Professor Naven Chetty, recently appointed Dean of Teaching and Learning in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) after acting in the position since 2017, has a vision for enhancing teaching and learning in the College that he hopes will heighten the academic experience for lecturers and students.
Chetty began his career in the University’s Access Programme 13 years ago. In that smaller class setting with more emphasis on one-on-one interactions between student and teacher, he gained a sound understanding of student needs and the circumstances surrounding their academic performance that informed an approach to teaching focused not simply on pedagogy but on what is best for the individual.
Chetty, who studied in the School of Chemistry and Physics from undergraduate through to postgraduate level, entered the Institution as a disadvantaged student thus acquiring a personal appreciation of the practical and material challenges facing colleagues which affect their academic performance. He believes academic interventions need to be cognisant of student needs.
Acknowledging the exemplary CAES student support structure, Chetty emphasised the need to widen the reach of such programmes through better monitoring of students’ academic performance and personal wellbeing.
Chetty also recognised academics within CAES for being largely devoted to ensuring positive academic experiences for their students. He highlighted that with a teaching staff complement boasting a high proportion of PhD qualifications, educational offerings in the College have improved.
Part of his vision for his portfolio includes narrowing the gap between students in their final year at high school and their first-year of university by ensuring that they are equipped with important skills for success in Higher Education. He also believes that continued professional development of teaching staff is important, especially in areas such as providing training that sensitises lecturers to cultural, language and gender issues, sparks ideas about how to improve the teaching experience and encourages staff to work as a team.
In the context of a massification of education, Chetty believes it is important to build on what has already been achieved by staff at the University.
‘My biggest overall goal is to move towards a strategic vision to drive initiatives such as blended learning, technological learning and curriculum reform within the College space to improve throughput,’ he said.
‘We need to encourage students to seek help when needed, and to teach critical thinking that prepares them for the workload of university studies.’ He aims to develop streamlined curricula suited to meeting the needs of the job market, including emphasising core and analytical skills so that graduates contribute meaningfully to their sectors.
A popular lecturer and supervisor, Chetty was the recipient of a 2015 CAES Distinguished Teacher Award (DTA) as well as one of the University’s DTAs for 2017. He is supervising eight PhD candidates and seven Master’s students, and has helped establish a number of College programmes that encourage recruitment of top school achievers.
Chetty, together with Professor Bala Pillay, is a lead researcher and co-ordinator of the South African node of an Erasmus+ project involving professionalisation of undergraduate academic teaching in multiple disciplines to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which aligns with much of his approach to teaching and learning. This project will see him working with researchers from Frederick University in Cyprus, the University of Crete in Greece, UNISA, the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa (HELTASA) and the University of the Western Cape (UWC).
He travels to Greece in March to begin planning the roll-out of this project.
Words: Christine Cuénod
Photograph: Albert Hirasen