Educators passionate about environmental
issues are not that common in our schools.
This is a pity. A healthy environment is
essential for a healthy community, and if
nothing else, our teachers are building
citizens capable of contributing to future
“Understanding basic ecology and how
the earth works is most important and
helps learners to understand so many
other things – the basic values of life,” says
Antonia Mkhabela. Since 1991 she has been
a teacher at Shea O’Connor school, for the
past 15 years filling the role of vice principal
– and environmental champion.
Inspired by examiners reports on
poor performance among learners in
environmental studies, Antonia set out to
explore the challenges in the environmental
learning process. Recently, she completed
her Masters Degree in Education – focused
on the of sustainability competencies in
the CAPS Life Science curriculum and
investigating the teaching methods and
assessment practices. Her work informed
by the concepts of justice, equality,
responsibility, and a deep love of nature.
Antonia feels fortunate to have grown up on
a midlands farm with plenty of opportunity
for exploring – weaving fragrant gum leaves
into skipping ropes, nibbling resin instead of sweets, collecting interesting stones
and splashing in the stream.
outdoors, walked to school across fields
and picked pomegranates, nuts and other
fruit freely. We did not realise that this was
healthy living. We were not afraid of snakes
because we learnt naturally that they are not
harmful if you leave them alone.”
Over the years, Antonia has observed that
some teachers are not confident about
teaching environmental subjects and few
have been able to integrate the learning
into their lives and classrooms. “We focus
on theory too much. There is a need to
involve outdoor activities and to use local
environmental issues to enable learners to understand their environmental context.
Learners do not want to be spoon-fed.
They love doing their own research.
easier than many teachers believe, and
really important that the children fiddle and
experience theoretical concepts, practically.
The school yard provides many learning
While the lessons that form part of the
curriculum are important, learners’
outcomes are not assessed in a single year,
but over a period of time. “In our school, I
can clearly observe the changed attitudes
learners have to environmental issues.
This year, our Enviro Club has almost 100
members!” Clearly, Antonia is an inspiring
teacher. Learners call her subject ‘Makoya’
meaning ‘the real subject’! She is also
delighted to report how parents are getting
involved when the children share their ideas
at home. “Especially creating outfits from
recycled materials for the Trashion Show,
organised by the Dargle Conservancy.
Parents are so thrilled to be working
with their excited and capable children.
Many report that they have improved
communication now, and of course, better
understanding of the problems of waste.”
Determined to help those keen to improve
their environmental content, Antonia plans
to use her new knowledge to motivate other
educators – sharing methods, ideas and
assessment techniques at the Department
of Basic Education, Life Science Cluster
Meetings, and to assist youth groups to
address local environmental concerns.
A keen hiker herself, Antonia dreams of
being able to take all the nature lovers and
environmental activists she works with to
visit wild places.
Antonia’s studies have been sponsored by
N3 Toll Concession (N3TC). Commercial
Manager Con Roux is overjoyed and so
proud of her achievements. “Antonia is a
remarkable person and such an inspiration.
She overcame so much and dug so deep,
just for the sake of the children she teaches.