Meet SA’s best teacher Gugu Precious Qwabe who believes many SA educators exist in survival mode
Gugu Precious Qwabe says teachers should not give up on their ideas in schools or get discouraged when their leaders disagree with them.
English teacher Gugu Precious Qwabe, who works at Mandla Mthethwa School of Excellence — a rural school in KwaZulu-Natal, won the award for being the country’s best educator at a ceremony held in Pretoria on Thursday, 5 October 2023.
Qwabe (39) told Daily Maverick on the sidelines of the National Teaching Awards that she never thought she would receive such an honour and was grateful to the Department of Basic Education (DBE).
The awards were held at Heartfelt Arena in Pretoria.
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Qwabe said she has been a teacher for 15 years and that she was fortunate in that her school was better equipped with resources than many others across the country.
The school is in Ndumo, a deeply rural area bordering Eswatini and Mozambique in the uMkhanyakude education district.
Qwabe said her primary focus is Grade 12 but she was also teaching other classes, starting from Grade 8. She said her motivation comes from being an author and her love for technology.
“I use a lot of technology in my class to assist learners,” she said.
She also coaches other teachers and organises workshops for them, adding, “I love teacher development”.
Qwabe is also pursuing an MBA at Regent Business School.
According to the DBE, the nomination process of teachers starts at schools where nomination teams select teachers for the various categories of awards.
The names of the selected teachers are forwarded to the districts that select district winners, through a process of adjudication.
The final phase is the selection of national winners by a national adjudication panel. After the national winners are selected, a ceremony is hosted by a sitting DBE Minister — in this case Angie Motshekga — and addressed by the country’s president, but Deputy President Paul Mashatile served as the keynote speaker this year.
Qwabe is also the author of Holistic Ubuntu Development — a textbook and a teacher guide.
“I teach learners about ubuntu values, learning that from former leaders. My sponsor for the book is Mr Arnold Zulman. The one that scouted for me. He is former friends with the late [president] Nelson Mandela and late Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, whom I met two months before he passed on. He narrated a lot of stories for me that depicted values that our former leaders had. I wrote about all of that and all of the values that we can learn from our traditional communities and our traditional ubuntu principles.”
Qwabe said she teaches learners about the values of ubuntu as an extracurricular activity and includes corporate values to help them adapt to the corporate sector.
Qwabe said the country has many excellent teachers who are stymied by dire circumstances and support structures.
“I would think there are those that have done better because of where they are. I’m presented with better opportunities in my school because it has a lot of resources.”
She said teachers in SA are operating with radically different resources — some with less than the bare minimum — due to the history of the country.
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This disparity, Qwabe said, has put some teachers and leaders in survival mode.
“It’s not easy sometimes to bring your own ideas cause people are power hungry and this can be so discouraging. Do not change your course. Be the leader. Continue leading everyone and maintain your morals,” she said.
Qwabe said teachers should ensure that their learners do not face the same circumstances they themselves faced during their apartheid schooling days. She was too emotional to share her message with her learners.
Qwabe could only say of her learners: “I love them. We’re making strides.”
Mashatile said this year’s National Teaching Awards marked 23 years since the late education minister Professor Kader Asmal introduced the event in 2000.
“This year marks 23 years since the first National Teachers’ Awards took place as spearheaded by the former Minister of Education, the late Professor Kader Asmal, who played an instrumental role in the anti-apartheid as well as in the formative years of our democracy, especially during the transition,” said Mashatile.
Motshekga launched the lifetime achievement Kader Asmal Excellence Award in 2011, which recognises teachers who demonstrate values in line with Asmal’s leadership, which include:
- upholding social justice;
- taking a stand for a moral issue on grounds of conscience;
- displaying intellectual tenacity and rigour; and
- visibly delivering on education in creative and inspiring ways.
This year’s Kader Asmal Excellence Award award was conferred to Noni Julia Hlahle from Moriting Primary School in Tembisa, Gauteng.
Mashatile said the government appreciates nominees for serving tirelessly and using education as a transformation tool.
He said the country should celebrate teachers who inspire learners and impart seeds of optimism in the classroom.
“You’re all winners. There are no losers today,” Mashatile said.
Mashatile said the government has programmes to train teachers in robotics, artificial intelligence, and other aspects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This, he said, was meant to ensure that teachers and learners evolve together in harnessing the digital age.
‘Crème la de crème’
Motshekga proclaimed that the nominees were the best teachers in the sector. She said they had shown undying dedication and raised the bar of excellence.
Motshekga reiterated that the education department was on a path of introducing mother tongue as a language of instruction, something prior administrations had been “dodging”.
DBE director-general Mathanzima Mweli said the nominees had shown ceaseless dedication despite some of them having been faced with deplorable conditions in their schools.
“No money can buy the sacrifices they’re making,” Mweli said. DM