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The man with the midas touch

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As a Chief Education Officer in Ngamiland I was horrified at the children’s use of vulgar language.

Every  school that he headed was guaranteed an enviable position in the top three in the exam results.

He had the magic formula and knew how to turn worst performing schools into centres of excellence throughout his illustrious career which spanned over three decades.

Damien Thapa was undoubtedly one of the most sought after educationists and manager that this country has ever produced.

As a maths teacher at GSS in 1972 his results were so impressive that when he returned from a two- year study leave abroad there was a tug of war between his old school, GSS and the school he was transferred to, Kgari Sechele because they both wanted to have him among their staff members.

This week, Voice Editor, EMANG BOKHUTLO met the retired School head in his home village, Makaleng for a chat

What was your secret to great exam results?

The secret to good results is to make the students themselves understand why they are in school and why they need to learn and pass exams.

I can at least fill two buses with the number of Doctors I have produced.

That would work for a teacher but how about as a school head and an Education officer?All the schools you headed from Matshekge Hill School to Francistown Secondary School to Mater-Spei College were always in the top three when you were at the helm.
A school is as good as its head. The opposite of that saying is also true. Discipline is fundamental and a school head needs to cultivate the culture of self discipline.
A school head is a manager and no manager can achieve results without closely supervising and engaging with teachers, industrial staff as well as the students.

But how does one successfully supervise such a large number of people?

You engage them. I used to walk about the school and engage in random conversations with the industrial staff. They know a lot about what’s going on and talking to them can avert things like student strikes which only serve to disrupt learning.

I also used to pay surprise visits to classrooms and randomly pick at least three exercise books from each class to check if assignments were given and marking was done. A school head has to be involved even to that level if they want results.

When you were transferred to Francistown Secondary School as the headmaster it was at the bottom in exam results but the following year it took position two in the whole country. How was that experience?

I asked for a transfer from Matshekge to FSS because I wanted to follow my wife who was a lecturer at TTC.

But what I found at FSS was such a culture shock. I did not know what to expect but I found Evil Forest.

At the evil forest there were spread out card board boxes.

You can deduce from that what activities went on in that area.

My reaction was to immediately have the bush cleared.

Was FSS the most difficult school you handled then?

No, FSS wasn’t very difficult because I knew what to do. My first assignment was to provide accommodation for teachers.

There were only three staff houses when I got to FSS and the school was called “Cattle Post school”

Ten year later when I left there were over 30 staff houses and still counting.

I knew how to use different votes to provide what was needed for effective teaching like lab equipment and teaching aids so teachers were happy and happy teachers lead to good results.

In 1990 FSS rose from the bottom to position two in the whole country.

But when you left the following year for further studies the school plunged to number two from the bottom. How did you feel when you came back to work a year later?

When I got back I knew that I had to restore the school’s reputation.

In 1993 FSS became number one in the whole country and from then on we competed for that position with Mater-Spei College and Tutume Mc Connell College.

If FSS wasn’t your worst experience, what was it then?

As a Chief Education Officer in Ngamiland I was horrified at the children’s use of vulgar language.

There would be incidents where children insulted teachers and when they fought with each other the children had this shocking habit of insulting each other’s parents.

The area stretched from Seronga to Ghanzi to Chobe. The children generally knew nothing about the value of education and would quit school at the slightest excuse. And the love affairs in schools were also just over the top.

But still during your time Sepopa Secondary rose for the first time from nowhere to lead in the exam results.

Yes, I worked hard to instil discipline. I used to crisscross the region and pay surprise visits to unsuspecting teachers. I remember an incident in Ghanzi where students on strike destroyed the school fence.

I simply advised the teachers to make the culprits dig out the rest of the fence and have the students’ parents pay to replace the damaged fence. Since then there was no strike until I left. (Chuckles)

And your best experience?

It has to be Matshekge Hill in Bobonong. I had a lot of respect for Babirwa. It was a pleasure working with them. The school was like a resource centre for the whole village.
It was during the time when students paid school fees and I adopted 9 brilliant children who couldn’t afford school fees and paid for them from my pocket.

Out of the many students that you remember from your teaching career is there one particular one that you have special memories of?

It has to be Dr Makgema. He was just a brilliant student. He was very quiet and reserved but a genius who used to finish his work in half the time and sit quietly and wait for others. He amazed me!

Last but not least, what can be done to rectify the problems causing the down spiral of exam results over the years?

We need a solution to the issue of overtime. Govt should maybe add two more days to teacher’s working days. Govt should negotiate with teachers and reach a solution and arrive at a formula that works.

There are too many challenges these days such as children spending most of their time on social media instead of learning and too many children’s rights making at the expense of children’s education.

Even if govt can incentivise teachers with money the horses themselves would be led to the river but refuse to drink because we abandoned our cultural way of disciplining children and replaced it with nothing.

The rod worked wonders and I used to” Donora” the naughty ones and set them on the right path.

Now that you brought it up I have some questions from former FSS students and one of them is from Bakhwi Kablay who wanted to know why you liked using the Word “Donora”

Hahaha, that word is corrupted from the Afrikaans word Donor, which means to beat!

I just used it as an ice breaker in my interaction with students; just like my use of the word “fool” It didn’t really mean the students were fools.

OK, Another former FSS student Naiko Ralebala wants to know if the class of ‘90 was your worst lot. And if they were, why didn’t you forgive them and allow them to have a leaving party?

Hahaha, you were in that group Emang and you were a naughty and very stubborn girl.

Yes you guys were the worst. Worse than the Dubani Dubani’s group.

That one had extremely naughty students but they acted as individuals while you people acted as a group.

Tell Naiko I said sorry, forgive me.

I couldn’t allow your group to have a leaving party because I had it on good record that the group had planned to assault teachers at the party.

I also wanted to send a message to the group after you that indiscipline would not be tolerated in FSS and it worked. After you were gone we had peace. (Laughs)

 

DOWN MEMORY LANE: Thapa taking former president Sir Seretse Khama and the First Lady, Ruth Khama on a tour of Matshekge Hill School in Bobonong back in the 70's
DOWN MEMORY LANE: Thapa taking former president Sir Seretse Khama and the First Lady, Ruth Khama on a tour of Matshekge Hill School in Bobonong back in the 70’s

Some students like Lesego Morris Raditsebe and Stella Mooketsi said to thank you for preventing them from transferring to “That other school” and for disciplining them because although they had never seen you smile and didn’t like you then for being such a hard man, they realise in retrospect that you saved their lives; How does that make you feel?

The greatest pleasure I derived from teaching has always been to see my students go on to excel in life.

I get that a lot from former students and most of them I’m proud to say hold positions of leadership.

I must also mention that my trademark is cleanliness. You will know my former students by their neatness and cleanliness.

I introduced many of them to a tie! (Laughs)

Any last words?

Tell FSS class of 90 that they owe me a party and also tell them that only those who are excelling in their respective jobs have the liberty to call me The Man! (Laughs hard)

3 COMMENTS

  1. This is very good Emang, well done! I enjoyed the article.. Would love to meet The Man one day.

  2. The man was a real man during our term 95-97,I remember him when it was during Segametsi strike he stood up at the assembly and said, I don’t care whether you strike but during your exams you wont find any question asking you how many windows did you destroy, how many teachers did you beat. He said you will be alone during exam time without anyone to throw stones at.Big up guys dats THE MAN