09 July 2024 | Story Martinette Brits | Photo Supplied
Mojaesi Violet Phejane
Mojaesi Violet Phejane, a Senior Learning Designer at the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) at the University of the Free State (UFS), was listed as one of the top 200 Young South Africans 2024 in the Education category.

Mojaesi Violet Phejane, a Senior Learning Designer at the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) at the University of the Free State (UFS), has been honoured for her commitment to empowering young women and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. She has earned a spot on Mail & Guardian’s esteemed list of 200 Young South Africans in the Education category.

Every year, Mail & Guardian recognises 200 outstanding South Africans under 35 who have significantly contributed to their fields and are shaping the nation's future. This year, the newspaper received approximately 4,000 nominations across 17 categories.

Phejane says it brings her immense joy to know that wherever she goes, she positively impacts those she touches, helping them to transform their lives for the better. “My ultimate joy is knowing that wherever I go, I leave a footprint on anyone whose life I touch and change.”

Commitment to educational equity

Kate Poen, an Academic Advisor at CTL, nominated Phejane for this award. “When I read the requirements and some of the success stories from previous winners, I thought Phejane is deserving of this. If anyone asked her, she would probably say the opposite, but she works hard and is such an inspiration. I took a chance, but I believed if I saw it then someone else would too,” she explains.

Reflecting on her recognition by Mail & Guardian, Phejane notes that it is a powerful validation of her dedication to improving education for young women and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. “It not only recognises my hard work but serves as a beacon of hope for others, demonstrating the transformative power of education.”

“Receiving the award has provided a valuable platform to share my ideas and innovations with a wider audience, inspiring them to advocate for a better education system. It is also a tremendous motivator for me to continue my work and make an even greater impact. Ultimately, this award is a powerful symbol for every young girl with a dream. It signifies the potential within each of us to make a real difference,” she adds.

Her dedication is also evident in her co-founding of the Kutloanong Rehabilitation for Ex-Offenders (KREO) organisation. "KREO's mission is to support young ex-offenders (aged 13-25) in reintegrating into society and forging a better future. Through KREO, I use my education to aid these young individuals in redirecting their lives and rebuilding after incarceration."

Phejane’s commitment extends beyond KREO, as she visits schools to set a positive example and inspire young girls to dream big and pursue their goals. "Ultimately, I believe education is the key to unlocking opportunities and fostering a more equitable society. Breaking down barriers and improving access to education for underprivileged youth is crucial for achieving this goal."

Finding purpose through academic voice

Phejane credits her first major achievement, "Finding Purpose Through Academic Voice," for significantly contributing to this award. Her debut research article in "The Agenda" focused on "Prototypical Women and Social Justice," marking a pivotal moment in her academic path. "It ignited a passion for using research to empower marginalised women," she reflects, drawing initial inspiration from the story of Reverend Ecclesia de Lange, a lesbian pastor ostracised by the Methodist Church.

Her research aims to amplify the voices of these women and advocate for their equal recognition within patriarchal structures, particularly in leadership roles. "The publication process highlighted the crucial role of research, not only for sharing knowledge but also for driving social change. Academic writing should not only reflect existing scholarship but also articulate the reasons behind the research - its capacity to influence lives and ignite transformative change."

Phejane's multifaceted contributions

Over the past decade, Phejane has enhanced the learning environment at UFS. "My journey started in 2014 as a facilitator, collaborating across departments such as English, Criminology, and the Centre for Universal Access and Disability Support (CUADS) programme. In 2016, I moved to the CTL department as a Learning Developer, and in 2022, I was promoted to Senior Learning Designer."

As a Senior Learning Designer, Phejane is primarily responsible for managing client relations, developing training materials - particularly around integrating technology into teaching and learning – supervising, and conducting research on best practices in blended online learning. She also creates and manages staff and student training programmes.

She serves on the executive committee of the National Association of Distance Education and Open Learning in South Africa, where she handles the social media and websites, as well as the workshops and webinar portfolios. Additionally, she sits on the Faculty of Theology and Religion board and is the project lead for a technology learning management system tool called FeedbackFruits. “Through my work, I am dedicated to bridging the digital divide gap in Online Teaching and Learning and achieving success in Higher Education Institutions in a technologically advanced era.”

Outside of work, she enjoys relaxing with good romantic comedy movies or series,  venturing outdoors for a hike, expanding her knowledge through reading and expressing herself creatively through writing.

Looking towards the future

Phejane envisions a multifaceted future. Leveraging her experiences in gender, higher education, and criminology, she aims to become a certified mediator, gender specialist, and Teaching and Learning Specialist.

“Advocacy for structural change remains a burning passion, and I will continue to work for a more equal education system, particularly when it comes to young women's achievement in higher education.  Beyond policy and systematic change, I see myself as a mentor and role model for young females, and I hope that my experiences will motivate them to pursue similar paths in education, gender studies, and social justice,” she concludes.

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