Helping to carve our walking sticks

| September 15, 2010

There is a critical shortage of competent black Maths teachers in this country. There are also large numbers of unemployed young South Africans – essentially pools of talent going to waste.

The ISASA teacher-learnership component – launched formally in 2008 and part of the organisation’s broader Maths & English (M&E) Programme – aims to contribute to solving both challenges; giving young people a second chance at a tertiary education and placing them in some of the best ISASA schools in the country whilst they study to become teachers.

Training programme models are often described in terms of numbers, statistics, graphs and ratios. We’d rather re-introduce the human element by giving our readers a glimpse into the lives of some of the remarkable M&E interns themselves and the contribution their presence is making to the diversity profile of our schools.

M & E interns immersed in the lives of well-run ISASA schools

Meet, for example, Sheila Ndlovu, currently in the third year of a B. Ed at the University of South Africa (UNISA). She’s also teaching Grade 8 Mathematics, Geography and English at the Inanda Seminary, and making the most of the opportunity. The Seminary is a typical ISASA school: eager to be part of the M&E programme, well-run, with sound values, a strong work ethic, and well-maintained resources and highlyqualified, experienced and committed teachers. One of these is Sue Frederick, Ndlovu’s mentor, committed to furthering her charge’s progress through active reflection and discussions about objectives, lesson plans, classroom management, and
study analysis.

Ndlovu’s kept pretty busy even when she’s not studying, because becoming part and parcel of school life is one of the most successful facets of the M&E programme. In addition to teaching and studying, she’s required to observe Grade 12 Mathematics lessons daily. She took initiative and instituted a bridging class for struggling English
students and became an integral part of the Grade 8 and 9 book club.

M & E programme a second chance for talented would-be teachers

Why, readers may wonder, are these aspirant educators not already part of the larger national teaching corps? Cordelia Nkosi’s story provides an answer. Like most of her fellow interns (some may have already achieved university credits, but are forced to forsake their tertiary dreams), her life was characterised by struggle, and a degree
and a good job were not an automatic prospect. Instead, she and her siblings were supported on her grandmother’ meagre pension. Upon matriculating in 2006, unable to find financial backing to continue her education, she supplemented the family income by working in an after-care centre. This kind or resourcefulness is typical of those who make it onto the programme, says Ros Jaff, the Programme Manager.

Some take jobs wherever they can, as salespeople, or security guards. Most give back to their communities as they wait for opportunities like ISASA’s teacher-learnership programme to come around. Nkosi’s tremendous drive enabled her to learn fluent English by listening to the radio and television. When the call for applications to the ISASA M&E programme went out, she jumped at the chance. Her innate mathematical ability, coupled with her delightful sense of humour made her a perfect candidate for the programme. Programme Manager Ros Jaff ’s estimation of her abilities was not misplaced. Nkosi has gone on to become a boarder mistress and teacher assistant at Andrew’s School for Girls.

She’s also consistently a top academic achiever, passing all her first year subjects (including demanding UNISA Maths and Physical Science modules) with distinction. Observes Jaff, “Nkosi has a strong sense of loyalty, an excellent value in a teacher. She uses her small stipend to support her family, and routinely demonstrates  tremendous courage, resourcefulness and exemplary conduct.”

Ngoni Zacharia Mashinini was also able to put his past behind him thanks to the M&E programme. A promising matriculant, a lack of finances meant he could not pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering.

A fierce determination – “I could not just sit at home doing nothing” – drove him to establish a successful Maths and Science afternoon workshop for learners in the Orange Farm area. The demand for his expertise, and his rapport with the students persuaded him that teaching was a satisfying goal. Now he flourishes at St Dominics Academy in Newcastle. Being fully immersed in the rich life of a successful school community is a learning curve eagerly embraced by M&E interns.

In Nosipho Memela’s case, the experience at St Patrick’s College in Kokstad has had an incremental impact on the growth of her confidence. She’s respected by the students in her role as boarding housemistress, and by the young players on the netball court. She says she loved running the satellite tuck-shop during a recent weekend fundraiser. Her mentor adds that she routinely offers valuable advice to students in her capacity as an assistant teacher of Maths to Grades 7 and 8.

