Live to learn

Bilal Mohamed: Physical Science – Grade 10, 11 and 12, Ridge Park College, KwaZulu-Natal

I am incredibly fortunate to have been part of the Zenex Inkanyezi Project since its inception at Ridge Park College in 2009. The project involves tutoring learners that have been selected by Zenex. We do the tutoring on Saturdays and after school – it all depends on the needs of the learners. I am very proud that Zenex has afforded me the opportunity of presenting at teacher workshops – the cherry on the cake was presenting at the South African Basic Education Conference in 2014 in Gauteng!

Finding our feet

When Zenex arrived at the school to present the project, I had no idea what it was all about, but saw this as an opportunity to climb on board with something that truly matters. After all these years, I still have a burning passion for teaching and it was inspiring to know there was an opportunity to give back, and so I jumped at the opportunity.

I’ve always maintained that I’m a learner first. We, as teachers, still need to do so much learning, and here was a great opportunity. It was invigorating at the educator workshops and the opportunities presented were a tremendous learning opportunity. After 25 years of teaching it is easy to get into a rut, into a routine of monotony with no passion, but this project was a catalyst to get back into the groove and I loved it. I still love it. If I am around in ten years’ time, I would still want to be part of this project.

It was difficult to get the new programme going at first because the learners saw it as extra lessons. In the beginning they saw it simply as reinforcement and not something strategic. And so it was a gradual process, but a very rewarding process, of making them realise that they were receiving more than just tutoring, that the skills they were receiving would not only equip them for their schooling, but stay with them long after school and into adult life.

As time passed they started warming up to the project, but this presented a new difficulty. What we were doing with the Zenex project was not being continued or supported by other teachers.

“There has to be a commitment and that commitment will come from passion.”

Building bridges

We were fortunate though. We have an internal staff-development programme at our school on Friday afternoons and it was in a number of these sessions that we were given the opportunity of presenting to the other staff. At times there was a sense of “I am not part of the project, so why should I do that kind of thing?” But, to me, it was definitely worthwhile and many teachers have benefited in that they have been using what we shared with them. I also use the opportunity to talk to colleagues and share information in casual settings.

In order for the programme to work, there needs to be commitment and part of this is a time commitment. Sometimes there is reluctance when you ask a teacher to come in and do extra work after school or on a Saturday. There has to be a commitment and that commitment will come from passion.

Passion will mean that you receive reward from the gift you give to learners. It is a personal thing, but I think that if you have a passion for teaching, for educating, then watching the clock doesn’t matter – we were working six-day weeks regularly. And this commitment came with other rewards, too. It allowed us the opportunity to interact with other, similarly passionate people that we otherwise would not have met. It was wonderful to share with them and develop bonds, and we are still in contact.

The road to chalk board

I love teaching. However, the road to teaching started as a purely financial decision. What do I mean by this? I received a bursary to go into teaching and so that is what I did. Then, once I was there, I realised this was wonderful and I could not see myself doing anything else!

It is incredibly rewarding to see learners progress. When you bump into a former student and see where they are and how they have progressed, and that you played a part in their journey, it is just so wonderfully rewarding!

I cannot see myself doing anything else. However, if I changed what I was doing now, I’d go teach at primary school level. I think primary school needs the best teachers. I would go to primary school and get a sense of how different it is at that phase. In high school we often say that the children coming up from primary school are not well-prepared, and so I would be interested in working in a primary school to see what I could offer, but also what I could learn.


Despite all the technology available there is a frightening struggle with mathematics and even basic English. Some learners have to overcome immense struggles. For instance, two parents working full-time is different from when I was a child. When I was a child I would get home and know that my mom would be there to meet me and most children now never experience that. The family and social environment has changed so much and that has had an impact on education and the learning environment.

And so, for the Zenex project, you want to get your learners to the point where they become self-regulating. In other words, if I am not at school today, what do my learners do? Is it a free lesson? Are they totally dependent on me or can they do work on their own? The vision is to create self-regulated learners.

“I needed to come to the realisation that I don’t know everything there is to know about teaching. I needed to get back into the habit of learning”.

Learning to learn

I am eternally grateful that this opportunity presented itself because there is definitely going to be a long-lasting effect. For instance, even though the Zenex project had selected learners, others benefitted too. At our school we tried, as far as possible, not to differentiate too much between the Zenex-Inkanyezi group and the rest. And because of this, I think the others have benefitted even if they don’t know it. I share skills with my other learners as well as in my classroom environment. I tell them what I learnt at Saturday workshops.

I needed to come to the realisation that I don’t know everything there is to know about teaching. I needed to get back into the habit of learning and the impact has been wonderful.

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.