Rhodes University to honour Maths and Science TV teacher William Smith

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William Smith awarded the Order of the Baobab (silver) by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2019.
William Smith awarded the Order of the Baobab (silver) by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2019.
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  • Rhodes University will confer its alumnus William Smith with a degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa).
  • Smith touched the hearts of millions of South Africans by teaching mathematics and science on the groundbreaking SABC 2 Learning Channel in the 1990s.
  • In 2019, Smith was awarded the Order of the Baobab (silver) by President Cyril Ramaphosa in recognition of his services to teaching and the "demystification of mathematics and science".

Rhodes University is to honour renowned Maths and Science television teacher William Smith on its 72nd graduation ceremony on 28 April 2021. 

Smith, who touched the hearts of millions of South Africans by teaching maths and science on the groundbreaking SABC 2 Learning Channel in the 1990s, will be conferred with a degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) (honoris causa).

The Maths and Science boffin is a Rhodes University alumnus and hails from the university town of Makhanda, formerly Grahamstown. 

For over 25 years, Smith reached many young people in South Africa and beyond, for whom his televised lessons were the only quality instruction they received in Mathematics and Science.

READ | SA hails maths teacher William Smith after national order honour

In 2019, he was awarded the Order of the Baobab (silver) by President Cyril Ramaphosa in recognition of his services to teaching and the "demystification of mathematics and science".

The National Orders are the highest awards that South Africans can receive. 

The president bestows a national order upon a South African citizen or member of the international community who has contributed towards making South Africa a democratic and prosperous country. 

Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela said:

Thanks to his exceptional teaching skills and compassion, for almost two decades, the Learning Channel became an indispensable platform for young people of our country to receive interactive TV education in Mathematics and Science. In this way, he became the teacher for the entire South African nation.

After matriculating, Smith completed his BSc and his BSc (Hons), both with distinction, at Rhodes University. 

His parents JLB Smith, who discovered the coelacanth, and Margaret Smith, ichthyologist and accomplished fish illustrator, both had deep-rooted ties with the university and Makhanda.

In 1962, Smith completed his MSc in seven months at the University of Natal.

Although his initial journey was into the world of business, working at African Explosives and Chemical Industries and Afrox, he soon realised he would not be content unless he followed his passion for teaching.

Top-class

His first project in the education sector was establishing "Star Schools" to provide value for money education with top-class teachers.

Smith became famous throughout South Africa, where his schools have taught almost a million pupils of all races.

He received many accolades for his innovations in teaching, including the highly prestigious "Teacher of the Year" award.

In 1990, Smith began producing The Learning Channel's educational television programmes with the financial backing of Hylton Appelbaum, then executive director of the Liberty Life Foundation.

READ | Smarties, projector pens and jokes - How William Smith taught a nation

As a result of his work on this programme, Smith was voted one of the top three presenters on South African television in 1998.

Besides his education programmes, Smith appeared along with Jeremy Mansfield in the popular South African television quiz show, A Word or 2. 

He was also a judge for the Miss South Africa Pageant in 1998 and 1999.

In 2004, Smith was voted 86th in the Top 100 Great South Africans.

Smith is also a renowned conservationist and owned the Featherbed Nature Reserve in Knysna, where he lived until the sale of the land and company in 2004.

He was also the owner of "Rivercat Ferries", which has several crafts cruising in the Knysna lagoon and out to sea.

The Australia-based Smith could not be immediately reached for comment. 

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