The top ten Grade 12 students at Shea O’Connor School in Nottingham Road are well set to be part of the 4th Industrial Revolution. 

The digital age is all they have known, they are completely comfortable with computer technology and expect classrooms to be equipped with Smart-boards. When internet connection is available, the first thing they do is research.

“We are fortunate to attend the best school, with the greatest teachers,” enthuses Head Boy Sandile Ngubane.  Shea O‘Connor is indeed well recognised for it’s dedicated, professional teaching team and very active Enviro Club.  The school is a plastic free zone with no crisp packets, cheap drink bottles or sweet wrappers littering the ground. Vendors are not allowed to sell junk food and parents supply reusable lunch boxes filled with unpackaged snacks and refillable water bottles for break times. “We are proud of our school, which has given us a good platform to plan our future.  When we have learnt new skills at University, we will all be coming back to teach extra lessons and encourage the younger ones.”

Sheo O'Connor School Nottingham Road

School principal, Nicholas Nxumalo, sets the tone and is admired by the learners for his outlook on life, the respect he shows other people and his dedication to his job.

Nicholas Nxumalo, Antonia Mkhabela, Smanga Dlamini
Nicholas Nxumalo, Antonia Mkhabela, Smanga Dlamini

Sandile he is fascinated with cars – particularly with Mechatronics – the science which mixes mechanics and electricity. So, free time is spent doing research on electric and hydrogen cars rather than petrol powered ones, naturally.

Brandon (Breezy) Chataika is determined to become a pilot after he finishes school – particularly to travel to Barcelona to watch Messi play!   However, understanding the issues around fossil fuel extraction and combustion, he is thinking about ways to power aeroplanes with less environmental damage.  “Mercedes have already designed a solar powered car, so why not aeroplanes?” he asks. Just six years ago, Brandon moved to South Africa from Zimbabwe. He believes that he was very fortunate to be accepted at Shea O’Connor School where one of the teachers, Mr Mchunu, spent afternoons teaching him isiZulu. “He changed my life because once I understood, I could join other students in the study groups.”

Brandon Chataika

As a youngster Sanele Shange recalls a TV programme which sparked his interest in studying Electrical Engineering.  “Humans have such a huge impact on global warming, I am sure there must be a way to generate electricity without doing harm.  I am most interested in wind power. I know is not perfect, but there is always room for improvement.”     Brandon, Sandile and Sanele could make a great partnership – especially because Sanele has already taken flight – “in my imagination!” he laughs!

Arthor Kugara is a keen researcher and dedicated mathematician. “I started to love maths in Grade 7 and began to apply it to my life every day.  My phone, my computer – everything is about maths. I like to help others to understand maths too. This keeps my memory refreshed and is good practice.”  Determined to achieve at least four A symbols in the Matric exams, Arthur plans to study Metascience and put his skills to researching solutions to reducing the problem of solid waste.

During break times conversation turns to data. “Eish, it is so expensive,” laments Sandile, “I buy 50MB for R5 and it is gone in a few minutes. I used to work at the car wash to earn money for data or save my lunch money by eating the free school food. We are always hustling for data.”  Fortunately, Shea O’Connor has good connectivity at school, so this student super group stays late each day to work on projects.  “There is a spot in the road opposite the taxi rank in Notties, where we can connect to wi-fi,” a fellow student advises.  Mandisa Duma giggles and relates how she and her friends, buy the cheapest thing on the menu at KFC (ice cream for R6) so they can sit a while and make use of the free wi-fi.

Shea O'Connor School Grade 12 learners

Every Saturday these keen students attend extra Maths and Science lessons – the Ligbron E-Learning programme which partly sponsored by N3TC. “Now we have access to the best teachers. We can interact and ask them questions. It’s dope”, Luyanda Madlala declares. More girls than boys seem to be studying Maths and Physics these days. Luyanda believes that it is because girls work harder and boys are more occupied with wanting to look cool.  “Education gives women power,” she observes, “and I think women leaders listen to their conscience and are less susceptible to corruption.”

Luyanda has noticed that there are many children in her community with hearing difficulties.  “Our Life Science teacher Ms Mkhabela got me excited about the human body and how it works. I don’t think there are enough Audiologists in the Government hospitals, so that is what I will study in order to give back to those in need.”  Sandisiwe Mchunu lost her sister when she was in Grade 7 and became severely depressed – unable to eat or attend school with a broken heart. “My community don’t understand depression, they just think you are weak, but there is a lot of depression in the area, which leads to substance abuse and suicide.  I was lucky to get help from a social worker and join a support group. I have applied to study Clinical Psychology in order to help others get the help they need to heal,” she says earnestly.   Andiswa Ndlovu, also experienced a life changing incident which influenced her career choice. “An old lady had a stroke right in front of me. Mrs Mkhize lives alone, and I had to cook for her and wash her clothes. She is a bit better, but I still visit.” Andiswa learned about Physiotherapy at a Careers Day hosted by Midlands Community College and has decided that will be her field, so she can assist other stroke sufferers.

Ms Antonia Mkhabela with Grade 12 learners

Mandisa Duma got an infection in her eyes when she was little, which affected her sight.  “We were a rural family, couldn’t afford good doctors and relied on help from hospitals and clinics.  I will be studying Health Science and focus on Ophthalmology, so I can help other kids with eye problems.”   Mandisa’s sister, Snethemba, is also interested in the medical field and will be studying Forensic Science after Grade 12. “This year I fell in love with DNA while we were learning about it in Life Science.  I have been investigating it a lot and in future, I hope to work with the police to solve crimes and bring justice to those who have been harmed.”

Sabelo Zondi is mad about bones – he has a goat humerus hidden under his bed (don’t tell his mom). When he was just six years old, he broke his arm jumping out of a tree and a few years later broke his ankle. “My family was disappointed that I had broken myself again,” he recalls.  “The doctor who treated me was so kind and inspiring.” A long period on crutches meant he stopped playing soccer and put on weight. “Yoh, I ate too much junk food.  But when you grow up you start to realise that bad things sometimes turn into good things. I don’t eat rubbish anymore and have lost all that weight.” Sabelo (now nicknamed Mr Mthambo) will be studying to become an Orthopaedic Surgeon. No doubt gathering a collection of interesting bones on the way.

Smanga Dlamini with Grade 12 learners

Despite the damaged education system in South Africa, and often challenging circumstances, these learners certainly shine. They are lighting the way by encouraging others to follow them into the future.

Who knows where they will end up if they can just get their highly motivated hands on some free wi-fi?