Get to know the Sparrow FET staff: Musa Thomo

As the world takes a collective breather in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, we invite you to sit back and get to know some of the people who keep the wheels rolling at Sparrow FET College.

Musa Thomo has been a member of staff at Sparrow FET College since 2016, and was promoted to Operations Manager at Sparrow FET on 1 March this year.

Musa is 34, and an avid sportsman whose eloquence earned him the title of the best speaker on his debate team in 2008. As Operations Manager at Sparrow, Musa oversees the high-level HR duties at the College, and also works to create a space where staff can grow and thrive in order to best empower our students.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in KwaZulu-Natal and did my primary schooling there. I later moved to Johannesburg, where I completed my grade 12.

How would you describe your childhood?

I had a normal childhood under the guidance of both my parents (which I count as my biggest blessing), my father being the greatest inspiration in terms of leadership and assertiveness, and my mother being the more patient and thoughtful of the two.

I was privileged to be given the opportunity to attend multi-racial schools (from primary to secondary) which at the time were perceived to offer “better” and “quality” education, as opposed to township schools. I have two siblings – an older brother and a younger brother – making me the middle child.

When did you move to Johannesburg?

My “busy” childhood meant that I often travelled and alternated between schools in KwaZulu-Natal and Johannesburg. In terms of my career life, I officially and permanently moved to Joburg in 2008.

What high school did you attend?

I attended Sir Pierre Van Ryneveld High School, and that is where I completed my grade 12.

What did you study after school?

I studied Public Relations Management and Communication after school, and acquired a National Diploma at NQF level 6. Last year I completed another programme, the National Certificate in Generic Management, NQF level 5.

Where did you study after school?

I studied at DUT and later went to MSC Business College.

What was your first job title at Sparrow?

I started off as a Job Coach.

What other positions have you held at Sparrow?

Within eight months of working at Sparrow FET College, I got promoted to Quality Assurance Supervisor.

How do you feel about this new position?

I am very excited, though it’s a bit overwhelming at this early stage. I believe I was thoroughly trained for this role, as I worked closely with the previous Operations Manager, Melanie Malema, who has been a great mentor to me.

How do you feel about the future of the Sparrow FET College?

I believe there is a bright future for Sparrow FET College in terms of growth, financially and otherwise. The trend from 2016 (when I started working here) evidently shows growth in our student numbers, which translates to growth in our business and ultimately our staff complement.

What do you wish to achieve in your new position?

I obviously want to maintain the College’s good standing in terms of past and current achievements, as cliché as this may sound. A personal goal for me is to minimise staff turnover by securing and holding on to the current staff complement through competitive salaries, motivation, an “open-door” policy in terms of my leadership approach and, most importantly, staff development and up-skilling.

Sparrow is proud to have a dedicated team of staff who support us in our efforts to arm the young people of South Africa with skills that can help them thrive. Under the competent guidance of Musa Thomo, we are excited to see how our staff comes up with innovative solutions and new approaches – both inside of the classroom, and out.

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Gain knowledge and upskill for free during the lockdown with these online resources

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced many people to stay at home in order to try and curb the crisis. While some people can work from home, many others are wondering how they’ll keep busy for the 21 days of the national lockdown.

With a number of companies choosing to make their resources available for free during this time, this is a great chance to learn new things. Check out these free online resources that’ll help you pass the time and upskill, wherever you are on your career journey.

Alison

As many workers and students are confined to their homes, Alison has put together a short list of courses that may be beneficial, including courses on Microsoft Excel, project management, and touch typing.

Scribd

Get access to the millions of books, audiobooks, documents and magazines that form a part of Scribd’s extensive collection free for 30 days, without having to sign up with a credit card.

Coursera

The online learning platform is now offering free access to a number of its courses to students all over the world. Some of the courses on offer specifically touch on career development – something that is especially useful during this time.

freeCodeCamp

Always wanted to learn how to code? While you have time to do so, empowering yourself with coding skills certainly won’t do any harm. freeCodeCamp.org is offering a plethora of tech, coding and IT courses for free. Regardless of whether you have any experience in this realm, freeCodeCamp can help to empower you with new skills that’ll come in handy, whatever industry you currently work in.

Digital Skills for Africa

Google’s Digital Skills for Africa project is now offering free courses centring around skills that will benefit anyone looking to further their career when the crisis subsides, including courses to help you build a strong online strategy, and improve your interview skills and time management.

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4 ways to keep the kids entertained during the lockdown

The 21-day lockdown announced by president Cyril Ramaphosa in order to try and stop the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country means that parents are now faced with the task of keeping the kids busy for a longer-than-expected vacation break.

