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Taking action

| September 5, 2012 | 0 Comments

TEACH South Africa

By Peter Glover

Apart from the unacceptable drop-out rate, too many school-leavers do not have the core competencies needed to succeed in tertiary education and training, let alone make an effective contribution to nation building and economic growth.

The international TEACH initiative was started by a dynamic American named Wendy Kopp. The 2007 Teach for America Alumni Social Impact Report1 explains further: Teach for America was founded in 1990 and now has more than 12 000 alumni who comprise a growing force of leaders working to effect social change from a variety of sectors. A significant and growing number of alumni hold leadership roles – as lead teachers, principals, non-profit leaders, school board members, and social entrepreneurs – in high-need communities across the country. The vast majority of our alumni, regardless of career path, remain committed to our mission of ensuring educational equity well beyond their corps commitments. In fact, 94% report that they are supporting Teach for America’s mission through career, philanthropy, volunteerism, or graduate study.

TEACH South Africa (SA) adapts to local contexts

Although the 26 national TEACH organisations around the world are members of the TEACH family and meet at international conferences, not all are umbilically related to the founding American organisation as ‘franchisees’ that adopt the US operational model. The South African founders have maintained the view that despite broad similarities and our warm relationship with the mother organisation (they helped us to set up our administrative systems), the viability of a national TEACH organisation depends on its ability to raise its own funding and apply itself to national needs and within specific, local contexts.

TEACH SA is an initiative born out of its founders’ concurrence with much of the general analysis about South African education. But importantly, the founders also took this view: “Enough of waiting for grand analysis to turn into turnaround plans based on elaborate roll-outs; let’s do something less ambitious but practical and direct… and let’s do it now.” TEACH SA focuses on mathematics, science and English education, predominantly in secondary schools, and its day-to-day operations are direct collaborations with local education authorities and schools. The initiative supplies a critical resource for revitalising the education environment in schools: additional teachers in the form of enthusiastic young graduates and role models who opt to ‘put something back’ before they enter the job market. (Already a satisfying number of the recruits – referred to as ‘ambassadors’ in keeping with international TEACH organisation terminology – have chosen to remain in teaching; something we regard as a small but real contribution to nation building.2) From a broader perspective, TEACH SA is developing a potentially important model for change by addressing a key deficit in education: the undersupply of quality, qualified teachers in critical disciplines. Already we can point to many youngsters who now enjoy tertiary education because of a few committed TEACH SA ambassadors’ inspirational efforts.3

A two-year training model

TEACH SA recruits graduates who have done well in their tertiary studies and who have chosen subject combinations that would qualify them for pre-service teacher training. It promises its recruits no more than a two-year, professional adventure serving in economically disadvantaged communities and schools. Recruits who elect to become permanent teachers – and many already have – enrol for part-time Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) qualifications at South African universities. Normally a part-time PGCE takes two years, but some ambassadors have done theirs in a single year. This means that they are qualified and ready to find posts at the end of their stint with TEACH SA. In a few cases, proactive principals have managed to retain their ambassadors.

Fourth cohort has just started

Although TEACH SA was founded in 2005 by a group of business, education and non-governmental organisation (NGO) leaders, it was in 2007 that Deloitte4 (South Africa) assisted the initiative with the development of its charter framework design. The TEACH SA founders are Futhi Mtoba (chair, Deloitte SA); Dr Mothomang Diaho (then head of the Dialogue Programme, Nelson Mandela Foundation5); Richard Masemola number information science, accountancy, actuarial science, computer science, mathematics, physics and chemistry, veterinary science and exploration geology graduates among our ambassadors, and they have come from all corners of South Africa and beyond – including Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Germany and Italy.)

Ambassadors are strongly encouraged to ‘add value’ through extracurricular activities, especially in areas of personal enthusiasm. To date, we can enumerate several, pre- and postschool extra lesson programmes for matrics, new school chess clubs, ‘brain gym’ programmes for Grade 8s and 9s, tree planting programmes (supplied by Food and Trees for Africa through Barloworld8), extramural sports programmes, and arranging class visits to facilities such as the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre.9 At a TEACH SA event in honour of the 2009 cohort, one of the 2010 ambassadors spoke movingly about something he had discovered in his school: that many of his ‘kids’ came to school having eaten only one or two actual meals in the past fortnight. He took his chances that evening to approach the guest speaker and CEO of ABSA, Maria Ramos, to secure funding for a food garden project. Happily, it is now a productive reality.

