This teacher grows distinctions under trees

For over two decades, learners gathered in a small Mpumalanga town under a tree outside a home for Maths and Science lessons. They didn’t have as many desks, chairs or textbooks as a school, but their minds were open and ready. On blistering hot days, the branches provided scant relief. When the rain came pouring down, school had to stop. The temperamental weather wrought havoc on schedules, but it couldn’t stop the success of the students when each year came to a close. Because they had Jerry Mbowane at the helm. After teaching hundreds of students in Thulamahashe, one of South Africa’s most dedicated teachers has received a generous donation that will finally enable him to have a real classroom.

While maintaining a teaching job, Mbowane began giving additional tutoring in 1990 to assist learners with two of the most misunderstood subjects, Maths and Science. Seven years into the project he realised that the children under the tree required his full attention. He subsequently quit his job, forfeiting a reliable source of income with the knowledge that the rewards of his informal teaching programme would be far greater. He was right.

Rather than worrying about what he lacked, Mbowane kept his focus on what was there: eager learners with a desire to succeed. Using techniques that makes the subjects easy to understand, the educator dedicates individual attention to each child. He believes that anyone can grasp the concepts when taught well. What we need are teachers committed to helping kids understand the language of Maths and Science, rather than giving in to the perception that it’s difficult. His approach is transforming the poorest of kids into students with straight As who have gone on to become doctors, engineers, and lecturers. With R150 000 donated to his efforts, he not only has a classroom, but also resources which will enable hundreds of South Africans to reach their full potential.