Durban University of technology accounting lecturer Dr Anita Hiralaal, was all smiles when she was awarded her PhD in Education (Teacher Development Studies) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Hiralaal overcame great obstacles to graduate. During her time as a doctoral student, she experienced major life challenges. In 2011, she suffered the loss of her husband and two years later she suffered a stroke which affected her eyesight and coordination.
‘Due to the stroke, I spent some time in hospital as I needed intense treatment. My sabbatical leave was spent getting occupational therapy, physiotherapy and psychological counselling because the stroke left me with severe depression. In this time, I still had to manage my late husband’s business and my household.
‘It was a very difficult time in my life, nevertheless I had to be brave and I realised that I had an inner strength that kept me optimistic and courageous,’ said Hiralaal.
However, despite these challenges, she worked extremely hard and devoted a great deal of time and effort to her research and writing that earned her a PhD.
Hiralaal strives towards becoming a more productive role model to her students. Firstly she had to establish what moulded her and shaped her professional development into becoming an accounting teacher.
‘I chose the topic “A Self-Study of my role modelling as a teacher educator of Accounting Pedagogy because I wanted to explore my lived experiences and establish how these experiences impacted on my development because I believe that not only does the past influence the present but it also plays a huge role in the future,’ she explained.
Hiralaal used her favourite childhood novel, “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett as a creative non-fiction device in constructing her thesis. She fashioned the fictional life experiences of the protagonist against her lived experiences, giving her doctoral journey a magic-like quality.
‘What was most enjoyable for me was adopting an arts based self-study approach. I am not an artistic person but I was able to construct collage portraits and found poems. I began incorporating the arts into my daily teaching activities and the response from my students was phenomenal.
‘It made me realise that I do not have to draw or paint like an artist or produce some fantastic artistic creation, I just had to use whatever resources I possessed personally and with a little bit of effort and thought, I could be just as creative and innovative as any artist,’ explained Hiralaal.
She gave her students the freedom to learn and in doing so, she feels she was freed. ‘Freed from narrow constricted educational values to challenging, wide, innovative and exciting educational values. Not only did my pedagogic practice improve, but I was transformed as a person.’
She thanked her supervisor Professor Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan, family and friends. Pithouse-Morgan said she was impressed by Anita’s perseverance and unwavering determination to complete the thesis.
‘Anita was also a pleasure to supervise because of her creativity, her openness to new ideas, her passion for her study, and her commitment to improving her role modelling as a university educator.’
Some of the comments to her examination reports were: ‘It was a pleasure to read and examine this thesis which offered a refreshing alternative to the traditional form of academic research report. The findings have tremendous value for other educators of any subject who wish to improve their own pedagogy. I think this is an excellent example of a self-study and one of the most enjoyable theses I have read in a long time.’
While another said, ‘This thesis is a credit to the University of KwaZulu-Natal and provides evidence that the knowledge-bases of the self-study, transformative educational research, and Living Theory research that are being supported by the University are at the international forefront.’