Seeking sustainability

TEACH SA is dependent on the generosity of funders, but we realise the need to find ways of earning our sustainability. The organisation was never conceptualised as a finite project, but rather one that will ensure its continuous impact. Because it came about in response to the South African government’s call, at a certain moment in the country’s development, for corporate involvement in finding solutions to the country’s challenges, TEACH SA remains committed to adapting itself to changing needs in education. While we can see current needs persisting for some while yet, as things change so must we. So, for example, TEACH SA might evolve into an accredited service provider offering professional, in-service development courses for teachers within the National Framework for Teacher Development; or an ongoing teacher mentoring service. In time a suitably ‘polished’ variant of TEACH SA’s current work-in-progress model could be rolled out nationally, becoming a form of community service. Even for young graduates in a hurry to enter the job market, two years of giving back to their country is not an unreasonable request, nor an irrelevant part of their general socio-political education. The possibilities will be identified through regular evaluation, re-strategising and renewal.

From pre-service to practice

New recruits are not trained teachers and thus their perceptions of teaching may be limited to how they themselves were taught. Whereas careful recruitment is the first step in finding new ambassadors, the annual training academy, held each year in early to mid-December, is an ambassador’s first full contact with TEACH SA. It comprises two weeks of pre-service training in which newcomers become acquainted with their academic disciplines as teaching subjects, cover some modes of pedagogy, and learn of the requirements of teachers as framed by the South African Schools’ Act.10 At the academy, new ambassadors are shown teaching styles their lecturers would like to see them trying out, they are given fresh perspectives on the South African educational panorama, and they are exposed to some educational theory, including theories of learning. Above all, they are encouraged to see teaching as fun so that they build up as much confidence and enthusiasm as they need to ‘hit the ground running’ the following January. Nevertheless, the main source of a new ambassador’s enthusiasm and confidence will be the fact that he or she joins us as a young person who has committed to spending two years as a voluntary teacher.

The final link in the chain of processes that transforms the ambassador from graduating student to practising teacher in extra-quick time is a support structure consisting mainly of TEACH SA mentors, who regularly visit ambassadors in their schools and classrooms. While it is still one of TEACH SA’s aims to assign to each ambassador a designated teacher who will initiate them into the culture of the school, this does not always happen. Unfortunately, some teachers are suspicious of the ambassadors and may even make life difficult for them. But, in most cases, the ambassadors soon carve a niche for themselves. Good heads of department are a blessing – as many a novice teacher knows – and can help ambassadors to add real value to their schools in their two-year tenures. So far, however, we have found that an ambassador’s support comes mainly from two sources: from TEACH SA mentors paying them regular visits from the moment they enter their schools (some visits are purely pastoral, some involve classroom observation, and some are used to plan and advise); and from the other ambassador in the school, since they are usually sent in pairs. In general, too, it seems that ambassadors who go to primary schools are welcomed into the bosom of the school more warmly and readily than at secondary schools.


1. See for example, who-we-look-for/.

2. For more information, contact Ingrid Pearce, TEACH SA’s marketing and fundraising manager, at: or at telephone: +27 11 209 8066.

3. Ingrid Pearce, TEACH SA’s marketing and fundraising manager, provides the following example: Jeanette Kweza, who was taught by Meurial Magaya, a 2009 physical science TEACH SA ambassador, now attends the University of Johannesburg. Kweza spoke about her TEACH SA experience on the television programme Mother of All Professions, which screened on SABC 2 on 11 December 2011.

4. Deloitte, one of the country’s leading professional services firms, provides audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory services through nearly 3 600 people in eight cities in South Africa and 16 cities in southern Africa. Deloitte is the South African member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited.

5. See, for example, centre-of-memory/.

6. See, for example,

7. To access this ‘body of evidence’, contact Ingrid Pearce at: or at telephone: +27 11 209 8066.

8. See

9. See

10. See

Category: Spring 2012

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