Dr Khathi: A Born Teacher and Lifelong Scholar

Dr Joseph Lamlani Khathi lives his life with the unwavering conviction that whatever is impossible to man is surely possible to God.

Considering the events of the retired teacher’s life, it is evident why he holds true to his belief. He has found himself rising above every seemingly challenging situation, all through the “grace and help of God”.

Over two years ago, he embarked on an exciting yet unexpected journey for a 72-year-old, enrolling for his PhD studies. Today (Wednesday, 7 July 2021), he received his Doctor of Philosophy in Curriculum Studies qualification during the University of Zululand’s (UNIZULU) Faculty of Education virtual graduation ceremony.

“At my age, it seemed unbelievable that I would even complete this qualification. I must thank my colleagues and supervisor who encouraged me to pursue this qualification. While it was not an easy feat to complete this qualification, I could not afford to give up as I would have disappointed both myself and those who were supporting me. The environment in itself was encouraging me to not stop after having started this project. Now, even my brothers have been motivated to study towards their PhDs as well,” said Dr Khathi, in retrospect.

Dismantling stereotypes is something he began long ago. Being raised by uneducated parents in the rural outskirts of uMkhomaas, KwaZulu-Natal, one would easily expect that his life would take a similar turn. On the contrary, his parents were the impetus behind him and his seven siblings obtaining their basic and higher education qualifications. Although they lived from hand to mouth, his parents, being resolute on their children being educated, saw to it that their dream was realised.

To a certain degree, Dr Khathi’s hard work also played a major role in the fulfilment of his parents’ aspiration. Understanding that he was not a particularly bright learner, he ensured to make his studies top priority. “In science, they speak of the pushing and pulling force. My education was characterised by those two forces. I was pushed by the fact that I came from a disadvantaged background and had to pass so that I could get a college qualification and start working so that I could help put my younger siblings through school- like my older siblings had done with me. The pulling force was my eagerness to help people,” he shared.

Once he qualified as a teacher, it was his passion to impart knowledge to and instil values in the youth that lead to his recognition and rapid rise in the field of education. His experience spans over 40 years in which he taught in high schools in areas such as Dr Nembula Secondary School, Amanzimtoti and Eskhawini Colleges. He also worked for the Department of Education as an education planner, assisting schools with the structuring of their curriculum in Ulundi and lectured in the Faculty of Education at UNIZULU.

A self-proclaimed born teacher, Dr Khathi’s mission was to leave an indelible mark in the teaching profession. He considers himself fortunate because he has had many success stories. Some of his students are now “principals, senior teachers as well as academic doctors”.

Perhaps as a parting gift to the field, Dr Khathi decided to tackle an issue very dear to him for his research. Titled Teachers’ Experiences of the Integration of Values Education in the FET Phase Curriculum, the study is an in-depth probe into the inculcation of values in students in the FET phase. “I believe that values must be embedded in the curriculum, in the school culture and behaviour of learners and teachers. What motivated me to choose this topic was the decline of morals in our schools and society. Schools are social institutions; they are part of the society. What learners do in society is reflected in schools and vice versa,” he said.

To uproot the problem, Dr Khathi believes that parents, the media, and teachers need to model good behaviour for children. Character building needs to start at home first before it is instilled in schools, by the media and through interactions with peers.

Since his retirement from UNIZULU in 2021, Dr Khathi has been spending time with his wife and three grandchildren. He also tends to his small vegetable garden when he is not watching television or writing research papers.

– Naledi Hlefane

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