A vision of a better deal

On first acquaintance Gillian Wilkinson seems rather vague – dreamy perhaps. But she has the ability to approach things without preconceptions, to see the needs of the moment.

In 1990 the government gave permission to certain white schools in South Africa to enrol children of other races. Some parents in Soweto approached ASHA (African Self Help Association), which had established a number of créches there, to request that their children be taught English at pre-primary level.

Jenny Clowes, then the director of ASHA, approached Gillian Wilkinson for help. At the time Wilkinson was deputy head at Kingsmead Junior School, an independent school in Johannesburg. Clowes asked Wilkinson to initiate a pilot project at Ipopeng Day Care Centre in Soweto. As a result of this, a group of teachers was invited to meet with Wilkinson every week.

She found the first meeting discouraging. “They seemed so down, so dispirited. I became aware that Bantu Education had destroyed their sense of self – they didn’t know who they were. Any creativity had been stifled and they had come to see their learners as the enemy; an unruly bunch of children who had to be kept in order at all costs. This resulted in an authoritarian approach that made them and the children unhappy.

“It came to me that the teachers had to learn to believe in themselves – to see themselves as the capable and creative human beings that they are. I decided to spend half of the Thursday afternoon meetings on teaching methods, and half on their own enrichment.


“I could only offer them the best. I decided to start with Homer’s Odyssey, Shakespeare and Plato.”

Zinto Dhlamini, a teacher at Jabavu East Primary, says of these groups: “We were very enriched and empowered as teachers and as women. My wish is that everybody can have the opportunity to get this.”

As the teachers began to feel good about themselves, the children too became happier and more confident. The teachers learnt valuable practical teaching methods, but also learnt to enjoy one another’s company and share ideas. They felt less stressed and began to enjoy their teaching more.

Theresa Ncube, principal of Ipopeng, says, “These children were wild and unsettled before Gillian came to us. They were living in a violent society and they reflected the unrest in Soweto at the time. Gillian reminded us that essentially there was no difference between us and the children – we are all human beings who need love and affirmation.

“When I began to really look at the children in this way rather than blindly following the syllabus, I began to love them. I watched them become more confident – they could sing and act out dramas. When the parents came to the school they were amazed. I saw the changes in myself, in the teachers and the children. There was light and peace at the school.”

Clowes says of Gillian and her contribution, “She brought back the gaiety into the teachers’ lives – they began to sparkle. Gillian is a remarkable woman.”

Gillian Wilkinson is currently Director of Community Services at Kingsmead College.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

How lottery execs received dubious payments through a private company

The National Lottery Commission is being investigated by the SIU for alleged corruption and maladministration, including suspicious payments made to senior NLC employees between 2016 and 2017

Pandemic hobbles learners’ futures

South African schools have yet to open for the 2021 academic year and experts are sounding the alarm over lost learning time, especially in the crucial grades one and 12

More top stories

Zuma, Zondo play the waiting game

The former president says he will talk once the courts have ruled, but the head of the state capture inquiry appears resigned to letting the clock run out as the commission's deadline nears

Disinformation harms health and democracy

Conspiracy theorists abuse emotive topics to suck the air out of legitimate debate and further their own sinister agendas

Uganda: ‘I have never seen this much tear-gas in an...

Counting was slow across Uganda as a result of the internet shutdown, which affected some of the biometric machines used to validate voter registrations.

No way out for Thales in arms deal case, court...

The arms manufacturer has argued that there was no evidence to show that it was aware of hundreds of indirect payments to Jacob Zuma, but the court was not convinced.
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…