On its 72nd graduation ceremony on the 28th of April 2021, Rhodes University will confer a degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) (honoris causa) on its alumnus and notable educator Mr William Smith.
Over the years, Mr Smith reached many young people in South Africa and beyond, for whom his televised lessons were the only quality instruction they received in Mathematics and Science.
Vice-Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela said: “Thanks to his exceptional teaching skills and compassion, for almost two decades, the Learning Channel became an indispensable platform for young people of our country to receive interactive TV education in Mathematics and Science. In this way, he became the teacher for the entire South African nation.”
After matriculating, Mr Smith completed his BSc and his BSc (Hons), both with distinction, at Rhodes University. His parents JLB Smith, who identified the coelacanth, and Margaret Smith, ichthyologist and accomplished fish illustrator, both had deep-rooted ties with the University and Makhanda (then Grahamstown).
In 1962, Mr Smith completed his MSc in seven months at the University of Natal. Although his initial journey was into the world of business, working at African Explosives and Chemical Industries and Afrox, he soon realised he would not be content unless he followed his passion for teaching.
His first project in the education sector was establishing 'Star Schools' to provide value for money education with top-class teachers. Over the next 25 years, Mr Smith became famous throughout South Africa, where his schools have taught almost a million pupils of all races. He received many accolades for his innovations in teaching, including the highly prestigious 'Teacher of the Year' award.
In 1990, Mr Smith began producing The Learning Channel’s educational television programmes with the financial backing of Hylton Appelbaum, then Executive Director of the Liberty Life Foundation. As a result of his work on this programme, Smith was voted one of the top three presenters on South African television in 1998.
Besides his education programmes, Mr Smith appeared along with Jeremy Mansfield in the popular South African television quiz show, A Word or 2. He was also a judge for the Miss South Africa Pageant in 1998 and 1999.
Mr Smith was voted 86th in the Top 100 Great South Africans in 2004. In 2019, he was awarded the Order of the Baobab (silver) in recognition of his services to teaching and the "demystification of mathematics and science". The National Orders are the highest awards that South Africans can receive. The president bestows a national order upon a South African citizen or member of the international community who has contributed towards making South Africa a democratic and prosperous country.
Mr Smith is also a renowned conservationist and owned the Featherbed Nature Reserve in Knysna, where he lived until the sale of the land and company in 2004. He was also the owner of 'Rivercat Ferries', which has several crafts cruise in the Knysna lagoon and out to sea.