Mother and son, Dr Loretta Mkhonta and Sizwe Hlophe graduated at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s recent graduation ceremonies. Loretta, who obtained a PhD in education, and Sizwe who achieved a bachelor of social sciences, were both ecstatic to be sharing the moment together, each dedicating their degree to the other.
Loretta, director of an international child care non-government organisation in Swaziland, wept tears of joy and pride when her son received his results. ‘I am a very happy parent right now. It was a long and difficult road for Sizwe to get to this point. It has been an exciting time for our family because we were preparing for two graduations. It has been surreal. The joy of finishing this long journey is indescribable.’
Sizwe said he was honoured and blessed to graduate in the same year as his mother. ‘Despite my mom’s tight budget, she never complained about the cost of my education. I know how much she sacrificed for me. I thank her for the values she instilled in me, especially perseverance and honesty. I would not be who I am today without her commitment and support.’
Loretta, who is passionate about helping orphaned and vulnerable children, based her PhD research on the reasons behind secondary learner dropout from a child rights perspective.
She found teenage pregnancy to be one of the reasons for the high drop-out rate in secondary schools. ‘Learners, especially those who face adversity daily in their lives have unique schooling experiences that force them to leave school. Factors such as corporal punishment, stigmatisation, and painful living conditions at home can force them to leave school.
Duty bearers are directed by policies on how to assist learners to stay in school but that does not translate into practice. Schools, families and communities have a role to play to help learners stay in school but they do not have the capacity to intervene. Retaining learners in school needs a multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approach,’ explained Loretta.
Her greatest challenge was balancing work and her studies. ‘In my previous job I travelled frequently throughout Africa. There were times when I was in places that did not have access to the internet. I could not reach my supervisor or meet deadlines. However, I started valuing the travels because it was when I got most of my work done. My travels opened up my perspectives on the topic. My current job is demanding of my time. I have not had a free weekend for ages.’
Loretta will be taking a well deserved holiday in Europe in August. ‘I want to publish two research papers on my work experience with orphaned and vulnerable children. Eventually I would like to go back to being a teacher trainer at our local university.’
Adjusting to life away from home, lecture-style classes, and unfamiliar grading schemes were some of the challenges Sizwe faced. But he never gave up and ensured he graduated.
‘I have learned to treat a “F.A.I.L.” as my “First Attempt In Learning” because I believe in second chances and the opportunity to strive for better. Throughout my undergrad, the uncertainty of the future caused me a lot of stress and concern. As much as I valued living in the moment and enjoying my time as a student, the need to figure out post-grad plans was always looming in the back of my mind.
‘Luckily, I stayed strong for most of the year, focusing on school and finding relevant extracurricular activities. I realised that I have my entire life ahead of me to figure out the future. Although it is important to be forward-looking, the end of a three year undergraduate programme is by no means a deadline for finding full-time employment or applying to a graduate programme. It is the beginning of an exciting future,’ said Sizwe.