Joe Makhafola sat with Edward Mosuwe, the head of the Department of Education in Gauteng. He manages a R52 billion education system, which is the second-largest basic education sub-system after KwaZulu-Natal–and the most complex. Having always received unqualified audits in the last 10 years, his only regret is not achieving a 100% pass rate, but that’s a work in progress.

For his sins, Edward Mosuwe heads up the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE), which is geared to provide functional and modern schools that enable quality teaching and learning to protect and promote the right of every learner to a quality, equitable, and relevant education.

Mosuwe is known among his colleagues as someone who always says, “Good is bad when excellence is available”, and his track record proves exactly that. He works hard behind the scenes in silence and his success is making the noise. As the accounting officer of the department, the buck stops with him.

Gauteng sustained excellent performance in the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations, with a record number of matric and bachelor passes, amid the administration of the most complex basic education system in the country.

A true public servant

“One learner failing is one too many. I know in a big system like this you cannot always get everything 100% right all the time, but what motivates me is to be of service to the public. I take my job very seriously, I get upset when other people don’t take their jobs seriously,” Mosuwe says.

One of the most exciting projects he has embarked on is building skills for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The department facilitated an increase in the number of Schools of Specialisation aligned to the profiles of Gauteng’s five economic corridors and secured some of the leading industry players as partners, to fund the recapitalisation and curriculum resourcing of these schools.

SA is a sleeping giant, literally

Through its own fault, South Africa is now ranked 56 in the Global Connectivity Index. Its uptake on broadband, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and internet of things (IoT) is very poor, to say the least. It is common knowledge that there is a clear relationship between broadband and economic growth. The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies would be the first one to tell you that studies show that a 10%-point increase in fixed broadband penetration would increase gross domestic product (GDP) growth by 1.21% in developed economies and 1.38% in developing ones, yet they are sleeping on the job.

Mosuwe is forging ahead with smart schools and has dedicated special attention to establishing learning facilities focused on maths, science, and ICT; engineering; commerce and entrepreneurship; sports; and performing and creative arts. The GDE has so far launched seven specialisation schools, with the latest launched on 9 April 2019.

Gone are the days of dusty chalkboards. They are being replaced by interactive boards linked to learners’ foldable laptops. One such school is Curtis Nkondo School of Specialisation Secondary School in Emdeni, south of Soweto. Named after the struggle icon, Curtis Nkondo, learners can specialise in engineering graphics and design (EGD), IT, and mechanical, civil, or electrical engineering.

Mosuwe means business

“The paperless classroom has been the greatest investment that we have made, but it is more about dealing with blended learning. Remember we had started by giving tablets to Grade 12 learners, but when they leave school, we lose them. We are now giving Grade 10 learners tablets too so that you have a three-year investment in the life of the gadget.

“We know that we have deaf people and we want to encourage young people to get into sign language interpretation. So, if we can start teaching them now, even if they are able bodied, they will have a skill in sign language. When learners come out of our system, they already come out with multi certificates, we call that programme a multi-certification program, it brings additional skills over and above the matric certificate,” Mosuwe says.

“ICT in education speaks more to the online system. We want to transform all township schools, fee or non-fee-paying schools, into e-learning centers where teaching and learning will take place through the use of ICT. In this regard, we have just over 500 township secondary schools where Grade 10, 11, and 12 are already using ICT.

“We provide connectivity to each of these schools and provide all teachers with a laptop so that they can prepare their lessons using technology with the interactive boards in the classroom. A teacher can play videos, for instance, where you can show learners how volcanoes are formed and learners can actually see these things playing out,” Mosuwe continues.

Visual learning is the most powerful form of learning. It helps learners better comprehend things for longer in their mind, store information longer, and offers a much clearer form of simpler communication.

A shopping list of problems

Despite many successes in the department, there are problems the department is facing. Every challenge poses an opportunity.

“Given limited resources, we started a programme where we said two School Governing Bodies (SGBs) of two different schools could be merged to form one SGB, where the well to do and not so well to do schools share resources where learners of one school are able to use the resources of the other and vice versa, such as sporting facilities or exchange best academic teachers,” Mosuwe says.

“We are also trying to bring transformation and an appreciation of diversity into schools. The curriculum is transformed but we still want to transfer it even more for the better. Vandalism at schools during the looting shot up to over R100 million in cost. This also becomes phenomenal when schools close during vacation. The sooner the communities get to understand that these assets belong to them and they must be protected, the better,” Mosuwe says.

The 2019/2020 year was marked by a further rollout of ICT and e-Learning programme, thereby continuing to embed digital learning in Gauteng schools and promote the integration of digital resources, aimed at bridging the digital divide into the curriculum, with a focus on learners in township schools.

Immigration to GP puts pressure on infrastructure

“Infrastructure remains our major challenge. The provision of adequate infrastructure to deal with COVID-19 has been a challenge. Many of our classes currently, as you know, require one-meter social distancing. No one planned for the pandemic. Also, our classes are generally overcrowded,” Mosuwe says.

To make matters worse, according to national statistics, some 400 000 to 500 000 learners have reportedly also dropped out of school altogether over the past 18 months.

“Immigration of people to Gauteng has created a big problem for us to accommodate a growing number of learners, who mostly come from other provinces and outside SA, growing at a net increase of about 80 000 annually.

“Teenage pregnancy, as reported recently, and health and wellness, including safety, have become a major issue and have had an impact on education. It is more of a societal issue. It puts a heavy burden on our system but also poses a challenge for the future of our children,” Mosuwe says.

He says when he looks back on a daily basis, he must achieve something for the day. “I have gone to work, I have been able to resolve some problems that people have had—that excites me. I have a good team of senior managers that I work with in the department, they are hardworking officials. I believe in collective teamwork. As a leader, I make sure that I bring them along with me so that there is no vacuum. I am not afraid to ask and to learn from my colleagues who may know a little more than I do. I never keep information to myself, there are those that are coming along with me because knowledge is power. When my contract expires, I want to leave a system where we know that people will continue with the work and that I had not kept that information to myself, so that others can pick up from where I have left off,” Mosuwe says.

While the government is preaching professionalism and ethics in the public service, Mosuwe is living the ethos.