Language Learning

South Africa: Distinguished Teacher Award Recipients for 2019

Dear colleagues and students

The Distinguished Teacher Award (DTA) is an institutional award that recognises outstanding teaching at the University of Cape Town and acknowledges the recipient’s contribution to the promotion of teaching and learning excellence at the institution.

Every year, the DTA Committee is faced with the task of choosing awardees from a large pool of eligible teachers whose portfolios, submitted in support of their nominations, attest to the distinctiveness of some of UCT’s teachers. The committee engages in a semester long process of considering each teaching portfolio, examining the evidence for excellence in teaching over a number of years, focusing on their:

teaching philosophy and pedagogical approach in the context of the teaching and learning challenges in South African higher education

contribution to curriculum renewal and transformation in teaching and learning

innovation in teaching and learning

impact on students, beyond formal teaching time

impact on the teaching and learning approaches of their colleagues

understanding and practice of inclusivity in their teaching

reflective teaching practices.

In addition, nominees may also provide evidence in relation to:

their scholarship of teaching and learning – including any relevant publications, conference attendance and research projects

how they design their learning materials to be accessible to differently abled students.

The recipients of this prestigious awards for 2019 are:

Professor Andrew Argent

Paediatrics and Child Health

Professor Andrew Argent is the head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health and the medical director of the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. The committee noted that he has demonstrated over a lengthy career a long-lasting impact on students and colleagues. He has been instrumental in establishing paediatric critical care as a recognised subspecialty in South Africa.

Professor Argent is widely regarded as a world expert in paediatric critical care. His presence is felt through practise, research, teaching and training. He is renowned as a clinician for reaching both undergraduate and postgraduate students and a range of health professions, has an impressive publication record, is a sought-after supervisor and has invested in training his students to become trainers themselves. His curriculum innovations include introducing advanced courses in critical care and life support to South Africa and developing the Simulation Laboratory based at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital.

He is described as making every interaction a learning experience and challenging the boundaries and hierarchies of the health professions by adopting a multidisciplinary approach to training in including nurses and the allied health professionals with his teaching of registrars. He never misses an opportunity to broaden the minds of colleagues, both junior and senior, and past students describe his audience as hungry participants. His teaching sessions on ward rounds are well-known as his passion for sharing knowledge has known no bounds.

At the same time, he has always managed to make his students confident that he is learning from them. The committee was impressed by his care, humility, respect and generosity, as well as his ability to transform the way that his students perceive the paediatric patient beyond the health conditions they present. Testimony to Professor Argent’s impact is the countless lives that have been touched by him, and that he is simply regarded as being iconic.

Dr Tessa Dowling

African Languages and Literature

Dr Tessa Dowling is a senior lecturer in African Languages. She is consistently described as an exceptional teacher who takes a student-centred approach and demonstrates an awareness of the why and how of her teaching. She articulates clear teaching goals regarding first and second language speakers of isiXhosa – of which one is to learn a language and communicate, and the other is for students to read, write, publish and edit in the language. Dr Dowling positions herself as a language researcher who eagerly welcomes student contributions and participation, and empowers students to deepen their mastery of the language.

Students describe her as a person who creates a learning space that is compassionate and collaborative. A consistent thread in the testimony to her teaching is her humility and humanity. She demonstrates openness and a desire for students to succeed, which has translated into a range of teaching methodologies and activities inside and outside of the classroom, including field trips where students are immersed in the isiXhosa community.

Underpinning her teaching philosophy is her desire to cultivate in students a recognition of the humanity of the language. She has incorporated a range of linguistic styles into her course materials, including social media posts, pop songs and memes. Her senior students engage with recordings of isiXhosa radio interviews, news reports and phone-in programmes – all of which have contributed to student success in, and their use of, isiXhosa as well as feelings of awe, curiosity and respect for the language.

Dr Dowling’s teaching demonstrates an impact on colleagues and both undergraduate and postgraduate students. The committee commended her for transforming the way that students experience the language and the collaborative manner in which she engages students in academic activity, including co-authoring with students, empowering them to develop into successful postgraduate students and scholars in the language, and having an impact on students beyond teaching, especially where students continue to practice isiXhosa once they have left her classroom.

Associate Professor Amrita Pande


Associate Professor Amrita Pande is a sought-after supervisor in sociology. She demonstrates excellence in both undergraduate, postgraduate and large class teaching, often exceeding teaching load requirements. Her unyielding pursuit to provide access and resources to all students speaks to her practices of inclusivity and the importance and value with which she treats all students. She manages to balance this pastoral role while still rigorously engaging students in their studies and supporting them in their autonomy, while conscientizing them to the political and social context of their work.

Her going above and beyond to support students to meet their academic goals, and even mentoring them beyond graduation, is a common thread of her portfolio, as is her humanity and openness, with students highlighting her authentic concern for their welfare and developmental trajectories.

Associate Professor Amrita Pande is described as a highly skilled teacher who combines theory and practice in ways that bridge the gap between academia, activism and lived reality. While she strives for excellence in teaching, she is also an active researcher in the broad area of gender, race and reproduction, and provides leadership on administrative matters in the faculty. Her impact has been felt as the head of the Department of Sociology – she has initiated a departmental review of curriculum and pedagogy, and is leading an undergraduate advisory committee and tutor support committee.

She has redesigned curricula in the department to be more relevant to the South African and Global South context, and is renowned for imparting complex material in accessible ways. The committee was impressed by the range of pedagogical strategies that she uses to make content come alive, including theatre of the oppressed and participatory workshops in large classes to foster critical thinking and analytical skills. The testimony to how she is received by students is clear – students attest that her lecturing has been some of the best experienced at UCT.

Associate Professor Romy Parker

Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine

A common thread in testimony of Associate Professor Romy Parker’s teaching is that of empowerment. This is exactly what underpins her teaching philosophy – she believes that as an educator she facilitates students into becoming their future selves, and that education should be transformative for the learner, the teacher, and for society while in the health sciences it should be transformative for the patient receiving care.