Education academic, Dr Ansurie Pillay, received the coveted Distinguished Teachers’ Award (DTA) at the annual University of KwaZulu-Natal graduation ceremony.
The award, that recognises teachers who had a favourable and lasting influence on students and displayed evidence of an educational impact beyond the classroom, was open to all who teach at UKZN and promote the importance of excellence in teaching at all levels within the University.
‘I see the award as an affirmation not just of me but also of many staff members who are working innovatively in, sometimes, difficult circumstances to make a difference to the students with whom they work. Many of us strive to approach education through a commitment to change and social justice, in all its complexities, and this award affirms this objective,’ said Dr Pillay, a senior lecturer in English Education in the Language and Arts Education Cluster in the School of Education.
Pillay completed her undergraduate degrees at the former University of Durban-Westville and her postgraduate degrees through the University of KwaZulu-Natal. During her years as a high school teacher, Dr Pillay obtained a cum laude in teaching English as a second language from Cambridge University. She left teaching to go into television production, where she won a Commonwealth Vision Award in London for excellence in filmmaking.
‘I have been blessed to have come from an environment (both personal and professional) of activism against injustice and activism for agency. During my childhood and youth I was exposed to and experienced activism in various spheres.
‘My career as a teacher in urban high schools showed me the extent to which institutionalised discrimination shaped lives but also the role that teachers can play in enabling learners to rise above obstacles. My career in documentary film and television, thereafter, brought into sharp focus the stark inequalities that define our lives,’ said Pillay.
Inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, Pillay’s approach to education is informed by a commitment to change and social justice. ‘As an academic in the School of Education, I draw on who the students are, what has shaped their educational journeys, and how they understand education. I also aim for agency in my students, so that no one is silenced and all voices are respected. This award reminds me to re-affirm this goal.’
In her lecture rooms, Pillay endeavours to equip students to recognise the important roles they play and the responsibilities they need to fulfil.
‘This award motivates me to continue doing this work, and ensure that students enter the workplace empowered, not just with subject knowledge and skills, but also with the ability to reflect critically on the ideological and philosophical foundations that define who they are and what they do. I also want to do better and be better with the students in my classes and with the colleagues with whom I work.’
The reactions from her colleagues on receiving the award has uplifted and motivated Pillay to strive further. ‘I have experienced countless instances of warmth and generosity of spirit from colleagues who have pointed me to opportunities, who have opened doors, who have listened and advised, and who have reminded me that I can achieve my aims.
‘Such collegiality and respect for ideas has taught me how to be a colleague and teacher. My family have also been supportive and encouraging. They remind me every day of what needs to be celebrated in life, and that goes beyond receiving an award,’ said Pillay.