Life under lockdown #5: Simphiwe Mtshali gains new skills

Simphiwe Mtshali is a maths tutor
From beauty therapy to the beauty of numbers, Simphiwe Mtshali is tutoring mathematics online during lockdown.

Once upon a time, when Simphiwe Mtshali was working in a health spa, where Women’s Month meant doing lots of manicures and massages. This year, during Covid-19 lockdown, she has been massaging numbers and building children’s futures online. From beauty therapist to maths tutor was a substantial career shift, but the journey continued in ways she hadn’t anticipated during lockdown. “I was lucky to find a job with JumpStart in 2019, which changed my life. This unlocked my newfound passion for teaching,” she says. “Now I’m using WhatsApp groups to teach maths to foundation phase learners!”

Flipping from paper to digital

Before Covid-19, all the mathematics teaching that happened at Sekgutlong Primary School was paper-based, with learners writing in pencil in their NumberSense workbooks. This is one of 20 schools that is funded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. After the president’s announcement of lockdown, all that changed. JumpStart tutors assisted in the roll out of a digital pilot project involving nearly 20 schools in the Ekurhuleni South District. Voice notes and videos helped parents to use the NumberSense app with their children. “Engagement with the digital workbook has exceeded our expectations of the learners,” said Callen Hodgskiss, the General Manager of JumpStart. He reported that learners are completing on average 40 activities per week. “This keeps our tutors like Simphiwe on the hop,” he added. Simphiwe has learned new teaching methods in the change from paper to digital, and this has required a significant adaptation.

Face-to-face replaced by the screen

For Simphiwe, the biggest difference was not being able to explain the sums to the students face to face. Now, she sends voice notes to the parents, trusting that they can explain the work to their children. In a curious turn of events, the parents are now involved in everything that the teachers do. Who knows? This certainly seems like the beginning of exciting new possibilities.

Hard times make good friends

Simphiwe often finds herself feeling emotional because she can’t go to school and interact with the learners. Under lockdown, there is also much less interaction with her colleagues and mentors, the teachers. They can’t now share ideas with each other over a cup of tea. Only over WhatsApp can they discuss how best to help the children excel in mathematics. The upside of Covid-19 is the way the teachers have pulled together to create a support network for each other. Her colleague, Given Msibi, has stepped up and taken care of a lot of the morning duties. Every evening the tutors all check-in as a team.

Finding the balance

Like for many of us, life under lockdown has been a steep learning curve. Simphiwe has given lots of thought to balancing all the different aspects of her life. Having to manage things like cooking, cleaning, playing with the kids, and all her work responsibilities, she quickly became overwhelmed with it all. When her tablet packed up, that was the last straw! Fortunately, Simphiwe could ask her team to step in and help her get the work done. 

New skills

In an honest moment, Simphiwe acknowledges that she started lockdown as a chronic procrastinator. She’s excited to discover new and better task prioritisation skills. She no longer leaves things to the last minute when the work can get overwhelming. Simphiwe manages her schedule pro-actively now. She organises her days better and plans to keep this practice honed.

Facing the future

Her certificate in somatology from CUT, Free State helped her unlock the beauty in other people, but as a teacher she helps learners see the beauty in numbers. The future looks bright for Simphiwe Mtshali, who plans to further her own schooling to become a teacher.

Simphiwe aims to make an impact on education more broadly. Her dream is to shoot for a PhD one day, and wants to work at curriculum development. A truly bold goal. She shares another dream: Imagine a time when children don’t live in fear of a virus. First prize will be a new era when all South African children have access to excellent maths education. She longs for a day when every child has enough to eat, and thrives in the classroom.

Partner with a beautiful organisation

The JumpStart Foundation Trust is a Section 18(a) Public Benefit Organisation with a goal of accelerating South African youth into the digital economy through education, qualification and employment. Partner with us and qualify for your SARS Section 18(a) certificate. Or support a tutor like Simphiwe Mtshali with a StudyAssist bursary, which could enable you to meet your skills development obligations according to the Revised B-BBEE Codes of Good Practice. Email Betty for more information.

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