Top teachers honoured for excellence amid COVID at awards

The Annual National Teaching Awards event in Kempton Park on Wednesday was attended by President Cyril Ramaphosa where teachers were praised for helping children despite facing their own challenges amid the pandemic.

Principal Nkasana Matlapu from the S.J van der Merwe Technical School in Limpopo. Picture: Supplied.

KEMPTON PARK – Top teachers have been rewarded for their excellence amid the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions with the top winners attributing it to hard work and taking initiatives to make it easier for pupils.

The Annual National Teaching Awards event in Kempton Park on Wednesday was attended by President Cyril Ramaphosa where teachers were praised for helping children despite facing their own challenges amid the pandemic.

The hero award went to a principal from Limpopo while a teacher in the Western Cape walked away as the top teacher in the country.

When COVID-19 struck last year, Principal Nkasana Matlapu from the S.J van der Merwe Technical School in Limpopo had the odds stacked against her, but she went out of her way to make sure even those pupils without cell phones and data would not be disadvantage as classes resumed online.

Matlapu was rewarded for her initiatives with the hero award, and she and her school will receive R75,000 as well as other donations.

She looked for funders who could "adopt" children to look after their financial shortfalls and ensure they stayed in the system.

Principal Nkasana Matlapu from the S.J van der Merwe Technical School in Limpopo. Picture: Supplied.

The Top National Teacher Award went to Mariette Wheeler from the Protea Heights Academy in the Western Cape for ensuring teachers stayed engaged during online classes.

Thirty-eight teachers across the country in total received awards and were recognised for their excellence during the trying COVID-19 pandemic.

Mariette Wheeler from the Protea Heights Academy in the Western Cape. Picture: Supplied.

'TRY HARDER' TO KEEP CHILDREN IN SCHOOL

Ramaphosa said for the country to tackle one of its largest problems - youth unemployment - teachers would have to try harder to keep children in the classroom.

The president said he was worried about the high number of children not making it back to school due to a number of reasons, including the pressure of the pandemic.

Ramaphosa said as the education sector was changing rapidly into online learning and teaching, teachers had a huge responsibility to make sure children didn't drop out of school.

“Education was used against the people of our country. One can forgive all the things that was done against the majority of our people. But what I struggle with is denying people education.”

He said out of the 12 million people who recently applied for the R350 special COVID-19 social relief of distress grant, more than half of the applicants said they were unemployed with no matric certificate.

“I was dismayed. I realised we have a major problem in our country; that should be a concern to all of us.”

Ramaphosa has challenged teachers to lower the annual school dropout rate significantly and make sure more than 75% of the pupils made it through to the end of matric.

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