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Nontisikelelo Qwelane has seen it all. But in her 73 years of teaching, she has not seen the level of lazy teachers and uninspired pupils that she does today.
She is South Africa’s oldest teacher and at 92, Qwelane is still going strong. She teaches geography to pupils in White River, Mpumalanga.
Qwelane on Friday delivered a lecture at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, where she lambasted today’s teachers who, she said, were “always tired”, and today’s pupils who were satisfied with obtaining minimum results.
“What I’ve discovered about student teachers who come from universities is they don’t know, but should know, how to manage a class,” said Qwelane.
“Class management is becoming poor. It’s as if they (teachers) don’t know what it means to be a teacher. Others walk as if they are tired. You can’t be tired in the morning. I don’t know what has gone wrong.”
Qwelane said that as a student she was able to complete matric in less than a year and could not understand the “fascination” of pupils in obtaining low marks in matric.
“I don’t know what is wonderful about people getting an F and E symbol in matric after being taught for so long from Sub A (Grade 1),” Qwelane said.
She began her schooling in 1929 when she was taught at a missionary school.
She recalls how the missionaries placed great emphasis on hard work, hygiene, discipline and subjects such as English and geography and needlework.
After completing her Standard 6 Qwelane trained a teacher and also remembers how she and others were forced to pray eight times a day, joking that she did not understand why so much prayer was needed.
“It was hard. At times I’d take my geography textbook to church instead of my hymn book and study what the teachers taught me in class,” she said.
But her training as a teacher was not only limited to books. According to Qwelane, student teachers were also require to scrub the floors and do manual work.
This, she said, was the missionary’s way of squeezing out the laziness that black children were born with – an act that moved on with her into the apartheid dispensation where she and her peers were further taught a curriculum of inferiority and not liberated as African children.
This included the “dummy” education that was dished out in the Transkei at the time, which served to keep black children in their own place.
“In spite of the dummy education we are where we are today. We are here in universities and high places,” said Qwelane to a resounding applause.
Seven decades later Qwelane still teaches geography at the Metropolitan Private school in White River, Mpumalanga.
She is adamant that she is never tired during lessons.
“When I’m in class I forget about my knee and all the pains in my body. It’s because I didn’t do things that my mother told me not to,” she joked.
Qwelane’s two daughters, Nomakhwezi Nkosi, 63, and Nomonde Ndimande, 67, have also taken up careers in teaching.
“My father and mother were teachers. Teaching is the only language we have ever understood as kids at home. So it was only natural that we followed suit,” said Nkosi, a principal at Sandzile primary school in Kawbokweni, Mpumalanga.
Nkosi said her mother was a strict woman who insisted they become bookworms even during school holidays.
As children, she said, playtime was minimal and she believes it was her mother’s authoritarian nature that honed their future as educators.
Nkosi and her older sister have been in the teaching field for 40 and 42 years respectively.
Like her mother, she also criticised the majority of teachers who put money before their passion.
Teaching was a crucial and essential service that needed educators who could do the ground work without excuses, she added.
In her closing remarks Qwelane warned that schoolchildren were not objects, but human beings who had a future.
“We must not be tired. They (pupils) are going to take over when we leave. They are important. We must remember that,” she said.