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Master’s student overcomes several obstacles to graduate with distinction in the field that ‘chose her’
Author: Corporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Anél Lewis]
Published: 04/04/2024

For someone who initially thought speech therapy involved teaching people how to write speeches, Ntokozo Ndlovu has excelled in this field, graduating from Stellenbosch University (SU) during it's March graduation series with a master's degree (cum laude) in speech-language therapy.

Not only did she pass with distinction, but during her studies she earned numerous awards including the P de V Pienaar Award for being the best final-year student in speech pathology and the Rector's Award for Academic Achievement in 2021. She was also recognised by the South African Speech-Learning-Hearing Association as the best student in speech pathology and by SU's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences as the best student in the Speech-Language and Hearing Therapy programme.

These achievements, remarkable in their own right, are quite extraordinary considering that Ndlovu enrolled at SU without really understanding what speech therapy entailed. “I had never come across the profession before or heard of a speech therapist." She admits that she soon realised the course had little do with speech writing, as she had initially assumed. However, she never regretted her decision. “Instead, I fell in love with the profession from day one. A clinical supervisor in my undergraduate studies once told me that I did not choose speech therapy, speech therapy chose me."

Ndlovu, who attended the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Gauteng, is accustomed to overcoming challenges and uncertainty. She made it through a gruelling selection process to be accepted to attend the prestigious school. Here, she says she was exposed to excellent educational opportunities and extracurricular activities. She also developed a love for music and learned how to play the double bass. “Being in the school literally changed my life," she reflects. “Attending the school was a dream come true."

She decided in Grade 9 already that she wanted to study at SU. “I did not even know where SU was or what the town would be like." Leaving her mother behind in Gauteng was not easy, but Ndlovu says she focused on her studies and the academic awards she received are a testament of her hard work. She adds that the support of her family and lecturers were invaluable, especially during the trying Covid-19 pandemic when she had to study at home without access to even a chair or a desk. “I studied for my exams using a torch at night because I shared the space with my whole family." Ndlovu considered deregistering from her degree when the emotional and mental strain took their toll. “But faith in God and encouragement from my mother kept me going during that time, and I strove for excellence despite my circumstances."

Ndlovu continued with her master's while doing her community service KwaZulu Natal. “I must say that working while studying was quite a challenge." Her research focused on the adaptation of international language tests for use in the South African context; a sensitive and contentious issue explains her supervisor, Prof Daleen Klop. “Ntokozo developed a rigorous method where she consulted with cultural insiders and professionals to create the isiZulu MAIN (Multilingual Assessment Instrument for Narratives). She also performed field testing in bilingual isiZulu/English-speaking children. “The MAIN has already been adapted into 92 languages worldwide, but this is the first study to employ such a thorough process to ensure cultural and functional equivalence for the use of MAIN in multicultural contexts," says Klop.

Ndlovu is busy establishing a speech therapy department at the district hospital in KwaZulu-Natal where she is now working. She would also like to continue her research on multilingualism in the field of speech-language therapy. “Speech therapy is a much-needed profession, yet many people do not know (just as I did not know) what a difference speech therapists can make in their lives."​

​Photo: Stefan Els​