have lunch.

She worked hard and skipped a grade both in primary school and high School in Alice. As her mom died in 1981, she did not have money to register for Grade 12. The Deputy Principal, Mr Ntusi, paid on her behalf and she remains grateful to him and to those who helped throughout her life.

Ayanda made it her mission to help a few needy students during her teaching career. To sustain herself, she worked as a contract unqualified Mathematics and Science teacher with Grade 12 to earn money to register for a Secondary Teachers’ Diploma in Mathematics and Science at Lennox Sebe Teachers’ College.

Since then she taught Mathematics and Science at Phillip Mtywaku and Xolani High School, got married, graduated with a part time BA at UNISA and taught at Gqebera High School.

Raising two young boys, working, and studying she obtained her BEd in Mathematics and Science and BEd Honours at Nelson Mandela University with distinctions.

She became Head of Department of Mathematics and Science and transferred to Ndzondelelo High School in 2013, where Education’s Dr Benedict Khoboli identified her as a potential PhD candidate.

With the assistance of Education’s Prof Paul Webb, she obtained her MEd at focussing on ‘teaching direct current electricity in township schools’.

In 2017, she was appointed as a Subject Advisor for Life Sciences in Port Elizabeth and resigned in 2018 to pursue her life-time ambition of obtaining a PhD that she hoped would transform the teaching of science in rural contexts.

She obtained a scholarship from the East and South African-German Centre of Excellence for Educational Research Methodologies (CERM-ESA) and Prof Webb’s expert supervision. All her rural research expenses and a conference presentation at Episteme8 in Mumbai, India, were paid for by CERM-ESA.

Contact information
Dr Ayanda Simayi
HOD for Senior Secondary Education
Tel: 041 504 4697