Many parents have already started voicing their admiration for the educators who are tasked with teaching their kids every day, but what is a parent to do when the children start getting bored at home during the lockdown?

Here are four ways to help the kids stay engaged and entertained – and to help you retain your sanity – until schools open again.

1. Introduce them to the art world

A number of renowned art museums all over the world have started offering free virtual tours in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. These include the Louvre in Paris, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Guggenheim in New York. Here’s an idea that’ll keep the children busy for quite some time: have them pick their favourite artwork and try and copy it with what you have at home.

2. Let Audible entertain them with stories

Audible is home to the world’s largest collection of audiobooks. Audible has now made a curated selection of children’s audiobooks available for free until schools in the US open again – which could be quite a while. While we certainly also encourage reading to your children yourself, this is ideal for when other things around the house need your attention.

3. Experience the joy of reading together

When you do have time to do so, reading to your children is an excellent way to develop their language skills. AfricanStoryBook.org has a library of more than 1000 free books to choose from – in local languages, at that!

4. Have them learn a new language

Children are especially receptive to learning a new language, and how wonderful would it be to see them walk out of the lockdown with the foundations for another language under their belts? The language-learning platform Rosetta Stone is now offering more than three months of free language learning to learners anywhere in the world.

We can’t wait to see the little ones back at Sparrow again, but until then, good luck – you’ve got this!

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How to talk to your kids about the coronavirus

It goes without saying that most parents want to shield their children from the terrible things that, unfortunately, sometimes happen in the world. With that being said, kids are just as aware of the current coronavirus crisis as their parents are – when something is the top story on the news day after day, the children tend to notice.

Many parents might be wondering how to broach the subject of SARS-CoV-2 with their kids without sending them into a frenzy of fright and anxiety. Here are some tips.

Gauge what they know or think already

First off, parents will want to get an idea of what impression their kids already have of the coronavirus. In this regard, it’s good to ask open-ended questions like, “You might have noticed that things are a little different than they usually are – do you have any questions?”

Try to tailor your answers according to the child’s age, and keep them short. Young children can be especially frightened of the virus, as things are still real to them in a way that is different to older children, so you’ll want to give your kids accurate information, but not scare them at the same time. Explain how one contracts the coronavirus and why it is important that we keep our distance from other people, and wash our hands regularly to protect ourselves and to protect others.

Pay attention to how you speak to your kids

Your children will pick up on any underlying anxiety you have about the virus, and will adopt the same approach. If you are overly nervous, they’ll be nervous, too, so it’s better to set their minds at ease. Your child might be worried that they or people they love could die of the virus. Try to calmly explain that there is a difference between a normal case of the flu and coronavirus, and that not everyone that contracts the virus will die from it.

If they are worried about your health or the health of their grandparents, explain that older people can be more at risk, but that this is why everyone is staying at home and washing their hands often.

Take their feelings into account

Ask your children how they feel about the coronavirus and validate their feelings. If they say they are scared of getting sick, or angry that they can’t visit their friends, say that you understand their fear and frustration, but that you are taking all these precautions to keep the whole family safe and healthy.

Reinforce the importance of good hygiene

Maintaining good hygiene isn’t only important when a virus is going around, and this is a great time to explain exactly why your children should always try to keep their hands clean. Demonstrate the correct way to wash their hands, and make it fun by singing their favourite song while doing so. Explain that we should always cough or sneeze into our elbow, and that we should discard any used tissues or toilet paper in the rubbish bin or toilet immediately after use.

Explain to your children that we cannot control everything in the world, but that we do have the power to maintain a hygienic lifestyle, and that this can go a long way in keeping us healthy, both during and after the coronavirus outbreak.

Most of all, try to instil the idea in your children that this will not last forever. The pandemic will eventually pass, but while it is still around, it is important that we follow the guidelines to keep ourselves and others safe.

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Sparrow hosts SES volunteer, Norbert Stoldt

As part of a new partnership with Senior Expert Services (SES), a German needs-driven volunteer programme, Sparrow Schools was proud to host Mr Norbert Stoldt from 27 January to 28 February.

Mr Stoldt, a 70-year-old retiree, and former yearslong Red Cross volunteer visited Sparrow as part of a knowledge exchange programme, led by SES. Norbert’s lifelong experience of working with NGOs informed a large part of his stay, which entailed skills development and advice on fundraising efforts for the school.

Although a younger group is increasingly joining its ranks, SES is mostly made up of retired people who wish to share the expertise they’ve gathered during their careers. In order to contribute in ways that assign specific skills and knowledge to address clearly defined needs all over the globe, these German volunteers are matched with specific projects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sparrow Schools CSI Manager, Renata Noble, says that Stoldt’s visit has certainly contributed and added value to the team.

“True wisdom is insight based on experience, which Norbert has a lot of from working in the NGO field for so many years. Most people around you will have an opinion to offer, but few will have wisdom. I am grateful for the time he has spent at Sparrow, and for all that he has contributed to help us continue to build a better South Africa,” said Noble.

Norbert praised the warmth and respect that South Africans had shown towards him during his visit. He was impressed with the organisational functioning at Sparrow, and is grateful to also have had the opportunity to learn lessons of his own.

“A trusting contact with the employees arose very quickly. That made my job easier and I was able to learn a lot from the conditions and the culture in South Africa.”

Norbert’s visit was documented by a television crew from the German station, Bilderfest GmbH Factual Entertainment.

The Sparrow Schools Corporate Social Investment department extends our heartfelt thanks to Mr Norbert Stoldt and SES, and believe that the relationship between us will continue to bloom in the coming years.

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New maths lab to multiply opportunities for Combined School learners

Learners at the Sparrow Combined Technical Skills School now have access to state-of-the-art educational technology to help them further their mathematics skills. This is after the new Maths Laboratory at the school was officially opened on 27 February.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new lab, built in partnership with PG Impact Partners Group Employee Foundation, will serve approximately 163 learners in levels 1 to 4, empowering them with maths skills and aiming to foster a love for the subject.

The ribbon was cut by Ms Reinette Nel, a loyal Sparrow supporter since 1996, and a member of the Sparrow Board of Trustees since 2010.

Academic Manager of the Sparrow Schools Educational Trust, Ms Alison Button, says the benefits of the Maths Laboratory stretch far beyond the mere promotion of mathematics.

This space, which will be dedicated exclusively to the subject of mathematics, and will house all the school’s maths equipment and materials, has been designed to be an immersive, open and comfortable environment, filled with light. The lab has been furnished with computers that will be used in teaching maths – a technological approach that speaks to the learners of today.

Sparrow believes in empowering our learners with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills, as we understand that these skills are already becoming a greater requirement and will increasingly be utilised in all workplaces in the future. It is wonderful to be able to integrate two of these skills in a way that will be both beneficial and enjoyable to our learners.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are thankful for PG Impact Partners Group Employee Foundation’s support in this endeavour and are excited about how these additions will further allow the learners at Sparrow Combined Technical Skills School to equip themselves with valuable knowledge and expertise, as they continue on their paths to career readiness and success.

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SAGE Net volunteers help Sparrow scale to new heights

Sparrow Schools ascribes a lot of the success the school has had over the past few decades to healthy relationships with a range of other organisations that share our educational vision. We know that taking hands in solidarity is the best way for the future, and in this regard, we are happy to have two international volunteers in our midst.

Nadin Chreiteh and Kendra Hons, both German volunteers with the South African German Network (SAGE Net), arrived at Sparrow in September of last year. They have been supporting teachers at Sparrow Foundation School, whilst also taking charge of operations at the school’s Media Centre and a newly started extramural theatre club. They will be in South Africa until September 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Media Centre, Nadin and Kendra have taught learners about healthy eating habits and global warming, among others, and they are excited about the advantages movement and performance art might have for Sparrow learners.

Although lamenting the social ills and inequality that still plague South Africa, Hons and Chreiteh say they stand in awe of the sheer resilience of the learners at Sparrow Foundation School, who show incredible enthusiasm, eagerness and motivation to learn despite the challenges they face. Both also admired the close-knit relationship between educators, staff and learners at Sparrow, and praised the fact that every learner at the school is important.

Aside from assisting at Sparrow, Nadin and Kendra have also had a chance to experience the natural beauty that South Africa has to offer – a Christmas trip to the Garden Route and Knysna with other SAGE Net volunteers stood out in particular.

While Nadin plans to travel more once her time at Sparrow comes to a close, Kendra is now considering pursuing educational studies upon her arrival back in Germany.

As always, Sparrow is proud and grateful to host international volunteers at our school, and we are excited to see how the rest of our SAGE Net volunteers’ stay turns out.

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Hollard Teddybears’ Picnic delights and empowers Sparrow learners

So much of what we are able to do at Sparrow is due to fruitful relationships with corporate partners. One such treasured association is our connection with Hollard Insurance. The company is involved in a range of annual initiatives at Sparrow, including the Board Game event with Sparrow’s grade 5s in September, and our grade 7s’ Christmas Party and Farewell in November.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The year always kicks off with the popular Hollard Teddy Bears’ Picnic. This fun event for the grade 2s was held at the Foundation School on 12 February this year. After welcoming Hollard’s volunteers with a song, learners received lunch, something to drink, some sweets and a teddy bear.

