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Get to know Head of School for National Senior Certificate, Sipho Mpisane

Sipho Mpisane, UCT Online High School's Head of School for South African National Senior Certificate, answers a few questions so we can get to know him better!
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Meet Sipho Mpisane

I was born in a small mining town and I love bragging about that because this meant I very quickly learned how to speak at least five languages. Some of my best years were in high school. When the school secretary, who the entire school was afraid of, started regularly inviting me for chit-chats over tea and the principal’s biscuits, I knew that school was a home away from home. And so, when it came to choosing a career, education was a no-brainer.

After years of teaching, I pursued my postgrad to master's level where I appreciated the importance of research coupled with practice in informing what we do and how we can continue doing it better. We, in the education sector, are in such a privileged position to play a pivotal role in alleviating poverty by sustaining this pipeline of thinkers, problem solvers and leaders who will innovate to solve the world’s problems and create a better life for all.

For fun, I love creating music. I picked up how to play a few musical instruments along the way – drums, piano and guitar.

What led me to UCT Online High School is really my passion for transformation. I think UCT Online High School is on the brink of something monumental that will break down barriers that have existed far too long where access to quality education is concerned. I am so excited to be a part of this incredible story unfolding in our country, which I believe is the tipping point in our education landscape.

Q: What would learners be surprised to find out about you?

A: I own more than twenty-five pairs of sneakers and counting.

Q: If you were trapped on a deserted island what’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?

A: Besides my sneakers? My wife. She makes for pretty cool company, she’s resourceful and smart, and if we run into trouble, she’ll know what to do.

Q: What meal/dish can you cook to perfection? And are you willing to share the recipe?

A: I make a mean stew. I won’t share the recipe, but I can share a tip — it always comes out great whenever I make it in a great mood while listening to some good music.

Q: What’s your favourite book, movie and song?

A: My favourite book is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Any movie with Denzel Washington is my favourite and as far as songs go, at the moment, I’m listening to a lot of Robert Glasper.

Q: If you could pass on any wisdom to your learners, what would you share?

A: There will always be someone smarter, prettier, and more handsome. Instead of competing to be better than someone else, focus on being the best version of yourself.

Q: The best advice you’ve ever been given?

A: “It won't always be easy, don’t give up”. My late grandmother’s last words to me, and it is still the best advice I have ever received.

Q: How do you show your school spirit?

A: By choosing to see the best in everyone

Q: What’s the best thing about being the Head of School at UCT Online High School?

A: Knowing that I am part of history in the making by being part of a team of incredible people who are waking up every day and dedicating themselves to changing the lives of young people in very real ways through quality education.

Q: Why should guardians and learners be open to online schooling?

A: I don’t think it’s a question of being open to online schooling more than a question of quality education that is offered online. The reality is that we all learn differently and attain knowledge and skills at different times and through different paths. Online schooling is the closest we are getting to creating a uniquely tailored educational experience. Something that is incredibly difficult to achieve in a brick-and-mortar school.

Q: If you weren’t the Head of School at UCT Online High School what would you do?

A: I’d still be trying to figure out how we unlock the closed doors to quality education for all, regardless of socioeconomic standing.

Q: What’s your favourite way to be active?

A: Besides going to the gym, I love exploring hiking trails.

Q: What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

A: A week-long hiking trip where I had to carry my own supplies and hike almost 20kms each day in very harsh weather.

Q: What/who makes you laugh?

A: My kids

Q: If you could invite 4 famous people to dinner, who would you invite and why?

A: Kanye West for the intense awkwardness. Trevor Noah for obvious reasons. Steve Biko to challenge our thinking. Anele Mdoda to keep the conversation flowing.

Q: If you were a superhero, what would be your superpower?

A: Superhuman intelligence

Q: What was your favourite subject in high school?

A: English. I particularly loved literature.

Q: What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

A: Alleviate poverty. I think so many things go wrong because people are in poverty.

Q: Any advice on how to cope with stress and anxiety?

A: I am no expert, but I have learned that it helps to know triggers. Prevention is better than cure. But in those unavoidable moments, have healthy outlets and a place where you can retreat, replenish and find calm and strength before stepping back in.

Q: Why education as a career path?

A: There are many reasons, but I will give two. Firstly, passion. No one has to persuade me to do this. There’s an internal drive that constantly motivates me where education is concerned. Secondly, purpose. In education, I have found something that I can commit my skills and talents to, something bigger than myself. Something I can dedicate myself to that can have a far-reaching impact even through my small contribution.

Q: What did you study and what is your work experience?

A: This will be my 12th year in education - wow time is flying by! I have had the privilege in those years of working in schools across the spectrum which has made me appreciate and value the importance of education regardless of where you come from. I completed my Master's Degree at Wits University in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Management. My thesis took a look at 21st-century competencies and how schools are developing and rolling out a curriculum that is undermined by these skills in the modern-day classroom. Most recently, I was involved in implementing cognitive acceleration interventions where we were able to accelerate the reasoning levels of children as a way for them to be better prepared to succeed with high school curriculum demands. I was doing some of this work, including teaching maths, as well as developing and coordinating a teacher development programme at St Stithians Boys' College.

Q: What’s your ideal studying environment?

A: Coffee station. A large desk and a comfortable chair. No clutter and lots of natural light.

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