Youth Month 2022: Lebogang Ngwako Setlhabane

Youth Month 2022: Lebogang Ngwako Setlhabane

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the youth of the NRF who are working towards achieving the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us and we hope that you are inspired by the young NRF-affiliated researchers who are helping to ensure a sustainable planet for all.

Lebogang Ngwako Setlhabane is a PhD candidate in Language Practice at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). She is a former DSI-NRF Intern, hosted by the Department of Applied Languages at TUT.

This is her story…

I am the second daughter out of three siblings, raised by both parents who are educators. I grew up in a well-known township in Pretoria called Mamelodi. I matriculated at Cornerstone College in 2013 and then proceeded to TUT in 2014 to further my studies.

During my educational journey, I have had some good experiences and some challenges as well. One thing I knew is that I did not want to take a gap year after matric. Instead, I wanted to become an air hostess mainly because I wanted to travel the world, learn different languages, and engage with people of different cultures and backgrounds. Instead of studying to become an air hostess, I ended up studying Language Practice at TUT.

During my first year in 2014, I was involved in an accident that almost left me paralysed. It had a huge impact on my studies because I was unable to attend classes for four months. I missed out on my exams and assignments. By God’s grace I recovered and went back to campus the same year. I managed to pass all my first-year modules with a few distinctions, despite the setback I had.

Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be where you are today, and what did you learn from it?

Being involved in an accident put a huge strain on my life. It affected me physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  I was very fortunate to have had support from my family which helped me bounce back. I was so determined to go back to campus and carry on – I knew I could do it.

One of my favourite quotes by Amit Kalantri reads: “Life is tough, but you are tougher”. Despite everything that happened, I knew I was strong and I would succeed in the end. And indeed, I did! I managed to complete all my modules with a few distinctions and in record time. I am proud to say that, despite all I have been through, today I am a PhD candidate in Language Practice.

What is your research focus/area of expertise?

My research focus area is on Sociolinguistics in Language Education. 

The United Nations identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure “…a better and more sustainable future for all…” by 2030. Which of these goals are you addressing through your research, or in your personal life?

Goal 4: Quality Education

Language is a very important component of education. Instructions in schools are carried out using language, however, we need to remember that learners come from different backgrounds with different language use.

Learners use language differently at home than at school. I remember how much I used to struggle to understand the curriculum I was taught in school, mainly because I found it difficult to understand the language I was taught in. Learners are expected to learn at school using the language of their school and in most cases, they struggle to do so. As a result, this prevents them from receiving access to quality education.

The application of sociolinguistics to language education is important because it helps educators understand language use and language variation more. It is also able to help educators reach the needs of the learners who speak varieties of language that are different from the language of the school.

My research focus will seek to investigate and describe different literacy practices that can be employed to make sure that all learners receive equal access to education without language preventing them from doing so. It will contribute to making the necessary improvements and recommendations in the educational curriculum so that educators are able to assist learners to understand the language used for teaching. This will help learners pass their grades while ensuring lifelong learning.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

My proudest achievements include scoring myself the DSI-NRF Internship programme. It helped me kick-start my career. I started as an intern and today I am a Junior Researcher at one of the biggest research institutes in Africa.

I was asked to collaborate in writing a book chapter (which is still under construction) with two of my senior colleagues from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). I believe that this is the start of many publications in the future. 

I am proud of myself for completing my National Diploma, Bachelor of Technology, and Master’s of Technology in record time. To top it all off, I was awarded the TUT Postgraduate Scholarship to further my postgraduate studies.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

I aspire to obtain my Doctor of Language Practice. I believe that through hard work and discipline I will be able to complete my studies in record time.

My short-term goals are to start an outreach programme that will provide toiletries to school learners across South Africa. Not every learner comes from a good background and I believe that this outreach will go a long way in addressing poverty in our country. I also want to be featured and publish more books and journals soon. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible to travel and attend conferences and now that everything is back to normal, I hope that I will get the opportunity to attend local and international academic conferences.

My long-term goal is to be an NRF-rated researcher and to become a research and academic associate in the field of Linguistics.

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