Jabu Thomo – in maths the left hand must meet the right

Jabu Thomo makes maths fun and fearless

Jabu Thomo, our Educational Programme Director, is in the spotlight this month. We want to share our fun and fearless staff members who care about mathematics education and youth employment more than anything else! Jabu leads our fabulous team who are dedicated to turning underperforming classrooms into centres of maths and science excellence.

Maths marriages

Jabu Thomo
Callen Hodgskiss, Jabu Thomo and Steve Mahony celebrate Jabu’s five years service at JumpStart!

Jabu is a teacher by profession, who taught secondary school maths for more than 10 years within the Department of Basic Education (DBE). While working there, Jabu occupied various roles as a teacher, Head of Department, and subject advisor for maths in the Ekurhuleni North district office. After that, he worked with various NGOs throughout the country as an education projects manager. This path led to where he is now, the educational programmes director at JumpStart.

Jabu and his wife are both maths teachers. After meeting at university, they taught at the same school. They have now been married for more than 15 years and are the proud parents of two school age children who are well on the path of maths and science.

Implementing JumpStart projects on the ground

Jabu ensures that the school principals and staff understand what JumpStart is all about. He is responsible for the recruitment, appointment, and training of Educator’s Assistants (EAs) and interns. This includes learning how to use JumpTrak, our state of the art evaluation and assessment programme. JumpTrak is used in all our schools, providing an up to date view on the progress being made. Jabu also trains the District Officials. Another important aspect of his work is to conduct the annual Early Grade Maths Assessment (EGMA) in all our schools. This report gives valuable feedback to all our partners and stakeholders.

A passion for learning

In the first two years of Jabu’s teaching career, he saw there weren’t enough teachers who could handle the Maths Higher Grade content. He was curious to know how the country could overcome this challenge and was plagued by questions like “What is the problem?” and “Why are we having this crisis?” He saw gaps between experience and confidence, especially in the areas of geometry and trigonometry. With experience, assistance from senior teachers, and his own initiative, Jabu’s next challenge was to complete a further diploma in maths.

Jabu attended RAU (now UJ) on a part-time basis, majoring in maths and computer science. Most of the content in the course at the time was what people were struggling with in schools. Completing further studies was a catalyst for significant change in his life. Next came an Honours in Maths and Computer Science. Immediately following that, he became a subject advisor. He recalls wanting to empower himeself, to learn from others who were doing well, and gained insights from working well with Model C schools.

After leaving DBE, Jabu worked with various maths based NGOs, including a stint as Education Manager at Maths Centre for Teachers and Incubator Projects Manager at Star Schools. In both institutions, his roles required him to work without supervision. “I had an opportunity to lead two big organisations independently.”

Highlights of his work

Jabu Thomo
Jabu is in his element when teaching new concepts to tutors, educators and district officers.

All interns join the programme with a matric but many have no tertiary studies to their name. Jabu sings one song, over and over: “Further your studies to empower yourselves!” According to Jabu, seeing an intern attain higher qualifications is one of the most rewarding aspects of his job. When tutors find their place in the formal economy,” he says, “My joy is complete.”

Jabu loves to see learners starting to interact independently with the workbooks and digital devices. “That confirms that we have overcome an enormous hurdle. We’ve changed their perception of education. When a learner has intrinsic motivation to start without the teacher or tutor present, then we’ve inspired them to work independently,” he says.

When Jabu sees teachers integrating the NumberSense programme into the DBE curriculum after it has been in a school for some time he feels particularly gratified. “Then I know they have combined NumberSense and CAPS. The two work in harmony, like a left and right hand. There is integration and a relationship between the content.”

Jabu Thomo’s dream for JumpStart

“Our goals can’t be accomplished overnight,” says Jabu. He believes we must find the funders who share our vision. “We need long term investments to help us achieve our goals, as they relate to youth unemployment and learner performance in mathematics. We want organisations to fund the programme for four years. That would allow us to see interns graduate in four years, benefitting the district and the country. We need to establish long-term funding for EAs so that they can achieve their academic qualifications,” he says. Jabu foresees a shortage of gateway subject teachers in the future. “We must prepare for this eventuality by ensuring that well-trained tutors go on to become teachers,” he says.

A family project and a personal philosophy

Jabu Thomo is committed to helping his own children with their homework. He also aims to broaden their horizons, explaining, “I want to conscientise my children about the humanities, too. Recently we began a family project of reading through Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. The children take turns reading paragraphs aloud to us.” From Mandela’s biography, comes this passage which is key to Jabu’s work: “Courage is not the absence of fear — it’s inspiring others to move beyond it.” Finding ways to empower children to overcome their fear of maths, and helping EAs to reach out and ask for help when they are struggling are central to Jabu Thomo’s personal philosophy. He leads by example and there is often laughter when Jabu is in the room.

Support Jabu Thomo in his work 

Jabu ThomoCan you support Jabu Thomo’s vision? Your company could partner with us to expand our programme to schools in your area. Optimise your Skills Development expenditure or contribute to our bursary fund. Meet your B-BBEE scorecard by supporting our tutors. These options align with the revised B-BBEE Codes of Good Practice. Email Betty Oliphant for more information.

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