By Nomkhosi Khumalo
Mr Mdungaza Klaas Mahlahlani – Principal of Dikubu Primary School in the Waterberg District of Limpopo.
Klaas Mahlahlani is an inspiring and passionate man, whose leadership has shown that with every challenging circumstance, there is always a solution. He adheres to the philosophy of life-long learning as a strategy. In which he believes educators and school leaders should embrace to stay relevant and succeed in the fast-changing world of education. It is these leadership qualities that led to Mr Mahlahlani being voted the National Champion in the category for Excellence in Primary School Leadership in 2018.
Kagiso Trust’s Nomkhosi Khumalo interviewed him recently to find out more about Mr Mahlahlani and inquire how he and his school coped through the COVID-19 lockdown.
Mr Mahlahlani is currently working towards his Masters with his dissertation being ‘What role can technology play realistically in Basic Education in South Africa’. Mr Mahlahlani is also contributing a chapter in a book soon to be published on the same subject. He has been quick to identify the potential benefits of 4IR technologies as aids towards more effective learning. Back in 2014 DDD Dashboard, an education management tool designed to improved learner outcomes through availability, analysis and use of education data, was introduced at a meeting of principals by the Department of Basic Education (DBE). Mr Mahlahlani immediately saw the potential of the platform and went ahead and “broke the code” himself by exploring the various components of the dashboard and put it to use.
The following are some of the key insights he gained by applying this new technology.
- “The issue of educator and learner attendance came to light first. I was able to link the absenteeism of learners and educators to the overall performance of the learners.
- “With the help of the dashboard, I am now able to intervene and assist teachers when it is evident that they are struggling with the delivery of the curriculum. I can share an example of this: There was a teacher in Grade 7 who was struggling with his subjects. He is a young teacher with just 2 years in the system. We had a meeting where he admitted that he is struggling with discipline in the classroom. We agreed to move him to a lower grade to gain experience with younger learners.”
Sandbox is another online learning tool that has been embraced by Dikubu Primary School. Mr Mahlahlani noted that he liked the research-based approach encouraged through the use of this platform and of the sharing of information that is encouraged.
Moving to Mr Mahlahlani’s focus on improving and growing his staff’s leadership abilities.
He has implemented a programme he calls ‘Little Principals’ where on a regular, rotational basis he selects a teacher to act as a school principal for the month. In this way, teachers gain real first-hand experience of the challenges of running a school, they gain valuable leadership lessons and skills and additionally contribute to bringing new insights on leadership with each’s unique perspective. It’s a win, win all round. As a result of this programme, a number of his teachers have been promoted – it highlights and showcases otherwise often missed leadership abilities.
Mr Mahlahlani understands the importance of keeping student’s families involved and appraised in the schools’ activities. This became particularly important during the lockdown. The school has a Facebook page through which learners and parents are kept informed.
Before re-opening the school underwent thorough cleaning and sanitation with the parents being invited to come and inspect the school before classes resumed. With the Grade 7 learners coming back to classes, we have instituted a rotation of teachers and classrooms, ensuring that there are no more than 10 students per class. This has meant that teachers of other grades have had to step in and take on Grade 7 teaching duties – another opportunity for growth and experience amongst our teachers. It’s noteworthy that of the 1300 learners who attend Dikubu Primary School, there has not been one reported case of a COVID-19 infection.
Another noteworthy aspect of Mr Mahlahlani’s tenure as Principal of Dikubu Primary School has been his upgrading of the facilities. His projects have included fencing and securing the school, making it a safe haven for learners and teachers; upgrading the school toilets; upgrading the school kitchen from wood to gas cooking; opening a school tuckshop and creating a proper school entrance. All these improvements contribute to creating a better and more conducive environment for teaching and learning. “My personal belief is that if everything is dead in an institution, even the minds of the people are dead”.
Dikubu Primary School accolades under Mr Mahlahlani’s stewardship
- 2017 nominated the best school in Limpopo for the usage of Sa-SAMS Dashboard `honoured by National Department.
- 2019 awarded position one at the District level in National School Nutrition Program or NSNP Competition and same year obtaining position 2 at Provincial level in the same competition.
- 2019 one girl represented the school at National level in ladies football and
- 2018 one boy represented the school at National level in athletics. Three years in a row we had one or two learners representing the school at Provincial level in reading and writing competitions.