Mercy Kazima

24 November, 2009

Mercy Kazima

‘Any girl (or boy) can do mathematics or any science subject if they are interested and willing to work hard.’

 I was born on 1st May 1965 in Lilongwe, Malawi. I was the third born daughter in a family of seven. My father was a civil servant and my mother was a house wife. I attended primary school mostly in Lilongwe and later attended Malosa secondary school. I was then accepted at the University of Malawi where I studied Bachelor of Education Science programme with mathematics as my major subject. I completed the degree programme in 1988 and then taught mathematics at Lunzu Secondary School. In October 1989 I was accepted into a Bachelor of Science Honours programme in mathematics at the University of Malawi. I completed the one year course towards the end of 1990 and graduated with a second upper class. 

In 2009 for the first time, the University of Malawi has a woman Dean in the Faculty of Education – me!  As a woman I have faced many challenges on my way to this post, but I have persevered.  For instance, when I was an undergraduate I was discouraged by some people who believed that mathematics and sciences in general are hard subjects and especially for girls. This is false because any girl (or boy) can do mathematics or any science subject if they are interested and willing to work hard. I also faced discouragement the time I was teaching in secondary school and decided to go back to the University of Malawi for another year of mathematics honours programme. I was discouraged by colleagues, friends and some family because they believed I had already achieved enough for a girl and didn’t need more to earn a relatively good living. Looking back, I am very happy that I was strong and continued my studies because my life would not have been the same without the education I have acquired.

I return to my educational path:  my employment in the University of Malawi (from January 1991) as an assistant lecturer in Mathematics Education was challenging but also very inspiring. In September 1991, I was awarded a British Council scholarship to study towards a master’s degree in the United Kingdom. I was accepted at the University of Leeds and had the privilege of studying there. I returned to Malawi in September 1993 and was promoted to the position of lecturer in mathematics education. My duties were mostly teaching mathematics and mathematics education to undergraduate students.

In 1999, I was awarded a commonwealth scholarship to study towards a doctoral degree in the United Kingdom, as before at the University of Leeds.  On completion I returned to Malawi in October 2002 and resumed my duties as lecturer in mathematics education. In 2004, I was awarded a post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.  I worked on my post doctoral research from April 2004 to November 2005.  I then came back to Malawi again to resume my duties as lecturer in mathematics education, and I was made deputy dean of the faculty of education. In 2006 I was promoted to the position of senior lecturer, which is my current position. And as I mentioned earlier, I was appointed to be the dean of the faculty of education from January 2009. This is the first time since the University of Malawi started in 1965 that the faculty of education has a female Dean.

Studying abroad has educated me in many ways beyond the mathematics education I pursued. I met many other women from all over the world studying and this was encouragement enough to keep me going. I learnt about academic life and being an academic. I also learnt about different cultures, different life styles and that there is a big wide world that I don’t know about. 

In Malawi, my education has benefited the University of Malawi and the nation in general. For eight years I was the coordinator for the Malawi national mathematics Olympiad for secondary schools. This mathematics competition was very motivating to many students in schools and during this time I realized that I was a role model to many girls in the schools. I continue to be a role model to girls in my extended family, my home area and other communities. Furthermore, I have participated in projects which aim at encouraging girls to be in school and remain in school and also encouraging girls to study mathematics and science without being discouraged by others. For example, I was the first national coordinator for the Female Education in Mathematics and Science in Africa (FEMSA) project for Malawi, this project included a number of African countries. I am now the coordinator for project SUSTAIN for Malawi whose objectives include to teach science for sustainable development and also to address gender issues in mathematics and science education. I am also a board member of the African Forum for Children’s Literacy in Science and Technology (AFCLIST). In addition to these I have membership to professional associations both at regional (southern Africa) and international level.

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Pat Hiddleston

24 November, 2009

‘Being a mathematician I am not good on spin, but this is my story.’

 I was born and raised in Troon, Scotland – and was one of the few women to study mathematics as it was a male dominated field at that time.  For over 50 years I have worked in mathematics in different parts of the world as a school teacher, a school principal a university lecturer and an international education consultant. Now at the age of 76 I am still consulting on curricula and textbook development and teacher training programmes, mainly in maths education. I have worked since 1958 in 19 countries altogether including seven Commonwealth countries – Bangladesh, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda and Zambia.

 As a girl I was lucky I guess as Scottish schools, apart from the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, had mainly coed, comprehensive schools. I went with my school bag and blazer like everyone else in Troon to the “Wee school”, then the “Big school” and finally Marr College – we were lucky as a Troon man, called Marr, had made a fortune and donated it to build a school for the children of Troon.

