The pursuit of a superior quality education has framed Eastern Cape native Yandiswa Xhakaza’s entire life. The Butterworth-born innovator’s love hate relationship with education started when she was six and her application to an Eastern Cape-based English-medium school was unsuccessful and she had no choice but to attend a Xhosa-medium primary school. But after her father insisted on finding a superior English-medium school in Paarl in the Western Cape, she proved her mettle by finishing top of her class in grade seven.
When it came to high school, despite her outstanding academic record, she was rejected by La Rochelle Girls’ High School and had to settle for Paarl Girls’ High School, which devastated her. Unbeknown to her, all these experiences were a guiding light to a career in education, culminating in her being named Director and Principal of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Online High School. “I have always been incredibly passionate about education in South Africa due to my personal journey of experiencing the stark polarities in our education system,” says 34-year-old Yandiswa. “I have always enjoyed immersing myself in complex social problems and our education system is one of them. Once these problems are solved, the solutions have the ability to uplift the country immensely.
That is why I have dedicated my life to solving education’s social problems,” says the graduate, who holds a Bachelor of Education degree, a Postgraduate Diploma in Management and a Master of Business Administration
Starting out as an English teacher in 2010, she later filled roles such as Head of Arrow Academy (an institution that equips learners with 4IR skills) and CEO of Nal’ibali, a national literacy organisation. Yandiswa is a strong believer in collective intelligence and acknowledges that great ideas are not concentrated at the top. She stands firm in the ideal that most great innovations come from the man on the street.
“It has always puzzled me when organisations carve strategies without consulting their customer-facing employees,” she notes.
She plans to roll out this type of thinking throughout the school. “UCT experiences first-hand the downstream implications of the primary and secondary schooling system. Every year, they receive first-year students, and they realised the gaps within the high school education system. For that reason, UCT wanted to contribute towards the improvement of SA’s educational system. The calibre of some of the students they received was dire and the university is committed to solving this immense challenge,” she says.
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