A Tribute to the Education Legacy of Mandela - Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development

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Commemorating Madiba’s Public Legacy in Education


Olwethu Nkconkco, a learner in Qunu.

On the same day that the nation and the world were celebrating the life of Madiba in Soweto on Tuesday, principals, teachers, parents and learners from the extended community of his hometown Qunu, gathered at the village to pay tribute to Mandela and make a fresh commitment to carry forward his vision for education.

With a deep sense of Madiba as a son of their most local soil, they sang songs, danced and spoke intimately about how his life and example had changed the lives of their communities. The event was hosted by the Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development. The Nelson Mandela Institute (NMI) was founded by Mandela in 2007.

“As Madiba’s public run for education came to its end, he handed off a burning baton to the public to take forward his unfinished work ‐ creating a system of education that serves the best expression of all of our children,” explained Kimberley Porteus, Executive Director of NMI.

A teacher from Darabe Primary School, Ms Lwana, recounted: ”We are a school in the rural area and we never thought that our children would be among those who could write poems and stories. But because of Nelson Mandela we were able to build our communities and we now have a strong focus on our children’s education.”

The institute works with teachers, learners, principals, parents and community leaders across the Eastern Cape and beyond to build sustainable solutions for public education serving rural children. The Institute’s work is fondly referred to as the ‘Magic Classroom Collective’ by learners, teachers and parents. Through this collective, the NMI works with teachers to build curriculum tools, teacher training and pedagogical practice strong enough to turn around previously dysfunctional classrooms.

”Many rural teachers have begun to quietly ‘give up’ on children in their classrooms because they are not supported with the right resources and ideas to make classrooms work. With careful support we are creating classrooms that work for teachers and their children,” said Porteus. “I think most teachers, learners and parents call these classrooms ‘magic’ because they see their children becoming confident readers and writers. Of course everyone sees that this kind of ‘magic’ comes from hard, steady, loving work,” she added.

Nobuntu Mazeka coordinates the work in the rural area of Mbizana. She spoke to teachers and parents about the power they have in shaping the minds of the young. She urged them to consider the impressions they leave on children’s hearts and minds “to give children the strength of character and confidence to build caring communities” in a world of many injustices.

Students working with the Institute shared their poetry. Their images of themselves and the legacy of Madiba merged, as they recognised themselves as the next generation of leaders. Lwando Gadi said, “Tata Mandela has worked hard for this nation. It is ours to take care of it and take it forward.” While Thulani Pango summarised the thoughts of his generation when he concluded his poem, ‘Carved with stones of humility and dignity, we shall forever walk in your giant footsteps.’

Mihlali Khumalo, working as a youth reading coach with the NMI said, “The reason I feel most proud of the work of the Mandela Institute is that we are holding the bar high for the African learner. By showing that classrooms can work for our youngest children, we can all recommit ourselves to changing the system of education for all of our children.”

”If ever there was a tribute to Tata Madiba,” suggests Porteus, “it will be a system of public education that affirms the humanity and expression of our young.” She reflects, “We are very proud to be working with these young people, teachers and parents. We work very hard. But we still have a long way to run.”