She teaches kids tech. Now it’s her turn to shine
Not a stranger to awards, Limpopo teacher Mokhudu Machaba is now in line for a prize worth $1m
Mokhudu Machaba had big dreams when she was a little girl crossing rivers to get to school in Botlokwa village in Limpopo, with her rice sack schoolbag slung over her shoulder. But she would never have dreamt of being in the running for a $1m Unesco cash prize for best teacher.
Overcoming poverty and a teenage pregnancy, the 46-year-old foundation phase teacher from Ngwanamago Primary School in Polokwane, Limpopo, today has a one-in-10 chance of winning the Golden Teacher Prize 2020. She was selected out of more than 12,000 nominations from more than 140 countries.
She paid for her teaching studies through money earned from being a domestic worker.
“Growing up in the village triggered the love to want to empower other children from rural schools,” she told Sunday Times Daily.
“A privileged school with all the resources is not where I am needed. My goal is to see the school I am working in being empowered. I want to be in a position where I can influence others from nearby schools and teachers from rural schools so all pupils can be taught equally.
“Covid exposed the big divide between those with [technology] and those without. It is important that children learn about technology because we are in the 21st century and the fourth industrial revolution – the world has changed.
“And this generation we are teaching is no longer interested in the traditional way of teaching; they are more inclined to the digital world.”
She is no stranger to awards. She was runner-up in the Internet Service Providers Association Super Teacher prize for integrating technology in her classroom in 2009. Six years later she was the provincial winner in the National Teaching Awards and she has been named as one of the 50 Inspiring Women in Tech for SA.
Machaba caught Unesco’s eye for uplifting her pupils through technology.
She started with the use of a single cellphone for internet access in class, then obtained laptops from the ISPA Super Teacher awards, Microsoft and the SA government by showcasing her pupils’ class activities. She then introduced her pupils to Coding Week, a digital skills development initiative, using the online game Minecraft as a vehicle for learning. Pupils from her class are also able to interact with children from other countries through the Microsoft Educator Platform and Skype.
But the digital classroom she has created is far from the classrooms she came from.
Machaba came from a poor household and walked eight kilometres to attend a school that had no desks for the children, who sat and worked on the floor.
When she was 15 years old, Machaba fell pregnant and dropped out of school. But the following year she was back and came top of her class.
A privileged school with all the resources is not where I am needed.Mokhudu Machaba
After finishing school, she did domestic work in Johannesburg to fund a technical college course in childcare. This was followed by a teaching qualification at the Soweto College of Education. In between, she worked as a street vendor to take care of her siblings.
Having had to learn and train without technological help, she was determined to ensure the opposite was true for her own students.
“She’s been working with us since 2012 and has made such a difference to the pupils. She’s just excellent,” said Ngwanamago Primary School principal Paulina Serakalala.
The SA Council for Educators also extended its congratulations.
“Your achievements are worth recognition by the entire world and in particular the SA society ... You are the ambassador of this noble profession, and we hope more teachers will look up to you and follow in your footsteps.”
Limpopo education MEC Polly Boshielo was elated at her nomination. “I am thrilled to have one of our own recognised at a global scale for her determination to help our children rise above challenges presented to them. It is a recognition that comes after her unwavering determination to use information communication technology to improve teaching and learning in an environment where resources are limited.”
Stefania Giannini, assistant director-general for education at Unesco, said: “I hope her story will inspire those looking to enter the teaching profession and also highlight the incredible work teachers do all over SA and throughout the world every day.
“The Global Teacher Prize helps put the teacher voice at the heart of our mission to champion inclusive learning opportunities for children and young people all over the world, especially the most marginalised and disadvantaged, during this sudden and unprecedented disruption to global education.
“Since the coronavirus pandemic first emerged, we have seen 1.5 billion pupils across the world impacted by school and university closures. But not all pupils are being impacted equally. Governments must learn lessons and act decisively to ensure all children receive a quality education in the age of Covid and beyond.”
The winners will be announced in December and the prize money will be paid in equal instalments over 10 years.