For UKZN School of Accounting, Economics and Finance academic Dr Tamlyn McKenzie completing her PhD as a mom with a new-born son as well as a young daughter was not easy but definitely worth it!
‘I had both my children while pursuing my PhD. My four-year-old daughter was born in the early years of my study and I had to take a break to manage being a first-time mom in a new job at UKZN,’ said McKenzie.
Her son was born in August of this year. ‘I was pregnant whilst completing my thesis – the whole experience highlighted for me the significant challenges women, in particular, face in their pursuit of Higher Education. Balancing your time between your family and children and your thesis is very difficult and results in sacrifices. Time sacrifices are sometimes frustrating because it usually results in taking longer to graduate.’
McKenzie’s research was fuelled by her passion for children and adults with disabilities and their access to education.
Her thesis titled: Childhood and Adult Disability: Impacts on Education and the Labour Market in South Africa, constructs nationally representative measures of disability, and quantifies disability gaps experienced by children in education and by adults in the labour market.
The study was supervised by Dr Jill Hanass-Hancock and Dr Claire Vermaak.
‘My PhD thesis is deeply personal. I watched my late grandfather become a paraplegic after a surgical mistake and the difficulties he faced in the days following. He had financial reources and family support whereas many people in similar situations do not,’ said McKenzie.
She added that her personal experience with a close friend whose child has Down syndrome and their endless struggles in gaining access to the education system despite South Africa’s policy for inclusive education, also motivated her research.
‘My friend has financial resources and strong social networks and yet the family still has difficulties accessing schooling. It made me increasingly concerned about people who don’t have the means or the knowledge to support themselves or their own children with disabilities.’
McKenzie’s research found that if children with disabilities are given equitable access to education, then as adults their labour market prospects (employment and earnings) are better.
‘Education is therefore a key driver of better socioeconomic outcomes for people with disabilities yet children with disabilities are disproportionately out of school,’ she said. ‘Policymakers should focus their attention on ensuring equitable educational opportunities for people with disabilities.
‘In addition, my study offers a novel contribution to the literature by using a variety of measures of disability to capture the experiences of as many people with disabilities as possible. The results demonstrate that children and adults with severe or multiple disabilities are impacted the most overall.’
Words: Thandiwe Jumo
Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan