Rights Versus Responsibilities
In some Cape Town schools the challenge of absent teachers is one that is out of their control and that has far reaching consequences. For Wafeeqah Mohammed the problem of not having a consistent Physics teacher for three years, could have robbed her of her dream career. She tells us the story of how she overcame this challenge.
Born and raised in Bonteheuwel, Wafeeqah (18) is the middle child, she has an older sister (24) and younger brother (3).
“I was born in a place they call “the back streets” in Bonteheuwel. They called it that because of all the gangsters and shootings that happen in the roads and the fields that separate the nice side of the area from the bad. We lived in a wendy* house but we were all content.”
Aware of the problems in the area, Wafeeqah’s parents would prevent their children from playing outside and they were told rather to stay inside the house, away from what was happening in the streets.
“We would hear gun shots fortunately it was never in our road. It’s bad to say but it was our normal. I’ve always knew there were gangsters in the area but I would not be friends with any of them. I describe myself as an introvert so I have always preferred to spend time alone at home.”
Wafeeqah and her family would stay there for three years before moving to a quieter side of Bonteheuwel.
“I was really happy when we moved, because I could have a bit more freedom but it came with its challenges.”
With most of her family staying in the same area, Wafeeqah would have many children to play with but she says that she always had trouble connecting with her extended family.
“I always felt like an outsider, I knew from an early age that education was my way out of my community. My family thought this made me snobbish. I did not sit with them often because I chose to study in my bedroom and that made them think that I thought I was better than them. I also think they compared me to the other children who spent a lot of time playing outside In my spare time I would rather read a book or watch a science series on tv.”
“When we would have family functions I always felt like they would be talking about me. I remember many times when I would walk into my family, while they were sitting around the table and talking, and they would stop when they saw me. I only spoke to my mom about it and she said that I should ignore them because I was different to them.”
The disconnect between her family continued into her teens and she says that sometimes she felt deliberately excluded.
With school being the place she found most comfortable, Wafeeqah would spend both her primary and high school years at the top of her class.
“I loved learning and going to school, it was my space where I felt people understood me. My favourite subjects were Maths and Physics, I always enjoyed that there was always a solution for a problem with those subjects. I did well in those classes.”
When Wafeeqah reached Grade 10, she knew that she wanted to study medicine and become a Doctor – a result of her love for Maths and Physics and the television programme Bones (a series about a forensic anthropologist and a FBI agent that investigate various causes of death, quite often with no more than rotten flesh or mere bones).
“Besides the excitement of the Bones series, I love the idea of helping people especially my parents when they become elderly. My mom is diabetic, has asthma and suffers from arthritis and she spends hours at the day hospital when she needs to go. If I become a doctor I can help her myself.”
Her hurdle with Physics began when she was in Grade 10, and the subject teacher began to stay absent.
“He began as a good teacher but then he had high absenteeism. I was worried about my future, but I kept on working and when I passed it gave me the confidence and proof that I am good in the subject.”
She would continue to have three more physics teachers between Grade 10 and 12 with absenteeism breaks between posts.
“We started the Grade 11 year with a physics teacher that was filling in for the teacher we had in Grade 10. She was a temporary teacher and it was challenging to adapt to the different ways of teaching. Our class spoke to her about the way she was teaching Chemistry, and told her that we were not understanding. But she didn’t want to change her way of teaching. During the second term the teacher we had in Grade 10 came back, we were very happy. All he told us was that he was visiting his son overseas and that’s why he never came back at the end of Grade 10.”
“Because I want to study medicine to get a good mark for Physics is very important, you need an 80% to stand out. And not having a constant teacher really affected me because I found myself stressing about my Physics marks. I remember not being able to sleep because I was very worried that I would get a bad grade and not be accepted at university.”
The class diminished to only 17 Matriculants choosing to study Physics out of the 195 Grade 12 learners in the school.
“I couldn’t afford to make that choice, I knew my dream career would not materialise if I took the easy way out. So I decided to take a risk and commit to work harder by myself.”
By the time Grade 12 began things did not get better.
“Four out of the 17 learners didn’t have a physics textbook in the beginning of the year. I was one of them, I was very upset and my parents tried to help me. They couldn’t afford to buy the text book and they went to the school to asked the Principal to find a solution. I finally got the texbook in the beginning of May.”
To make the matter worse, by the second term her class had only had a teacher for a total of three weeks and felt that they had been left in the lurch.
“It was very difficult for all of us. Not having a teacher meant that we were missing out on crucial work that will be covered in the national exam at the end of the year.”
“We would try to help each other but it was very difficult because we never had someone to guide us. So we tried to learn directly from the text book and support each other. I would also spend many hours by myself trying to resolve past physics papers in order to prepare for the external exams.”
Feeling upset and annoyed, Wafeeqah and her classmates spoke to the school about their frustration and asked if there was anything that could be done about the situation. After some insistence, the school agreed to find a solution.
“The school hired a Physics teacher for our class, as far as we know the school is paying for the tutor from its small discretionary budget. This has helped us very much, but the tutor is a teacher at another school so he is only able to teach us after school.”
“So I need to stay at school later, then I get home later, leaving me with less time to study. But I work hard during tutoring classes because I am really grateful for this opportunity. Afterwards I go home and compensate my lack of study time by sleeping less hours on that night .”
Dealing with a challenging situation has motivated Wafeeqahh even harder.
Currently in Grade 12, Wafeeqah has received provisional acceptance to study Human Biology at Stellenbosch University and is continuing to work hard in pursuit of her dream career.
Wafeeqah concludes by saying, “this experience has taught me to know my rights and responsibilities. By knowing my rights I can advocate for them and as soon as something changes, no matter how little it is, I need to take full responsibility and make the best out of it. I could have blamed my family, community or school for what was happening to me and become a victim of my circumstances. But I decided to take 100% responsibility and find a solution to my problem. If I did it, so can you.”
Wafeeqah is a Leaders’ Quest participant, an intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices.