World Teacher’s Month – The Mail & Guardian

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The light holders of society

The South African public education system will collapse without the commitment and selflessness of its 400 000-strong teaching force. These were the words of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga as she celebrated World Teachers’ Day on October 30 2020. 

Held under the theme: “Teachers leading in crisis: re-imaging the future”, the day is observed to recognise and acknowledge the critical role that teachers play in guiding and nurturing the country’s 12 million young minds. 

Motshekga said the country prides itself on the calibre of teachers it has in its system, who continue to give their all despite the trying and often unbearable working conditions. “We are very proud of the calibre of all our teachers that we have in our system. Thank you for staying, firstly in South Africa, and secondly in the public schooling teaching environment. We are aware that our teachers work in unfavourable conditions generated by environmental factors such as the prevalence of crime, poverty and the burden of diseases,” said Motshekga.

Referring to teachers as “the light holders of society”, Motshekga said they are indispensable to the country’s basic education system. They are “critical in our efforts to steer our country back into the growth path after years of inertia, state capture and general malfeasance”, she added.

She said the country owes much to its teachers and should do more to appreciate them, and that they deserve extra support. “We salute all of you! Your country is proud of your exploits. We must do more to show appreciation to our teachers. Our teachers deserve extra support through both monetary and non-monetary measures for their tenacity, expertise and staying power,” said the minister.

She also reflected on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the education community and paid tribute to the teachers who had died. “Sadly, some teachers have succumbed to the virus and other ailments. We send our deepest condolences to the bereaved families. Your loss cuts deep into our souls. Be comforted that your loved ones have run their race. Ours is to pick up the spear and soldier on. The dearly departed will continue to live among us in our hearts. You will surely be missed,” said Motshekga.

She used the occasion to refute “falsehoods” about teachers and also shared plans her department is introducing to reform the education system. “Lies and half-truths have been repeated so often that they have grown three legs. In other words, falsehoods and scarecrows sustain the notion of the so-called ‘education crisis in South Africa’. There’s no education crisis in South Africa. In fact, numerous independent research findings and our data show that we are a system on the rise.”

The quality of teachers has greatly improved. Motshekga said in 1994, only 54% of South Africa’s teachers were academically qualified. But, she said, today out of over 400 000 teachers, only a statistically insignificant number is still completing their qualifications.

Motshekga used the Centre for Development & Enterprise’s latest Annual School Survey data to drive home the point that the profile of the current teaching force is fit for purpose. 

The data revealed, among others, that:

• 81% are qualified: 66% had an M+3 qualification and 15% had an M+4

• 19% are unqualified (in education terminology, an unqualified teacher is a person who doesn’t have an initial teacher training or postgraduate teaching certificate, yet they have the necessary three-year diploma/degree in a subject they teach)

• In 2013, 10% of teachers had the equivalent of an M+3 qualification, but no professional teaching qualification, and about another 10% had an M+2 or lower.

Motshekga said teachers are “life-long learners” as 31% of them upgraded from unqualified to qualified, while in employment. “This suggests that the majority of teachers build up their qualifications on the job, often over many years.”

She attributed the rise in the number of teachers with qualifications to Funza Lushaka, the department’s own bursary scheme. Motshekga said since its inception in 2007 to 2018, the department has awarded a whopping 134 211 Funza Lushaka bursaries at a cost of R8.36-billion. 

Motshekga said her department is currently finalising an analysis of teacher supply, demand and utilisation in the sector. She said they are re-configuring the curriculum in response to emerging areas of specialisation, the fourth industrial revolution and new policy imperatives. 

Teachers who are already in employment, said Motshekga, are encouraged to diversify their offering and take courses such as computer skills and coding offered by the University of South Africa. She said they have also partnered with other technology companies such as Google, Teen Geeks and other role players to develop a coding platform that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to customise teaching and learning.

She said plans are also afoot to introduce a robotics curriculum from grades R to nine. This will ensure that our schooling system produces learners with the foundation for future work, and equip them with skills for the changing world. 

Motshekga said her department is considering funding a new cohort of student teachers who will pursue studies in strategic streams such as ECD, digital learning, focus schools, and the three stream-model curricula. She said the other critical area they are looking to improve is the low participation of women in leadership positions. 

“We are seized with a matter of low participation rates of women in principalship. If I had my way, South Africa would have 51% of women principals by 2025,” said Motshekga. To remedy the situation, she said, they have launched a unique qualification for principalship called the Advanced Diploma in Education: School Leadership. Motshekga said in the future this will form part of a criterion for anybody aspiring to be a principal, adding “we encourage women teachers to take up [this] space and prepare to lead us into the future”. — Thabo Mohlala

New breed of fresh minds to take teaching to the next level

Bringing young people into the teaching profession has always been one of the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) main priorities. This is because the DBE’s findings have shown that a majority of teachers in the education system are over the age of 40, and some are reaching retirement age. 

Raquel Marnce from Kokstad says that a good teacher should strive to continually improve herself so they can be the best version of themselves for their learners.

Thanks to the Funza Lushaka Bursary Scheme the demographic is steadily changing, as more young people take up teaching. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga recently said that to date the scheme has awarded 134 211 bursaries at a cost of R8.36-billion. She said the number of newly qualified student teachers has almost tripled in recent years. This is part of the department’s grand plan to attract the brightest minds and young talent in the profession.

One of the youngest and brightest minds to join teaching is Raquel Marnce (24) who hails from Kokstad, a small town in KwaZulu-Natal. She received her primary education at the local Kokstad Primary School, where she did grade one to seven. She finished her grade 12 in 2014 and then went to the University of the Free State, where she obtained a BSc in Biochemistry and Microbiology.

Marnce said when she was growing up she was always told she would be a good teacher, but she never took this seriously. It was only after she completed her degree that she felt attracted to teaching and she enrolled for a postgraduate certificate in Further Education and Training through the Funza Lushaka Bursary Scheme. She said taking up teaching did not come as a complete surprise, as most of her family members are teachers. After completing her training she went back to her alma mater to start her first teaching job in January 2020. 

She said: “Education is the core of our existence and to be part of a process that is able to empower, uplift and mould individuals is a privilege. I would not have it any other way. Teaching is definitely the most rewarding profession and to be able to touch the lives of our youth and be of service to them is greatly fulfilling.

“To me teaching is the noblest and most important profession. Without a teacher and a structured education system we would have not been able to achieve economic development and freedom as a country and be as liberated as we are now,” said Marnce. 

She said she admires teachers who are passionate and caring towards the learners. Marnce said World Teachers’ Day should be used to celebrate teachers who sacrifice so much. “To me a good teacher should continuously strive to develop herself so that they can be the best versions of themselves to the learners. She has to be versatile, open-minded, be willing to unlearn regressive practices in school and must always be willing to go the extra mile.” 

Marnce said she still finds it challenging to adapt and navigate through the difficult times caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. “Teaching through the Covid-19 pandemic has been petrifying. It has not been an easy experience. During this time I have been providing a lot of emotional support to the learners. This helped keep learners focused and also help them take control of the situation. Through this they are aware of the importance of the safety measures to help prevent the spread of the virus.” — Thabo Mohlala

Van Schaik Bookstore supports teachers

We know teachers are the backbone of our society. During the Covid-19 pandemic, our teachers are faced with unprecedented challenges. Virtual teaching issues include connectivity and Wi-Fi problems, and having to accommodate learners who have no access to data. However, the good relationships between the learner and teacher prevails, and teachers have taken up the baton and forged ahead to guide their learners during this time.

Van Schaik Bookstore used to service tertiary institutions, but since last year it has also serviced the school market, supplying textbooks, study aids and stationary to schools across the country

Van Schaik, one of the leading academic bookstores in South Africa, is traditionally a supplier of academic books, primarily to tertiary institutions. The company fosters relationships with institutions and lecturers, providing them with information about new editions of prescribed textbooks, desk and inspection copies, and access to electronic platforms.

At the end of 2019 Van Schaik Bookstore took a strategic decision to service the school market. The focus is on supplying textbooks, study aids and stationery to schools across South Africa. Van Schaik immediately started forming relationships with principals and teachers in order to get a better understanding of their needs, given their important role in the community. The company’s footprint of over 70 brick-and-mortar stores and an online store, plus an established supply system, has enabled the business to assist teachers in urban and rural areas across South Africa.

As the 34th president of the US, Dwight D Eisenhower, said: “Teachers need our active support and encouragement. They are doing one of the most necessary and exciting jobs in the land, developing our most precious national resource: our children, our future.” Van Schaik has heeded this call in supporting our teachers.

This year, with the outbreak of the pandemic, it’s been even more important to walk alongside our educators. The role of Van Schaik in this relationship is to make it easy for educators to gain access to the best teaching resources for themselves and their learners. Every month Van Schaik sends out a newsletter with information about the latest available teacher and learner guides, and a dedicated team visits teachers (when and where allowed) and provides them with resource material that they can familiarise themselves with before prescribing. 

The team has also introduced electronic versions of textbooks and platforms to assist teachers. In the future, the team will also arrange product days in their respective regions to give teachers an opportunity to engage with available print and electronic books.

Mokhudu Machaba: a dedicated and selfless teacher 

Mokhudu Machaba has in abundance all the qualities required for one to become a teacher: she’s humble, caring, selfless, industrious, and also possesses an inquisitive mind. 

Her eagerness to learn new things put her name and that of her school on the map. When she started teaching Machaba never hesitated to learn about computers, and they have been her constant companion for over 20 years. A Foundation Phase teacher at Ngwanamago Primary School in Ga-Mothiba, Limpopo, Machaba’s prolific use of technology has made her an asset and a go-to person when it comes to IT issues.

It’s all about lifelong learning: Mokhudu Machaba did not dream of being a teacher, but is now a passionate and innovative foundation phase educator. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media)

She has won some coveted IT accolades, including “Super Teacher of the Year” in 2013, awarded to her by Internet Service Providers Association, and a fortnight ago she was shortlisted for the Global Teacher Prize. She was among the first cohort of teachers upon whom the Department of Basic Education relied so heavily on when it first started to implement and integrate information and communication technology (ICT) into the curriculum. 

When Telkom donated computers to her school in 2006 Machaba naturally relished the moment, but most of her colleagues did not share in her excitement because they had never used a computer in their lives. But she graciously held their hands and taught them how to use and tap into technology as a vital classroom resource. 

She helped design academic reports and farewell certificates for grades R and seven for the school, saving it a lot of money in the process. Machaba’s generosity was not limited to her colleagues; her learners also benefitted. She help them learn how to use their own mobile devices for school work and she did not mind digging into her own pocket to augment some of the consumables such as data and airtime. She also helped some of them pay for the repairs of their broken handsets. 

Machaba is a great admirer of the power of ICT, as she believes it has immense benefits for education. Some of these include energising learners’ participation during lessons, and improving their performance and concentration levels. “Today’s learners are proficient in the latest technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, Mxit, Skype, and using these in the classroom not only motivates but also inspires them considerably,” said Machaba. 

Teaching was not her first career choice, but she said circumstances forced her to become a teacher as it was the only affordable profession at the time. Soon she developed so much love for it that she feels she was divinely chosen for this vocation. Because of teaching she can relate and empathise with learners, colleagues at her school and members of her rural community. Machaba said she feels grounded and fulfilled — as a teacher she is able to touch the lives of so many wonderful young souls. 

Machaba has conquered the odds. She grew up in an impoverished household and fell pregnant at age 15. This turned her young life upside down; she had to look after her child on her own, because her mother felt she needed to take responsibility for her actions. Although it was hard, it instilled in her the spirit of fortitude which came in handy as a teacher, because most of learners at her school face similar hardships. It is this never-say-die-attitude that equipped her to succeed in life. — Thabo Mohlala

Vodacom continues to drive positive outcomes for education

Robust quality education is the foundation for South Africa’s future – it leads to job creation, a stronger economy and a brighter future for our youth – all critical for our country’s successful participation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This was the driving force behind Vodacom unveiling during the course of last year an education ecosystem to support and accelerate government’s Vision 2030 comprehensive approach to education. Through the Vodacom Foundation, Vodacom has long been committed to supporting education and we firmly believe that our technology is a critical enabler in this process.

The Vodacom Foundation has spent millions on infrastructure development at Early Childhood Development Centres and schools of excellence as part of an education ecosystem. The ecosystem is based on the partnership of all the players involved, including the government

In partnership with the Department of Basic Education, we pioneered a multi-faceted education ecosystem that looks at the interdependencies and interrelationships of Early Childhood Development (ECD) and schools, and incorporates teacher training, parents and local communities to significantly transform South Africa’s education system. The ecosystem recognises that the success of the education system depends on the seamless interface and implementation of different pillars, underpinned by the partnership of various players.

