Lifetime Achievement Award

Ronald Benjamin Frans, Klapmats Primary School, Western Cape

Ronald Benjamin Frans, Klapmats Primary School, Western Cape

Winner: Ronald Benjamin Frans,
Klapmats Primary School, Western Cape

Frans lives by the adage: “Everything and anything is possible. And if you think it, you can do it!” This has been his motto for the past 38 years that he has dedicated to the teaching profession. And having turned around the fortunes of most in a poverty-stricken community where his school is based, it seems the motto has really been worth it.

Frans was hugely influenced by his former Mathematics teacher to take up teaching. 14 years after starting his dream career, Frans was promoted to the position of principal,  a post he has held for the past 24 years. This gave him the opportunity to implement his vision for community development.

Over 85% of the learners in Frans’ school receive social grant and this means he has had to carefully manage and juggle the budget to meet other competing school needs. He also tried to organise fund-raising events to generate cash for the school but these did not bring in enough money.

He had to change tack and started to create networks and partnerships with strategic stakeholders which eventually paid off. As a result, the school managed to mobilise sufficient resources to meet its academic needs.

“I had a vision to create a culture where the community views the school as a beacon of hope, a lighthouse that provides guidance. Through partnerships and dedicated staff, our school boasts a fully-functional public library, complete with ICT resources accessible to all members of the community,” says Frans.

His advice to other principals, especially in his neighbourhood, is to ensure that they promote their vision – through building trust amongst stakeholders – as this would improve the chances of their schools being adopted by corporate sponsors. “Don’t wait for the perfect conditions to start implementing your vision; start small but keep moving,” advises Frans.

He also encourages them to empower their teachers by identifying those with potential to be leaders to refine their skills through professional development initiatives. Frans is a proponent of inclusive decision-making because he believes its collaborative nature motivates the teachers and stakeholders to work towards attaining their goals.

1st Runner-up: Arlene Holding,
Fields College, North West

It has always been Holding’s mission to use education to turn other people’s lives around. And that is why she dedicated 31 years of her life to teaching because she felt she could make a profound change in the lives of children entrusted in her care.

“Having been given the opportunity to reach as many children as I have has brought me joy and sense of responsibility in equal measure. I am blessed to have been part of their whole educational journey; I have not only delivered education but have built lasting relationships with generations of families,” says Holding.

She strongly believes in the positive effect stable families have on the ability of children to learn to their full potential. But she laments the breakdown of traditional family and its negative impact on children today. To offset this, she says, her school provides counselling and academic support to the affected learners. “We also subsidise school fees, outings and other activities to enable every learner to reach their full potential,” Holding says.

Another challenge she has to wrestle with is maintaining stability at the school while embracing innovation in order to remain relevant in an ever-changing world. “I believe that the consistent delivery of quality education far outweighs any challenge I encounter,” she says.

Holding regularly facilitates capacity building workshops to ensure that her knowledge and skills can be transferred before she retires. This includes allowing some of her school management team members and educators to shadow.

She is confident that by the time she retires she will have left a legacy in terms of providing strategic vision and sound financial management. She highlights as one of her personal successes, the prominent role she played in nation building and the promotion of transformation in her province.

“Through mentoring I wish to inspire the new generation to push boundaries and expectations about what is possible and to re-imagine their own ideas of what success looks like,” says Holdings.

2nd Runner-up: Agnes Mazibuko,
Ifalethu Primary School, Mpumalanga

Mazibuko’s love for children and her commitment to being a change-agent for the underprivileged communities her school serves is what sustained her throughout her 38 years of teaching. Back then, when she started teaching, she used to earn R76 monthly and she was even exposed to the elements as some of her classes were held under a tree.

Although times have changed, challenges still remain, with the most prevalent being the effects of rhino poaching. Mazibuko’s school is located a few kilometres from the Kruger National Park and it is experiencing a high rate of learner drop-outs largely because learners are lured by the flashy lifestyles led by suspected poachers in the community.

To deal with this challenge, she has joined hands with an environmental organisation to raise awareness campaigns aimed at dissuading her learners from joining these syndicates. She is also piloting a skills development programme - for academically challenged learners and those who are on the brink of dropping out, where qualified artisans train them to acquire technical skills.

Another challenge is overcrowded classrooms which she tries to address through donor funding. “While waiting for our funding initiatives to deliver, we use our community centre for additional classrooms. With the help of matric volunteers and dedicated teachers we have been running a successful homework assistance programme to complement our classroom teaching,” says Mazibuko.

As she is about to retire, Mazibuko has put plans in place to ensure that her gains don’t disappear when she leaves. “I wish I could turn back the clock but I am at peace with my impending retirement because through my mentorship programme I have ensured that I have passed on my knowledge and skills to the next generation of education leaders. I have also ensured that all the donors I have secured during my tenure will continue supporting the school long after I am gone,” says Mazibuko.

She urges her fellow principals, to work very hard as “the output is so pleasing that one forgets the challenges surpassed.”

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo reports for the Teacher newspaper, a Mail & Guardian monthly publication. Apart from covering education stories, he also writes across other beats. He enjoys reading and is an avid soccer and athletics fanatic. Thabo harbours a dream of writing a book. Read more from Thabo Mohlala