By Garth Johnstone
He grew up catching fish with his dad in St Lucia. Now Vincent Mfekayi is fishing to help catch South Africa’s next generation of mathematicians and scientists.
The young teacher at Shea O’Connor Combined School, a product of the Eduhelper project, has been working at Midlands schools for four years, teaching maths and science and endeavouring to instil a passion for these subjects in pupils.
Vincent is one of two Eduhelper teachers who have been assigned to Shea O’Connor. The other is Zweli Dladla, who takes maths in Grades 7 to 9.
Confidence in teachers
The school’s principal, Nicholas Nxumalo believes their work is making a difference.
“Students take subjects when they have the confidence in the teachers. The Eduhelpers are helping a lot, you can see how many kids have opted for maths and science. These teachers help fill the gaps when there are vacancies, do important remedial work and build that confidence.”
This year saw the biggest uptake – 51 – in the key subjects of maths and science among Grade 10 in the school’s history.
Vincent was raised in Mtubatuba, one of nine children (he has six brothers and two sisters). His dad is a fisherman, while mom crafted baskets. He attended non-fee government schools, KwaMshaya Primary and Nkosikayingangathi High, before getting a bursary to study education at the University of Zululand. Sadly, his sponsorship ended after the third year of a four-year degree and he had to leave the university and look for work.
But he was fortunate to meet Xolani Majola, who was instrumental in bringing Vincent to the Midlands, where he taught at King’s School as an intern maths teacher from 2015 to the end of 2017. This was done through Isasa (Independent Schools Association of South Africa).
Jon Bates of Fordoun – who works closely with the Michaelhouse Community Partnership Trust to help improve the teaching environment at local schools – then stepped in. The trust, through generous donors, works to help ensure there is enthusiastic assistance for teachers at local government schools.
Through the Eduhelper project, Vincent took up a position at Esiphethwini Sendezi (Hlanganani) Primary in Mount West: “When I arrived there were few computers and only a small computer room; then we started with computer upgrading through the assistance of Network SA and Dynalogic Computers,” said Vincent. “Long term donors N3TC assisted us with an additional 10 computers; other sponsors assisted with more.”
Vincent’s role was to teach maths and economic management science. He also assisted with computer training at the school and Midlands Community College.
During this period he underwent training through the organisation, Thinking Giant. “This improved our thinking on how to introduce lessons and make use of resources in the classroom,” he said.
In August last year a science teacher left Shea O’Connor, leaving a void that had to be filled. Vincent was seconded to Shea O’Connor.
He has had his hands full, learning to use the Ligbron e-learning facility and facilitating classes with smartboards (maths and science). He teaches Grades 10 to 12 science, Grade 10 maths and conducts extra lessons as well.
There is, however, plenty passion and energy to propel him through this workload. While he enjoys teaching maths, he says: “Science is my passion. I love science.
“Tech makes things easy. With the smartboard system the data stays there. Nothing is erased. If a pupil misses a lesson and needs to catch up it’s so easy.”
His strategy for extra lessons is to place pupils in groups. He assigns a strong pupil as a leader and sets problems to be solved. “I encourage group work, to help understand and work through the issues.”
Vincent fully supports the ethos at Shea O’Connor that all teachers push together as a group to improve results. “We are working for the kids’ futures, but also our futures. We have to all work together.”
And what of his future? For now he is waiting to receive his degree. “I finished my degree last year, I am just waiting for my paperwork. Then I will apply to do my Honours in education,” he says.
“One day I want to start a tutoring programme, which will assist pupils who are failing maths and science. I want to remove the stigma that maths and science are hard. If they work, they can do it.
“Last year saw a 72% pass rate overall at Shea O’Connor. This year we will improve.”
And where will you find this passionate young teacher when it’s school holidays and time to take a well-earned break?
Back home in Zululand, catching up on some fishing. Or enjoying a run-around on his 650cc Yamaha bike.
**Eduhelpers are contracted by the principal of their particular school and by Michaelhouse. They report to their school principal as would any member of staff. They are paid a monthly stipend, can continue their studies through correspondence and receive refresher training courses.
Contracts drawn up and payment of stipends would be managed by the Michaelhouse Community Partnership Trust.
An Eduhelper donation creates a job for an unemployed teacher. This does not take away any Department of Education teacher’s job, and the concept is approved by the local DOE circuit managers.
Main picture: Teaching maths and science is his passion. Eduhelper teacher Vincent Mfekayi, with Lwandle Buthelezi and Ayanda Makhubo at Esiphetwini school.