Little did we know at the time of introducing this new ecosystem just how important technology would prove in supporting education goals and continuity during 2020. The South African public education system has faced the greatest of challenges during this most exceptional year, with millions of school-age students and their teachers deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. The global health crisis has proven the need for programmes to be aligned to ICT and this has allowed the Foundation to realise meaningful transformation. 

We have had an opportunity to review the educational ecosystem, which has made significant strides, and we are mindful of the fact that there are many factors that contribute to effective teaching and learning. 

We have made significant strides in the six pillars of our multi-faceted education ecosystem

A school of excellence model, which supports 12 schools across the country, was selected from the 3 000 schools that Vodacom has supported with Information Communication Technologies (ICT) since 2008. Each school of excellence is close to an ECD Centre, a Teacher Centre and a Vodacom ICT Youth Academy. Since December 2018, after making a R500-million pledge over the next five years at the Global Citizen festival to support digital literacy and the eradication of pit latrines, the Vodacom Foundation has spent over R33-million on infrastructure development at ECD centres and schools of excellence alone. The pillars below underpin the schools of excellence model: 

Pillar 1 – Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centres: Vodacom Foundation committed to upgrading and renovating 15 ECD centres with the objective of engaging with the education sector in the early stages of children’s lives. To date, 11 ECD centres have been upgraded and renovated by decommissioning pit latrines and replacing them with decent sanitation. Vodacom Foundation has provided an ICT trolley solution and a mobile library to the centres, and Vodacom staff volunteers provided basic ICT computer skills to two of the ECDs as part of their volunteer work. 

Pillar 2 – Infrastructure: The 12 schools of excellence — schools promoting and supporting academic excellence — have been provided with a fully equipped, connected computer centre, and received upgrades to their infrastructure; broken windows and doors were replaced and collapsing ceilings were fixed. The pit latrines have been eradicated and replaced with better sanitation, and security systems have been upgraded or installed. Vodacom Foundation has provided ICT support and will offer ICT training and change management. A Virtual Volunteering programme was initiated by the Vodacom staff to offer online tutoring to learners from the schools of excellence. 

Pillar 3 – Teachers: The third pillar focuses on the critical training of teachers in collaboration with the Department of Basic Education (DBE). To date, 92 Teacher Centres have been provided with furniture, maintenance and support, as well as unlimited connectivity. These centres have enabled over 300 000 teachers to be trained in various ICT programmes. Vodacom has rolled out video conferencing solutions to all Vodacom-supported teacher centres to enable virtual learning and has deployed ICT volunteers to certain teacher centres and schools of excellence to offer ICT support and training.

Pillar 4 – Communities: This pillar focuses on ensuring that communities also benefit from the ecosystem. The teacher centres are also used as technology hubs, providing internet access for communities. In South Africa, more than 1 340 female farmers were trained in ICT at the teacher centres and 1 333 Youth Academy graduates were produced. The centres are introducing a work skills programme, which will focus on re-training unemployed Your Academy alumni, and 63 young people from the Youth Academy have been deployed to schools of excellence, NPOs and teacher centres. Some of the Women in Farming beneficiaries are parents to learners from the Schools of Excellence. 

Pillar 5 – Partnerships: Vodacom Foundation has continuously funded 13 Not for Profit organisations (NPOs) for many years. The partnership between UN Women, SAWIF (South African Women in Farming) and Vodacom has seen over 1 340 female farmers being trained. The Foundation has received great support internally, and internal business units have been instrumental in the Foundation forming strategic partners with external organisations such as Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Pillar 6 – Learning Materials: Technology alone will not improve the quality of education: learning materials play a key role in providing continuous support to teachers and learners. In partnership with the DBE, Vodacom e-School has given access to quality digital CAPS (Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements) aligned content to over 1.2 million learners across South Africa. 

We believe strongly in the power of partnerships and collaboration to help address problems and challenges as effectively as possible. In fact, School Governing Bodies, principals and parents have acknowledged that ever since the roll-out of the eco-system that they have noticed positive improvements in critical areas of the education system. Although these positive reviews are a cause of celebration, a lot of work lies ahead. We are confident that with support from our partners, we will accelerate the impact of this programme and thus help to transform the country’s education system.

— Takalani Netshitenzhe is External Affairs Director for Vodacom South Africa

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