Taking education personally

Busi Sishi, Agricultural Sciences teacher at Ogwini Comprehensive High School. Project coordinator for Inkanyezi Project.

I started with Zenex-Inkanyezi Project in 2009. I had no idea what the project was about – we were advised that the school would be part of a project and there was an appeal for coordinators, and so I applied. Here in the township we had never had experience with projects such as these.

It has been a fantastic learning curve. At the beginning I had never worked with a budget. Here there were huge amounts of money and I had to be responsible for how this money was spent. The way I saw it then was that this job needed an accountant or business manager – how could I do this? I am grateful to Ms Wendy Heard – she took me under her wing and taught me the basics of budgeting. I learnt how to track costs and expenditure, as well as how to track the project.

It was a lot of admin work and entailed a lot of commitment, not to forget the reports. For me, it started out as a daunting task, but I managed to do it and I have not looked back.

Ready, steady, go

We looked through the document that said Zenex wanted to make a difference in schools, especially with Mathematics, Science and English. In my experience, learners struggle with Mathematics and Science. However, I found this is more a case of them having an attitude problem – a little bit like a mental block - when it came to Mathematics and Science.

We have 70, 80, 90 learners in a class and we had to choose 10 learners who would have one teacher focusing exclusively on them. Now, in a school of 3100 learners that kind of individual attention is a luxury. It was quite difficult to sort a group of more than 80 learners into 10 who needed help. Nevertheless, we did it and we started remedial work, extra lessons and extension work. Then, on the weekends the educators focused on problem areas and really zoned in and helped these learners.

“The reason I believe so strongly in this project is the difference it has made in the learners who were not part of the project”.

Cascading effect

With this kind of individual attention, the learners gained a lot as they were able to express clearly to the tutors where they were having difficulties. This made a huge difference. You could immediately see the performance of these learners improve. However, the reason I believe so strongly in this project is the difference it has made in the learners who were not part of the project. The Inkanyezi group would come in on Saturdays and learn, then pass that information onto their colleagues in other classrooms. The information spread among the learners and that made a difference. I am very proud of having been a part of this.

An equation of love

One day, while on this project, something happened that was a real moment of awakening for me. In 2011, my study group had a learner who was going through a very difficult time at home. Then, one day, we got a message that his grandparent was removing him from the school. I was so upset. I thought to myself, how can the grandparent allow this learner to lose such a golden opportunity? I made this known and again I got the message: the grandparent was not budging and was taking this child away to go live in the rural areas.

Now, this project had become very close to me. Teaching is a passion, and spending time with these children, they become like your own – you want only the best for them. I decided to find this child’s grandparent and state my case.

Now, I have never had a problem walking around the township in high heels. But where I had to go meet this child’s grandparent was a different story. We had to park the car at the end of a hill and do the rest by foot. Loose stones and rocks, we made our way down.

“When you work with children, sooner or later they become yours, almost like a biological child”.

In the beginning the grandparent was firm. I found out that this boy was going through a very difficult time, that his mother and father were embroiled in a big fight and the grandparent wanted to take the child out of that environment. Nevertheless, I made my case and fortunately got through to the grandparent. This taught me something. When you work with children, sooner or later they become yours, almost like a biological child. You always want the best for them, you protect them and help them. I realised that this is what I was doing here. Fortunately, with the project’s support we were able to help this boy. It was satisfying.

The project has taught me a lot. It is impossible to try describe everything that one learns from the project. I learnt so much more than how to budget, how to plan projects and how to write reports. I learnt about the children and I learnt about myself. And the learners – not only did they learn about Mathematics, Science and English, they also gained invaluable life skills. They learnt study skills, intellectual skills and interpersonal skills. Everyone gained something.

About the project

The Inkanyezi Project facilitates the entry and integration of learners with potential from disadvantaged backgrounds into selected high quality public schools that have the capacity to offer quality teaching and learning in Mathematics, Science and English. In addition, these schools have the resources and experience to support the academic experience with life skills and social skills.

The project seeks to increase the number of Black (African, Coloured and Indian) learners who obtain Bachelor passes in the National Senior Certificate examination with quality passes in Mathematics, Science and English. The rationale for the project is that it will provide an opportunity for these learners to follow careers in the Mathematics and Science subject streams at university level. The principle underlying the Project is that of providing access to learners from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. The project is intended to be an intervention rather than a solution to the educational crisis in the country.