A teacher by profession, Phutumile Dumisa has progressed through the ranks to become a beacon in rural teacher skills development.
Under her leadership, the nongovernmental school development programme Penreach grew from a small, locally focused initiative to reach more than 2 400 rural teachers and 400 000 pupils at 900 schools.
She joined the Mpumalanga-based organisation in 1999 as a liaison officer following a decade as a teacher in Limpopo, and quickly rose to become Penreach chief executive in 2002. “We had 200 teachers in the development programme when I started, and within two years we had 2 000 teachers attending Saturday workshops,” she says.
One of the most marked impacts the programme has had is boosting the self-esteem and confidence of teachers.
“What we need to understand is that many teachers are also seen as leaders in their communities. So, as their self-esteem grows they are better able to deal with their leadership positions because they are empowered,” she says.
The significance of these interventions is heightened because the vast majority of teachers at pre and primary school level are women. The workshops are focused more on leadership skills than teacher training, imparting important life skills relevant to teachers in rural communities.
“The programme also encourages them not to abandon the teaching fraternity. We realise that the financial rewards are not high, but they can progress through the profession to alter that. At the same time, their ability to have an impact on pupils and society is important,” says Dumisa.
Feeling that she had achieved all she could at Penreach, she resigned in 2011 to focus her energy more directly on professional teacher development. She does this through her role as a programme and project manager for Indzi’s Consultancy.
Her flagship project in this role is piloting the Curtis Nkondo Professional Development Institute in the Eastern Cape.
This is a South African Democratic Teachers Union programme implemented under the direction of nongovernmental organisation JET Education Services.
“This is particularly exciting because it’s a union saying, we’re going to use teachers to develop themselves. It is a bottom-up approach whereby we have created a structure in schools that helps to create professional learning opportunities,” she says.
“What is amazing for me in our experiences with teachers in the Eastern Cape is that they are discovering that they have something to teach each other.”
The interventions have already yielded exciting results since the programme was implemented in the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga in 2011. Key among these is the confidence to use national education policy documents to create their lesson plans.
“In any intervention you have to start with the prevailing attitude toward their environment, and too often you find they focus on the negatives instead of what they can do with what they have. Our experience shows that development programmes can make a huge difference to changing that mind-set,” says Dumisa.