Part of the journey of starting my Masters in education last year meant confronting myself about doubting my capabilities. Most of the doubt was a result of feeling as though I should have teaching experience before I attempt a Masters. I have always been a firm believer that postgrad education is for adults and not 23 year olds who are often faced with existential crises for most of their early twenties. In spite of the doubt and turmoil I did attempt the first year of a masters and the year ended with no proposal, more doubt and frustration at not being able to do something that seems as simple as a proposal (in retrospect, I was warned that a research proposal is the most critical and challenging part about research).
Ending the year without a tangible marker of what I had achieved academically in 2010was enough evidence to convince myself that the masters is a bad idea and certainly not for this moment in my life. I decided I would opt for a PGCE (postgraduate certificate in education) in 2011 and risk the scholarship from the Mandela-Rhodes Foundation. It seemed like a plausible plan and an indication that I would still be pursuing a qualification towards teaching which was always the primary goal of coming to varsity. The glaring question that I had to confront was the idea of “doing/reading” for a Masters: what is it about academic research and theoretical knowledge that makes us question society (in my case classroom practice) as opposed to acquiring knowledge through everyday experiences (where I could simply be a teacher)? And why was everyone convinced at the importance of a Masters except me?
Part of the decision meant consulting with people in my life who had another perspective on my education and the luxuary of pursuing a Masters without the financial costs that are often involved. I learned from my mother that she was denied a further education because there was pressure from home to help support her single mother with the 5 siblings who were younger than her and a government that limited her options when it came to studying. The eldest sister had dropped out of university because of finances, my elder sister opted for correspondence courses and many of my aunts and cousins have never been able to pursue higher education for various (and often complex) reasons. Knowing this made me realise that given the family I come from, the Masters may not be expected, but it’s valued because the opportunities and often lack of, meant that higher education has not been accessible to the women in my family.
In chatting with more friends ("izihlobo zezinyo") I realised that I am in a unique position that a Masters degree has been made available to me through a scholarship. I am in a privileged position whether I like it or not. If I could do a survey of the number of postgraduate students on campus I would probably realise that there are few South Africans doing so. In the bigger picture a Masters is not the be all and the end all, many people have been successful without one and many have been unsuccessful with a Masters. However I have realised that in having one and being in the process of doing research proposals my character has been under pressure. Being in an academic institution where the staff members do not resemble me at all (mostly white women and white men) I have had to do more work in convincing myself that I deserve to be in the institution in spite of my age, race, gender and social class-most of the young black women who are in the institution are the maintenance staff and administrators.
So I’m going to pursue the Masters because it’s part of my journey. The process thus far has already challenged me and running away from a challenge has never been who I am or want to be.