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Young black educators pick up baton from pioneers

Being an educator during apartheid was one of the most important careers that a black person could aspire to.

In fact, in many villages and townships, teachers and principals were revered as much as chiefs.

When they would walk down the street in the early mornings in their pin-striped suits and two-piece outfits, many people wished to be like them.

Fast forward to 2019 and a 28-year-old principal, Tsholofelo Moyo of Spark Maboneng in Johannesburg, walks his school's corridors while being accosted by hyper little children who adore him.

"Good morning Mr Moyo," they sing out to him with many of them seeking hugs and high-fives from the young principal.

I was witnessing something that would not have happened only a few decades ago - a young black man from the township of Vosloorus leading a private school in town, where many black children have now been afforded the opportunity to learn and grow.

"Working in a primary school you realise that you are literally the foundation of every single child that starts here," he said. "These are the most important years of their life. I think that our country doesn't really pay much attention on the foundation of a child, we're not very preventative [proactive]... it's only in high school where we worry about whether a child can read or write."

Moyo said in his school they allow children to guide the teachers on how they need to be educated and what their needs are.

"Our education system doesn't really help kids with understanding the world; it doesn't help them become critical thinkers or strong academic humans. It focuses on making kids regurgitate information," Moyo said.

He said his focus was giving his pupils a solid foundation that allowed them to be critical thinkers who can engage with people from all over the world.

Moyo leads a young management team whose ages range from 26 to 34 taking care of 640 children. The team includes two assistant principals and an operations manager. "At capacity we can take up to 900 kids from grade R to grade 7," he said.

Moyo started off in the education sector as a tutor to make extra money after finding it difficult to get a job in psychology. "Nobody tells you that it's actually quite difficult getting a job in psychology," said the University of Johannesburg graduate.

However, he said he was still interested in getting a PhD in educational psychology in order to one day help children who are less fortunate.

"One thing I've found out is that there is actually a shortage of educational psychologists in South Africa," he said.

Ntombikayise Gontyeleni, 26, is an assistant principal at Spark Witpoortjie. The young go-getter was part of the first class to graduate at Oprah Winfrey's Leadership Academy for Girls in 2011.

"Because of my experience at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, I understand the importance of education. Education has changed my life. I was exposed to passionate teachers who took their jobs seriously and understood that, in a way, my future was in their hands.

"Every interaction I had with them made me feel loved and validated. They were invested in me and they encouraged me to visualise my future and dream bigger," she said.

Gontyeleni went to Rhodes University where she graduated with a bachelor of social sciences and majored in industrial psychology and journalism and media studies. She then completed her postgraduate degree in education.

Like Moyo, she developed a passion for teaching early on in her career.

"For so long, I was convinced that teachers have it easy, and that all they have to do is get to class, deliver content and be home by 2pm. My lecturers exposed me to various teaching methods and styles; the significance of all the learning areas covered in primary school; the importance of building strong relationships with students; and the planning that goes into executing excellent lessons."

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