The volunteers from Hollard (CSI Project Manager, Lynnette van Vreden, Consumer Education Specialist, Reuben Oosthuysen, René Sinclair and Octavia Nakhaphelo) actively partook in the day, reading the Hollard InstaStory Book that learners received with them. This initiative, in partnership with Kago Ya Bana, aims to create more opportunities for children to read by creating original books using Instagram stories. Later, everyone engaged in a few exciting rounds of egg race, sack race and a few other games.

Sparrow’s CSI Events and Fundraising Coordinator, Lois Grobbelaar, relayed her gratitude to the entire team at Hollard Insurance.

“Thank you so much for the fabulous Teddy Bears’ Picnic. Our children had an absolute ball and you all made the afternoon a huge success,” said Grobbelaar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are so thankful for our decade-long relationship with Hollard Insurance. Hollard has also had a hand in upgrading the Foundation School boys’ and girls’ bathrooms in 2018 and pledged R60 000 to revamp bathrooms at the Sparrow Combined Technical Skills School later this year. Our earnest thanks go to this company, which has and continues to contribute to our operations in fundamental ways.

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Leave no child behind: The importance of education for all

In 1960, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) adopted the Convention against Discrimination in Education, which explicitly prohibited any “exclusion from, or limitation to, educational opportunities on the basis of socially-ascribed or perceived differences, such as by sex, ethnic/social origin, language, religion, nationality, economic condition, ability”. This convention sought to ensure access to quality education for all learners, no matter where they come from or what kind of educational needs they have.

Decades later, the UNESCO 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development further emphasised this important sentiment in Sustainable Development Goal 4, again pledging to leave no child behind.

Even so, 262 million children and youth worldwide are not attending school, for varying reasons.

The situation is often much more dire for children who have specific special education needs. As poverty prevents parents and guardians from educating their children at schools that cater for the needs of learners with developmental and learning difficulties, these learners – and all the potential that they carry within them – often fall through the cracks, leaving them with no hope of attaining the skills that will lift them out of their challenging circumstances. Locally, Human Rights Watch in 2015 estimated that more than 600,000 children with disabilities are not in the school system in South Africa.

For more than two decades, Sparrow Schools has made it our mission to address this important need by removing the barriers that prevent active learning, whatever they may be. Our teaching approach caters for a variety of educational needs, and especially also to the needs of learners with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This group of disorders, which include Asperger syndrome and childhood autism, may lead to a range of challenges to learning, including social, communication and behavioural difficulties.

At Sparrow Foundation School, we have diversified our approach to include extramural programmes like Catrobatkidz, which seeks to improve coordination, gross and fine motor skills and spatial relationships, among other beneficial properties of this physical approach to improving learning and learner behaviour in the classroom.

Sparrow has seen wonderful results from learners who take part in the Catrobatkidz programme and this, coupled with a teaching approach that focuses on equipping learners with the skills that will empower them in the future, has enabled us to provide quality education to learners who would otherwise never see themselves complete their schooling.

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This is how learners with special needs performed in the 2019 NSC exam

The class of 2019’s matric results, announced by the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, on 7 January this year set a new record: of the 504,303 learners who wrote the National Senior Certificate exams last year, 81.3% passed. However, what often doesn’t get as much attention as the overall results and the top achievers are the number of learners with special needs that also passed, many with a slew of distinctions in tow.

Learners who wrote their matric exams in 2018 already set a high standard, with 76.5% of the 3,051 learners with special needs who wrote the National Senior Certificate exams passing. In addition, these learners also amassed no less than 1,119 distinctions, and 1,669 learners (almost 55%) received Bachelor passes, enabling them to pursue further tertiary study.

In 2019, 2,255 learners with special needs took the matric exam, and of this group, 1,281 learners achieved admission to Bachelor studies, while 684 achieved admission to diploma studies. This group of pupils also managed to garner a total of 1,277 distinctions between them.

What is notable is the way in which these learners, who have conditions ranging from autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia and bipolar disorder to visual and hearing impairment, have taken these challenges – and sometimes many others – in their stride.

Says 2019’s top performing special needs learner, Tiyani Mbendzani, who completed his matric at the Rivoni School for the Blind in Elim, Limpopo: “What I have realised is that my disability never stops me from doing whatever it is that I want, and my disability is nothing.”

This, despite difficult conditions and infrastructure problems at his school.

It is stories like Tiyani’s that drive our educational philosophy at Sparrow Foundation School, where empowering learners for the future is the main item on the agenda. With dedicated staff and a commitment to excellence in spite of challenging domestic circumstances, we are proud of what our learners have, and are yet to, achieve.

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