Paying it forward

manziniManzini Zungu, Grade 8 – 12 isiZulu teacher and Grade 8 and 9 Mathematics teacher, Kearsney College, KwaZulu-Natal. Part of ISASA Mathematics & English Project.

The long road to success

My interest in working with people was shaped by my background. I was raised in a poor family in rural KwaZulu-Natal. My father had three wives and I was born of the first wife. We lost our homestead as a result of tribal wars in our area and ended up in a monastery.

The priests offered to help my mother with the education of one of her children and, although I was the fifth child, she chose me. This afforded me the opportunity to study at St Francis College, a good Catholic school.

After passing matric, I was not able to study further due to lack of funds. The Father at St Francis College offered to finance my first year of study and was certain that if I performed well I would be able to secure funding for subsequent years. At the end of my first year I advised one of my professors that I did not have the funding to continue with my studies and he assisted me to secure funding for the rest of my studies.

At this stage I was registered for a BSc degree, which allowed me to do one subject outside the faculty. I chose to study isiZulu where I obtained 98%. I decided to continue to the Honours and Masters level and converted to a BSocSci.

My father wanted me to work as an administrator at Home Affairs. At that time people from villages used to encounter many frustrations with Home Affairs when trying to get permits to go into town. Being a Home Affairs administrator meant that the communities would have someone who understood and worked to serve their needs. I however had aspirations of being a teacher since my high school years. Teaching has always been my first love.

After completing my studies, I discovered that Kearsney College had a vacancy for a teaching post. I applied and was successful.

I love working with people. Because of this passion, one of my most significant roles at Kearsney is managing community service projects. When I joined the school they had outreach programmes in the Eastern Cape and I proposed that we work with communities closer to us in KwaZulu-Natal. As such, we started working with nearby orphanages and children’s homes. I was honoured to be nominated by my students as one of the Stars in Education (a television show) and I won an award.

Becoming a mentor

“I have advised many such learners that growth is gradual and that they will see an improvement with each passing year at the school.”

My favourite teacher at St Francis College was Mr Ngcobo, my isiZulu teacher. The learners were all black children and Mr Ngcobo was the only black teacher, the others being white, mainly nuns. He was very approachable and assisted us when we went to him for support.

Mr Ngcobo’s influence on my life shaped my role as a mentor to learners at Kearsney College. A high-fee school like Kearsney can be alienating for some learners, especially those with scholarships and bursaries who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The ISASA Mathematics & English Project, funded by Zenex, had a need for someone to guide the learners participating in the project and support them beyond the academic programmes. I was happy to volunteer for this worthy undertaking.

It gives me pleasure to help all the learners, not just those involved in the project. It is important that learners can relate to their mentors and it helps if they feel that their mentor is someone who has ‘walked in their shoes’.

Mentoring is not only about academics. Young people need support adapting, especially when they move from schools where they were the top learners and then find themselves at the bottom of the class in terms of performance. I have advised many such learners that growth is gradual and that they will see an improvement with each passing year at the school. One of the learners on the programme went on to become a Dux Scholar.

Memory lane

In the first group of learners, there was a scholarship recipient who struggled with adjusting to the school environment. I acted as mediator between the funder and the learner’s parents and explained to them that, while they could not pay the fees, they had the responsibility of helping to make the opportunity and new experience work for their child.

The parents, who did not have a car, would ask their child to walk some distance in front of them down the driveway to the school buildings so his peers would not see that he was with them. They felt this would protect their child. After observing this and speaking to the learner and his parents, we agreed that I could transport the learner to and from the school.

Personal growth

“It is incorrect to assume that there are no challenges in well-resourced schools.”

I have learnt a great deal from being part of the ISASA Mathematics & English Project and I have grown immensely as a person. Through Zenex, I travelled in an aeroplane for the first time and got to be at a Zenex event with the Minister of Basic Education, Ms Angie Motshekga.

It is incorrect to assume that there are no challenges in well-resourced schools. The challenges are different. Language and pronunciation can be a barrier. When you teach in a school where white learners are in the majority, it might be a challenge for some of these learners to engage with a black teacher. However, people come to respect you as a professional.

I dream of opening a school one day with the same ethos as Kearsney, which is more accessible to economically disadvantaged learners. I love teaching – some people have said I should be a headmaster, but I do not want to be in the office. I love the classroom with learners in front of me. It brings me great joy.

About the Project

The Zenex Foundation-ISASA Mathematics & English Project was rolled out from 2007 to 2016 in partnership with ISASA (The Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa). Learners identified through the project are placed in ISASA-affiliated schools. The project offers economically disadvantaged talented Black (African, Coloured and Indian) learners, with potential in Mathematics and Science, an opportunity to attend independent schools that can help them achieve quality results in Mathematics, Science and English. The learners are individually supported with their learning experiences, including academic, leadership, social and life skills. The ultimate goal of the project is to increase the pool of Black learners who qualify to pursue Mathematics and Science-related degrees and associated careers.