Prof Arthur Noble

Professor Arthur Noble   1924 – 2016


Arthur Noble, former Professor of Education and Dean of the Faculty of Education, passed away in Cape Town on 31st March, 2016. He joined the Rhodes staff in 1964, became a Professor of Education in 1971 and retired from the University in 1985. In that time he expanded and developed the work of the Faculty of Education considerably and bequeathed to the education profession, both nationally and internationally, scholarly work in the teaching of mathematics and, to thousands of teachers, a love for their profession.

He was born in Durban in 1924 and educated at Durban High School and Natal University College where he was awarded the College medals in Mathematics and Physics.  He saw service during the Second World War working on crash boats in Gordon’s Bay, the Kowie and Durban as a Coxswain (First Class).

He graduated as a teacher in 1948 and there followed teaching posts in both primary and secondary schools, including as a teacher of Mathematics and Science at Durban High School, before being appointed lecturer at the Natal Training College in Pietermaritzburg until his appointment to Rhodes.

To say that Arthur made a difference when he arrived at Rhodes is an understatement. Under his influence, the University’s Department of Education not only grew in size but also in significance. The curriculum changed; research developed; post-graduate B.Ed, M.Ed and PhD student numbers grew. Out went the old shibboleths of the past and in came a refreshing vision for education and a curriculum which addressed the challenges of teaching, learning and research for an apartheid free South Africa, which he ardently anticipated. The introduction of a Primary Education degree and then the Masters of Education degree by coursework saw the department’s influence on education locally and nationally grow significantly. Through his inclusive personality he was able to weld around him a staff of education professionals who were committed to the work they did, who took working together seriously and who believed in their mission. Relationships were developed which have been sustained over many years since.    

Three examples of Professor Noble’s national contribution to education were in mathematics education, where he was awarded the Mathematics Society’s Lifetime Award Medal; being a major force in the creation and development of Teacher Centres; and in being one of the founders of the Kenton Conferences. The genesis of the latter was the need for the somewhat beleaguered Education Departments at the English-speaking universities to create a safe and conducive space to research and speak outside of the then all-powerful Christian National Education ideological straightjacket which caused such enduring damage to South African education. Opening programmes of study, especially at the post-graduate B.Ed and M.Ed level, to all South Africans created challenges, especially for previously excluded students.  Arthur was alive to this and ensured student support to such students as needed it. His deep understanding that education can make a difference to individuals and nations and his sincere concerns and warmth for staff and students alike contributed to his success as an academic leader. As a mentor and colleague he had the ability to make all with whom he came into contact feel that they had something in them to make a difference. He always thought the best of people, with the result that they gave of their best. It was all part of his ability to be just as pleased with their successes as he was so quietly about his own. 

This man had the gift for seeing what really mattered in any situation and the wisdom and practical ability to address it.

He was a man of immense and kindly tolerance, especially of the unexpected. He was at once a person who made things happen, who had the sense to allow things to happen and to enjoy marvelling, sometimes, at what actually happened. Indeed, this man of integrity gave the lie to the unfortunate orthodoxy that work is what one does on someone else’s behalf; that work is what someone else gives  you.

This thoroughly decent, intelligent, conscientious and loving human being will be sorely missed by the many he taught and influenced.  Indeed, a man who asked for little and gave so much.


Professor Alan J Penny


Last Modified: Mon, 08 Aug 2016 15:04:40 SAST