Rural school shines due to its star quality headmaster

Khulile Qamata was only 23 when he started his teaching career at Nyanga High School in eNgcobo, Eastern Cape, in 1990.

Fresh out of college, he started right at the top, teaching economics and business economics in matric. Qamata achieved 100% pass rate in both subjects for two consecutive years.

It was his hard work and dedication to his job that led to him being promoted to head of department for commercial subjects at the school.

He held the position until he was appointed principal in 2015.

Speaking to Sowetan this week, Qamata said education has always been a priority for him as he believed it will break the chains of poverty for black people in this country.

It comes as no surprise that Qamata, now 53, once paid university fees for one of his former pupils who had enrolled at the University of Cape Town.

Qamata has made a name for himself for pushing pupils at his rural school to be the very best they can be.

Last week, his school made headlines when they and its community decided to buy personal protective equipment than wait for government to deliver Nyanga's allocation.

Through Qamata's inspirational leadership, the community also chipped in to help clean up the school.

Qamata's own love for education was inspired by a tough childhood. He and his grandmother used to lodge at his teacher's pantry because they did not have their own place.

"I was raised by my late grandmother because my mother passed away when I was 2 years old. We had to move from Cala village to Mthatha where I attended school at EW Pearce Junior Secondary. One of the teachers was kind enough to let us stay at her pantry," he said.

Qamata said despite all the hardships they faced, his grandmother encouraged him to go to school. Life changed for the better when he met his father who was an entrepreneur.

"I was doing standard 7 (grade 9) at the time and I continued with my studies at Bethel College and later did a higher diploma at the University of Transkei. At first, I thought I was going to be an entrepreneur but I changed my mind when I started at Nyanga High School in 1990 which is where my passion for education started to show.

"This journey has not always been easy, especially seeing matriculants with outstanding results struggling to secure funding to further their studies. Which is why I paid UCT fees for a former learner using my limited salary as an educator," he said.

Qamata drew in community members around Nyanga and impressed on them the importance of being custodians of the school.

"As a school, we also ensure that locals have access to our great hall and sporting fields."

About school management, he said: Annually, before the re-opening of schools, we spend three days with school governing body, the school management team and hostel authorities in a strategic planning session reviewing the previous year and planning the year's activities."

Qamata added: "Our learners know that our vision is to be a world class institution that competes in producing holistic and well-equipped citizens that will positively change the world."

He said their biggest challenge is the shortage of classrooms and hostel accommodation. The hostel can only accommodate 450 learners out of an enrolment of 1,050 which makes it difficult and painful to reject many learners in need of accommodation.

"We might be a rural school with less resources but I always teach my learners that current circumstances don't determine a child's destination but our attitude does."

His pupils also had a lot to say about their principal.

Mihle Mboto, 17, a grade 12 pupil, said Qamata always puts their education first.

"For instance, during the lockdown period he sent R100 airtime to all the 210 matriculants so as to be able to continue with our studies," she said.

Another grade 12 learner Neo Dube, 18, said Qamata was committed to ensuring that every learner reached their potential: "I like the fact that he introduced a policy where teachers should know about the learner's background. We all come from different backgrounds but we have found a family at Nyanga High, thanks to our principal."

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