Sandile Sikhosana eats, sleeps and breaths mathematics.
Actually, he dreams maths too. “Often interesting questions for exam papers come to me in my dreams and then all I have to do in the morning is write them down,” he recounts. Sandile is absolutely determined to improve the quality of maths teaching in South Africa and is doing everything he can to make this a reality.
Sandile is the Mathematics, Computer and Technology teacher at Mazwendoda High School in rural Impendle. Surrounded by rolling green hills, with little traffic on the road besides cows and the occasional pedestrian, this is a pleasant and peaceful place to live. Sandile maintains, “The sense of community is great here. Ubuntu is strong, people assist one another and there is little crime.” Students come from as far afield as Durban and Newcastle to attend Mazwendoda School – clearly not drawn by the nightlife – but by this remarkable teacher. This contributes to the local economy as learners board with neighbouring families and soon come to love the calm rhythms of country life.
While at high school, Sandile would often teach the class when the teacher was absent, his love of the subject evident from an early age. Even though he passed maths with distinction in Matric, there was no opportunity to further his studies and he worked as a door operator for a taxi driver for a couple of years. “In between trips I would teach maths at the rank. Learners would sit and wait for me on the pavement and we would do some work, before I had to go off again.” This cemented his reputation as the Maths Guru of Impendle. In 2009 Mr Tseledi, principal of Mazwendoda School and a maths teacher himself, invited Sandile to assist with the formal teaching of this subject. Despite the small stipend attached to this post he grabbed the opportunity and registered for his Bachelor of Education degree.
Sandile gets to school at 6am, in time for his Grade 12 extra lesson before the school day starts. Then from 4pm, the Grade 11’s have their extra lessons. After supper, a little TV and a short nap, youngsters who live near his home arrive for tutoring from 9pm until 11pm! He certainly crams as much maths as humanly possible into every day. Not even the weekends are exempt from his enthusiasm. Saturdays he heads into Pietermaritzburg to assist with teacher training at the FET College. On Sunday afternoons, Sandile holds classes in Impendle town for learners from other schools in the district – mentoring some really good students, to be able to help others in their areas. Impendle is very spread out and it is difficult for them to travel far,” he explains.
During school holidays, Vula Mathematics Project hires him to hold teacher workshops in Zululand and other regions, or he assists with the Vula teacher upgrade programme and manages the Vula maths website – uploading past exam papers and info posters. Sandile has thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Vula programme which encouraged him to use technology in his lessons and save a lot of preparation time.
Sandile has observed how much time students spend on social media on their phones, so rather than trying to distract them from this, he started a maths Facebook page and uses What’s App groups to encourage learners to discuss problems and ask questions. His own children also enjoy maths and science, so they often do maths puzzles together or play cards – building skills while having fun.
“I am determined to improve the quality of maths and technology in rural areas, I want to develop an environment and system that assists our students to shine in maths abilities. Maths is all about problem solving, something which is needed at this time,” he explains passionately. “Our country has a shortage of well qualified graduates in the science fields. There is much potential for growth and development.”
Sandile believes that a strong grounding in maths with make all the difference to organisational skills and creatively solving many of the issues we face. “Love your Maths, become friends with your text books and put some time into it every single day,” he encourages his new class of 2019. “If you are confused, ask – it is the only way to improve. We are aiming for 100% pass rate in Maths this year so that you can all make your dreams come true.”
Sandile is doing his best to make sure South Africa thrives – led by maths masters from Impendle.
This article first appeared in N3TC’s publication Touching Lives – an annual publication that acknowledges every person, with admiration and respect, that has contributed in any way to the Touching Lives programme.