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ISASA SAMSTIP candidate encourages independent schools to take on more teaching interns

| November 5, 2020 | 0 Comments


Good day readers. My name is Sihle Tabete, and I am a graduate apprentice teacher at Nova Pioneer Ormonde Secondary School, located in the south of Johannesburg. I am part of the 2020 South African Mathematics and Science Teacher Intern Programme (SAMSTIP) cohort.

I studied chemical engineering and am currently doing my postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE), majoring in mathematics and physical sciences. Starting my career in teaching in the midst of a pandemic has been such a learning experience. I had to hit the ground running, and I am surprised by how well I have adjusted.

Regardless of the overall negative impact of the pandemic, the situation has presented an opportunity for accelerated growth for me. I decided that I want to pursue a career as a teacher after tutoring for three years, at both university and high school level. I really love science, and think we can find many creative ways to create scientific learning experiences that are inspiring to learners.

Finding your rhythm

The conditions set by the SAMSTIP were exactly what I needed to transition to being a teacher. I previously worked in manufacturing and wastewater treatment, and could not be a full-time student. To achieve my goals, I had to choose a programme that offers me work experience and professional development in the education sector, so that I can practise as a qualified teacher. I started by observing lessons and gradually picked up roles in the classroom, learning from the resident teachers. This was exciting for me, as I realised the dynamic nature of education. I quickly realised that being a good teacher is not just about having good content knowledge but also about finding rhythm, and being able to adjust your approach as the environment changes.

My current roles are teaching checkpoint science1 to Cambridge Assessment International Education2 stage 9 students and assisting in laboratory duties. I have had supportive mentors who have helped me acquire skills to work independently. They offer suggestions as to what I think would work. This made the transition to online learning – which then became blended learning – so much smoother. Teachers have been helping each other to advance education in these trying times. It is a really beautiful sight. I almost feel lucky to have started my teaching career in this period, because it has required the absolute best from me, and it has allowed me to see the best version of all my teammates and fellow teachers across the country, who are defying odds and meeting the great expectations of parents, schools and learners. Education is adapting at such a fast pace, and I feel lucky to be part of the next wave of teachers.

Being an active change agent

Now that I have gone through the most recent developments in my career, I would like to take us back to answer a question I am asked a lot in almost every social sphere that I am in: ‘What made you decide to move from engineering to education?’

To fully answer this, I would need more than a few pages, but I will make it short. When I was in high school, the main reason I studied science and mathematics so passionately was that I wanted to make the world a better place with these skills. I have about two years of work experience in an engineering environment, and there wasn’t much of what I did that benefited society. We only focused on making profits. I couldn’t get satisfaction from that.

I am interested in many innovative technologies that promote sustainable living, and throughout my teaching career, I aim to expose my students to these. I am against the analogy that technology education has to be only introduced at a later stage in students’ lives – it is very limiting to the whole country’s development. I believe that students should be exposed to real-life problems such as food insecurity, water scarcity and energy distribution as early as possible. These high expectations will force competent and capable individuals to show others how to use the earth’s resources responsibly.

I grew up in a township in East London in the Eastern Cape, where people were confronted with many infrastructural issues. However, there are some solutions to these challenges.

I realised that our problems as a society are not rooted in a lack of skills but in the application of those skills. In South Africa, we have many skilled people without work, and who cannot use those skills to solve any problems. They have never been confronted with having to find a use for their skills on their own. They are used to working in organisations that tell them what their functions are. I think as teachers, we ought to change this: it begins with us. We need to create a wave of skilled people who are capable of individually incentivised work and who can link the skills they have gained to their individual lives. Future economies will favour creative professionals with problem-solving skills; sequential and routine work will no longer be viable career options. Nova Pioneer Ormonde Secondary School, where I am an intern, is taking steps in this direction, and I am immensely proud to be part of such a progressive organisation. We are instilling values into students to contribute to society whilst pursuing their passions.

SAMSTIP candidates showcase their resilience

To other young people who would like to get into education, I think SAMSTIP is suitable for this purpose. The recruitment process was smooth, starting with a mathematics and English language test, followed by interviews for the shortlisted candidates. Some of us even got assistance in finding host schools. I personally recommend the ISASA careers page – there are many vacancies for interns that are advertised there every now and then. I would like to encourage more independent schools to absorb more interns and give them challenging roles, as this would benefit their school’s progress greatly. Young people are highly adaptable and have many digital skills, which are required to run a 21st century educational institution. To remain relevant, our education system needs to evolve with the times. Not even a pandemic can break a flexible education system.

To the current year’s cohort of interns, I want to send a message of encouragement. We have come so far, studying and working in the midst of a global virus outbreak. There have been system delays that have affected our livelihoods, yet we are still here. We are still developing our professional skills. With energy and resilience, we have shown that we can push through the year. Some of you, like myself, are extremely far from home and have not seen your families since the beginning of lockdown. This is not easy, but at this point, I do not think we can doubt our capabilities. We have overcome so much in a short period. Many thanks to my colleagues at school, who continue to mentor me and guide me on my path as a developing teacher. No one really knows how things will look in the future, but if we remain positive and determined, we will be in a better position than those who are not.


  1. See: and

2. Cambridge Secondary 1 is a flexible curriculum with integrated assessment from Cambridge Assessment International Education. It provides a seamless progression from Cambridge Primary – or can be used as a standalone curriculum – to develop learners’ skills and confidence in English, mathematics and science. It offers a curriculum framework for educational success for learners (typically 11–14 years old), with an optional testing structure. See: qualification/cambridge-international/cambridge-checkpoint

Category: Spring 2020

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