Free State MEC for Education, Tate Makgoe, appealed to anyone who wants proper social and economic transformation to put their money where their heart is by investing in the education system.

The popular MEC was speaking to Sunday World on the sidelines of the Free State Department of Education’s provincial teaching championships on the outskirts of Bloemfontein.

“Anybody who wants a better South Africa must support education. We are ready to work with them. Any contribution is acceptable and we can use it better,” he said. MEC Makgoe added that teachers need all the support and motivation they can get to produce outstanding results. “Teachers can be easily demoralised, especially when we see in the newspapers people write very badly about teachers. Our teachers are sometimes in a very thankless job, and many parents realised during Covid when they had to take care of their own children that we need this job [of teachers],” he expanded.

Describing the provincial awards as distinct from other provinces, “Simply the Best”, as Makgoe is affectionately known, reaffirmed his department’s commitment to, and prioritisation of, teachers. “We in the Free State have taken a decision that we must go out of our way to talk to business people in the province and those who support us at national level to say to them we all benefit because of a teacher,” he stated, emphasising that teachers go beyond the call of duty to attend to the intellectual, psychological and financial needs of learners.

“The most important asset in a school is a teacher. Even better than the buildings. Because teachers are the ones  who connect with the children. Teachers are the ones who make children dream… education is the only profession that produces other professions,” maintained the MEC, outlining that the teaching awards celebrated meaningful influence not only in the classroom but in neighbouring communities as well.

MEC Makgoe said Covid-19, with all its unprecedented challenges, greatly improved the use of digital technologies between the department and school management, as well as teachers and learners, with online platforms enhancing the department’s internal communication channels. It was important, therefore, that the teaching awards reflect that shift by having a category for the use of technological innovations in teaching and learning.

“In this competition, the teachers have to show innovative ways of learning and teaching. They must show innovation. They must show change. They must show the impact that they have had in communities,” stated the MEC.

When delivering his message to this year’s frontrunners, Makgoe underlined the need to protect the teaching profession from being defiled by people who are not called for the classroom but view it as the simplest way to earn a salary. To rid the profession of such elements, the MEC announced that his department has established a directorate that will monitor the appointment of teachers to circumvent cases where “a Somatologist” is hired “to teach life sciences” like it happened in one of the schools in the province. “What does a somatologist know about life sciences?” questioned the MEC, declaring, “We want to guard this profession. We need to respect this profession. We want people who’ve got a heart for the child.”

Unlike in the past when awards took place at night, this year’s function was held in broad daylight. The finalists were winners from the four districts, who eyed top provincial honours in areas such as excellence in primary and secondary school leadership, teaching mathematics, teaching children with special needs, technology enhanced teaching and learning as well as Grade R teaching.

Motheo District teachers were this year’s big winners, claiming seven of the thirteen accolades up for grabs. Moreover, three of the six teachers invited to compete at the 2022 NTAs come from the district. District Director, December Moloi, attributed his team’s remarkable showing to passion and commitment.

“What has been displayed here by our teachers is not window dressing. It is the actual work they are doing,” stated a triumphant Moloi, delightedly mentioning that his district is ranked first in the country when it comes to primary education and second in the National Senior Certificate, thereby living out its motto of being “a district on the rise”.In addition to trophies and certificates, winners received prizes ranging from travel bags, television sets as well as gadgets. The prizes were sponsored by the department’s strategic partners, making sure that years later, Imvelo Safari’s refreshing scent of nature and luxury is not the only sweet sentiment they have of the day, but will also remember it by their memorable prizes.