 There were 5 streams and my 5 best girl friends and I were in the “A” stream. No-one ever suggested that girls couldn’t do maths. I worked hard and was always top of the class – and liked it that way! We also had a very good maths teacher, Mr Peebles, at Marr College. We all went on to university and didn’t think this was special. It was what everyone in the A stream did whether boy or girl. We six are still friendly (more than 50 years later) and go holidays together every second year. Of the 6 of us, 2 studied medicine, 1 pharmacy, 1 accountancy, 1 primary teaching and I chose the field I had always been so interested in: pure maths.

 University was strange looking back for I went through it in a daze of mathematics and hardly did anything else.  I was absolutely besotted with maths.  My friends commuted  to Glasgow University but I went to Edinburgh University as I didn’t want to travel and somehow had heard it was better for maths. I had also spent my sixth form serving in the bar of my parents’ hotel and had enough sense to get further away.

 I was the only girl in the final maths honours class of 15 and was awarded nearly all the medals including the final big one, the Napier medal, just accepting it all as down to my hard work.  Like most of us I graduated in July and got married in the same month! At that time many young people were leaving the UK and though we thought of emigrating to Canada, opted instead for the Colonial office. I accompanied my husband who was posted to Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. 

 And that is where I spent my longest time in any one country.  I started working in 1958 when Zambia was still Northern Rhodesia. My husband, George, and I taught at the only government secondary school in the country, Munali. George just accepted I would always work and didn’t think it strange. If you are in a country with few maths or physics teachers and can teach, you do! I didn’t choose to teach school but until 1965, when the University of Zambia opened, there was no other option. Whilst teaching I did my PhD through the University of South Africa by distance learning and went by train from Lusaka to Pretoria – then, the 1960’s, a journey of about two days – to see my supervisor and use their library. I graduated in 1965, 3 weeks after my fourth child was born!

 Munali was a school for boys in what was called “African Education”.  African Education was the responsibility of the United Kingdom Colonial Office while the other, “European Education”, was the responsibility of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. At Munali there were about 500 boys who had been highly selected from all over the country and it was run like a pukka English boarding school. The boys sat A level exams and went on to universities in Southern Rhodesia, South Africa or the UK.  There were two other secondary schools at that time for black children both church run. The girls went to Chipembi School which was either Methodist or Church of Scotland run and is still going strong, and the boys went to one run by the White Fathers. Our Colonial Office contract determined where we worked.  As my husband was in the Colonial service we had long leave of 6 months every 3 years and were posted to a new job on each return. After Munali I had a time lecturing at a Teachers’ Training College near Lusaka called Chalimbana TTC, followed by teaching at a new secondary school in Ndola and finally was appointed as the first member of the academic staff of the new University of Zambia. I lectured there for 5 years from 1965 -1970. During our time we saw the transition of Northern Rhodesia from being a colony to becoming the independent state of Zambia – and my transition to being a mother of four children, all born in Zambia, as well as an academic. We returned to Scotland in 1970 for their higher education.

 Later I moved back to Africa, first as Principal of Durban Girls’ College in South Africa and then to the University of Malawi in Zomba.  The seven years in Malawi from 1989-96 were very happy and rewarding. It was an exciting time for it saw the introduction of democracy to Malawi and the end of the Dr Hastings Banda era. The University had excellent staff, mainly local Malawians and a few expats. I was employed initially by ODA/DfID and then by the Government of Malawi and worked with two first class Malawian women who after graduating themselves from the University of Malawi have obtained first their Masters and then their PhDs with grants from the British Council and the Commonwealth Office.

 Since 1996 I have been working as an independent education consultant throughout the developing world.  This very satisfying work usually involves working in the respective Governments’ Ministry of Education along with local experts.  I visit schools and training colleges and interact with teachers and students. It is exciting to realize that through the Commonwealth there are strong links between the Commonwealth countries themselves and with Britain. Unlike other countries I work in I seldom need an interpreter when I work in a Commonwealth country. Whilst not ignoring the arguments about early years’ local language teaching, the universal use of English in higher education and Government in these countries is such a boon.

 In 2008 Uganda hosted the Commonwealth Conference (whilst I was there) and for months before the whole country looked forward to this great event. With the Queen coming there was great excitement and preparation – the road from Entebbe to Kampala was upgraded, everything she would see was cleaned up and painted. No wonder the people said ”This Queen should come every year”.