Inaugural Lecture: Professor Marc Schäfer

11 September 2013

Deputy Vice-Chancellors, Deans, Heads of Department, colleagues, students, family and friends of Prof Schäfer, ladies and gentlemen – molweni, good evening, welcome.

The University Calendar lists all the current full professors of Rhodes University. Professor Marc Schäfer, who is the NRF Mathematics Education Chair, funded under the DST/NRF South African Research Chair Initiative.

This evening, as is our tradition, we have the presentation of the Inaugural Lecture that follows the University conferring the status of full professor on an academic.

It is an evening on which as academic peers, colleagues, students, family, friends, and the public we celebrate the intellectual and scholarly achievements of one of our professors.

Marc Schäfer was born to Swiss immigrant parents in Cape Town in 1957. He started his primary schooling in Switzerland and on returning to South Africa completed his Matric at the German School in Johannesburg. He studied for a Bachelor of Science at University of the Witwatersrand, majoring in Geography and Mathematics, after which he completed his Higher Diploma in Education with Mathematics and Geography as his teaching methods.

Although Marc first wanted to be an airline pilot, the Wits years convinced him to be a teacher. In the aftermath of the 1976 Soweto uprising Marc started a Mathematics school on the Wits campus for learners from Soweto who were no longer able to attend their respective schools.

Marc’s Maths school began with only a few learners and soon grew into one of the biggest societies at Wits. He remembers teaching hundreds of school kids Maths in one of the exhibition halls on the old Rand Easter Show grounds through a microphone, with dozens of student tutors assisting him.

Marc’s pacifist convictions saw him leave South Africa at the beginning of the 1980s to start his teaching career in Switzerland.

His first teaching post was at a reformatory for delinquent adolescent girls where he was the sole teacher in a team of four therapists looking after the welfare of eight highly marginalized girls. Through this experience Marc engaged first hand with the dark underbelly of a society that is famous for its sweet chocolate box façade.

He continued his anti-military activities in Switzerland and was a founder activist in mobilizing support for a national referendum to abolish the Swiss Army.

He briefly returned to South Africa to marry Jean, his childhood sweetheart. Together they set up home near Bern, but were increasingly drawn back to Africa.

Marc and Jean joined a development project in the then Bophuthatswana, where Marc led a Mathematics and Science department at Setlogelo Technikon, a technical institution that was funded by various Swiss organisations.

At the end of the three-year Bop contract, ready to move back to Switzerland, with a R15 000 bonus cheque in his back pocket, Marc and Jean travelled to the Eastern Cape for a last African holiday. They fell in love with the Eastern Cape and with the bonus cheque promptly bought a plot in Bathurst and stumbled across Grahamstown.

When offered a Maths post at St Andrew’s College, Marc cancelled his post in Switzerland and began a career as a Mathematics teacher in this part of the world.

In the meantime Dominique and Sarah were born, and the small Schafer family set up home at Mistywoods, a small holding 10km out of town. Here Marc added to his list of many interests the pursuits of bee keeping and the establishment of a cherry orchard. The Eastern Cape and southern Africa are playgrounds for his activities of mountaineering, climbing, hiking, photography and even astronomy.

Back home the musician occasionally emerged and he has taught classical guitar, been a saxophonist on the Rhodes University Jazz Band and his vinyl collection of music from the 60s to the 80s is ever expanding.

After 10 years at St Andrew’s and during which time he did his Bachelor of Education at Rhodes, Marc took over as a Mathematics education lecturer at Rhodes from his mentor Professor Terry Marsh in 1997. He remembers his interview well, where he was told in no uncertain terms that he had six years to complete his Masters and his PhD! And that is exactly what he did.

Through his Masters research, which involved the writing up of a rural development project in the Winterberg, Marc began his journey working with teachers from marginalized and disadvantaged schools. He received a scholarship from Curtin University in Perth and the NRF to complete his PhD, after which Marc was appointed Head of the Education Department at Rhodes, a position in which he served until he was awarded a SARChI Research Chair in Mathematics Education in 2010.

His Chair involves coordinating a comprehensive development and research programme that addresses the Mathematics Education crisis in South Africa.

Marc has graduated 29 Masters and five PhD students, and is currently supervising eight Masters and six PhD students under this programme.

His personal research areas include: spatial conceptualisation; in-service teacher development; teacher education, practices and knowledge; mathematical cognition and understanding; enactivism; personal, social and cultural dimensions of mathematics knowing; mobile technology in mathematics education; and concept literacy in indigenous languages.