Interns eager to extend academic enrichment

The M&E interns – whose academics are paid for – are in turn acutely aware of their responsibility to foster the talents and dreams of other young black teacher trainees. Nkosi inspired a new intake of interns to persevere with their studies. Fellow student Aubrey Mnisi took the advice and attended a Winter school outreach programme
hosted by Michaelhouse during the recent World Cup soccer tournament. There he admired the wisdom and generosity offered by an intern further along the academic path, Siphesihle Mtshali, and benefited from the lessons shared by experienced Science teachers from government schools. Reporting on the experience, Mnisi expressed this wish: “I would like to encourage more of the interns to voluntarily participate in programmes like these, so they can rediscover their potential and appreciate the skills and insights of other teachers. It’s not about financial benefits, it’s a matter of self-development and enhancing ones team working, administrative and teaching abilities.”
Mtshali – placed at Michaelhouse – clearly shares these opinions. He mentors a younger intern and manages to fit running Saturday study sessions and daily academic enrichment classes at nearby Nottingham Road Combined School into his schedule. He offered ‘winter school’ classes during the holidays and has jumped at the chance to be part of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences Schools Enrichment Centre (AIMSSEC) Professional Development Course for Educators.

He’s also reached the stage where he is able to teach Grade 8 Maths in tandem with other members of the department. HOD Alan Adlington- Corfield reports that this “fun-filled resource, always willing to do his duties with a smile, who works extremely hard on his own studies, often burning the midnight oil” has established an excellent
rapport with the boys and makes himself readily available for extra help.

Sending a powerful message

Edwin Nkgasi was given the responsibility of teaching Grade 8 and 9 Mathematics at Edendale Independent School. Observed Deputy Principal Willem Dormehl, at first some learners challenged his authority, but “he won the day with brave, consistent and firm discipline.” Now this dedicated teacher organises extra after-school study sessions, involves himself in a wide variety of school pursuits, and provides spiritual sustenance to students. The support he enjoys from the school will in all likelihood ensure that he commits to a long and fulfilling career as a teacher. His success sends a powerful message in a time where our teaching force is plagued by low morale and
allegations of unprofessionalism. Now more than ever we need dedicated, competent male black classroom role models with a wide repertoire of skills and teaching methodologies who can engage meaningfully with learners and colleagues alike.

Camps provide extra stimulus

The M&E academic camps provide further opportunity for meaningful engagement. Says Jaff, who’s just run the third get-together at St Alban’s College, the camps and related activities promote academic preparedness for the second semester assignments and preparatory tuition towards the final examinations as well as a number
of enrichment activities aimed at the ongoing professional development of the interns. “This year saw the extension of our peer tutoring methodology. The following increased group of interns undertook to extend the work of the UNISA lecturers providing tutorials over the rigorously timetabled four day period:

  • Edward Matabane (Lebone II) (Discrete Maths, Linear Algebra and Real analysis);
  • Wilson Sokana (St Albans) (Discrete Maths);
  • Cordelia Nkosi (St Andrews) and Daniel Ledwaba (Sekolo sa Borokgo) (Statistics and geometry);
  • Aubrey Mnisi (St Albans) (Calculus)
  • Jeffrey Masingi (St Johns College) (Linear Algebra);
  • Godfrey Ndlovu (Prestige College) (Financial mathematics), and
  • Lindy de Bruyn (Uplands) (Maths in Education).”

M&E programme a successful model

James Shikwambana was inspired to write these lines about the ISASA M&E experience: “I now walk tall/with bold footsteps/steps of courage and enthusiasm/now I talk loud/with the grounded voice of courage/and from the intellectual mind/I utter the words of wisdom/I talk of the intellectual family of ISASA…”
But it’s perhaps Edward Matabane’s (he joined the M&E programme with an Honours degree in applied Maths from the University of Limpopo) words that sum up, in an intrinsically African way, the impact of this remarkable programme. “I want to thank you,” he wrote recently to Jaff, “for all the hours you spent, and continue
spending, helping me to carve my walking stick.”

Contact Ros Jaff at the ISASA Mathematics and English Programme at
Tel: +27 (11) 648 1331
Fax: +27 (11) 648 1467


Category: Spring 2010 Edition

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