This research has attracted several funders over the years, including the Zenex Foundation, the Rhodes Joint Research Committee, First Rand Foundation, Rand Merchant Bank, the Department of Science and Technology, and the Swiss – South African Joint Research Programme. And with this support, Marc has been able to produce – amongst many other valuable contributions to mathematics education in South Africa – a Mathematics Education Directory, multilingual video clips for mobile telephone use or Visual Technology for the Autonomous Learning of Mathematics (VITAL Maths), and a Concept Literacy Book for Mathematics and Science in indigenous languages (Setswana, Sesotho).

Given Marc’s research outputs, his publications in conference proceeding are extensive and he has been an invited plenary or guest speaker at several national and international conferences. He has some 17 publications in peer-reviewed journals to his name.

His other major publications include a report on the state of mathematics education for the Council on Higher Education and Understanding Concepts in Mathematics and Science: A mulitilingual Learning and Teaching Resource Book in English, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Afrikaans. Volume 1 – GET won the SATI Award for Outstanding Service Translation in 2009. A second volume arising from this work of the Concept Literacy Project 2005 – 2009 followed. He has also published three mathematical literacy text books for Grade 10 to 12.

Marc’s recent international work includes a partnership with the Teacher Education University of Bern (Switzerland) and the Teacher Education University of Central Switzerland (Switzerland) for PGCE student exchange.

He also formed a partnership with the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland for the VITALmaths research project. He has also assisted in developing research capacity in Mathematics Education in Malawi through his work as SAARMSTE President and was active participant in the Gesellschaft für Didaktik in Germany and an active member of the international Mathematics Education for the 21st Century Project.

In 2011 he was chairman of the LOC for the International ME21C Conference at Rhodes University in 2011.

In Namibia he was coordinator of the MEd (Mathematics Education) Project which successfully graduated 12 Masters students and currently has 14 registered students participating in the programme.

He has acted as an external PhD examiner at several South African universities as well as Curtin University, Australia, and has supervised postgraduate students from Namibia, Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho. He has also been the external examiner or moderator for programmes or coursework at various universities.

Prior to this he was an examiner for the Matric Examination, Cape Education Department: Mathematics HG II, chief examiner for GEC Mathematics, IEB, examiner for the Matric Examination, IEB: Mathematics HG II, and chief examiner for Matric Examination, IEB:  Mathematics SG I.

He has served as a regular reviewer for the African Journal of Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education (AJRMSTE), the Journal of Teacher Education and Training, Institute of Sustainable Education, Daugavpils University, Estonia; the South African Journal for Education; the African Education Review; Pythagoras; and The South Africa Journal of African Languages. He has also been the editor of the journal Pythagorus.

He also reviews grant applications for the NRF and applications for rating and was the chief reviewer for a Zenex funded Technology Education Project in Umtata in 2000:

Marc has further chaired the national CHE/HEQC teacher education programmes for ACE Mathematics at UCT and UN, and the PGCE at Hebron College. He was also a member of the panel of authors for the final SA teacher education report in 2010 on the CHE/HEQC teacher education review process.

Professionally, he has been a member and president of the South African Association for Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education (SAARMSTE). In 2006 he was instrumental in establishing the SAARMSTE Eastern Cape Chapter.

He has also been a member of the Association for Mathematics Education of South Africa (AMESA), secretary of the National Council and an ongoing member of the local AMESA branch – often as Chairman. In 1994 he was instrumental in establishing the Eastern Cape AMESA Council.

He has also been a member of the National Executive of the IEB Mathematics User Group

Community as well as maths education are close to his heart and Marc has been a board member of the Rhodes University Mathematics Education Project (RUMEP), Chairman of RUMEP Board, served on the board of the Centre for Social Development (CSD), Treasurer for Eluxolweni Shelter for Street Children, and he has been involved in Hobbiton Outdoor Education Centre.

The many Rhodes University committees on which he serves include the Joint Research Council, Ethics Committee, Education Faculty, Head of Department Forum, Education Faculty Higher Degrees Committee, Senate, and the Education Faculty Research Forum.

He has also been on and chaired numerous selection committees.

I take great pleasure in inviting Professor Marc Schäfer to address us this evening. I am sure his chosen topic: “The art of teaching for the conceptual understanding of Mathematics”, will be both enlightening and informative on the state of mathematics education today.

Last Modified: Mon, 17 Nov 2014 11:08:16 SAST