Retired Limpopo headmaster Phuti Ragophala is being honoured this week with an Order of Baobab by President Cyril Ramaphosa for her work in education.
Limpopo, South Africa (26 April 2023) – Retired Limpopo headmaster Phuti Ragophala will be receiving one of the highest accolades in South Africa this week.
On Friday [28 April 2023] she will receive the President’s Silver Award of the Order of Baobab for “her contribution in the field of education and demonstrating the need to move with the times by promoting technological awareness and advancement to both teachers and students”.
While she is indeed no stranger to awards, this was one award she did not expect. “When someone called me to say they are calling from the Union Buildings from the Office of President Cyril Ramaphosa, I wanted to know what was wrong…but they assured me it was good news and that I was nominated for the Order of Baobab,” chuckles Ragophala.
And now that the news of the award has sunk in, she says it confirms that the work she had consistently been doing for the past 25 years – to advocate for teaching with technology – was justified.
From small beginnings with a keyboard
“I was 35 years old when I touched a keyboard for the first time. Through the then MEC of Education Aaron Motsoaledi junior teachers were taught how to work with computers through a MASTEC project. My former principal at Pula-Madibogo Primary School, Mrs Ruth Raphela, is the one who spotted my skills and sent me for the training… and I never looked back since.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed the MASTEC training and started sharing my knowledge with the teachers at my school, the learners as well as neighbouring schools. I would train them for free on Saturdays and walked everywhere I needed to go. I saw it as my duty to train others in technology,” said Ragophala.
And for more than 25 years learners that had passed through her hands had gone on to achieve great success.
Some of the empowerment initiatives she spearheaded at primary school level at Pula-Madibogo Primary School, where she worked as headmaster up to her retirement, was to create an email and linked bank account for each learner.
She also encouraged teachers to use technology in every class – even if it was making videos with their own personal cell phones.
“I am very grateful towards the teachers, parents and learners at Pula-Madibogo Primary School who supported my vision as a principal, not forgetting Schoolnet.org.za”
Ploughing back into her community
When she retired in 2016, she started a ‘mini classroom’ in her home office in Seshego, Polokwane, to help the local community, neighbours’ children, and grandchildren.
This was also where she introduced the children to coding – by making use of Tangible Africa’s coding App, RANGERS. “The children are playing games but do not even realise that they are learning very important programming skills in the process,” said Ragophala.
TANKS and RANGERS are Tangible Africa’s flagship coding applications that are played offline, using minimal resources.
“I never dropped the ball – I am still running. Community members come to my house to do their research and schoolwork, using my wi-fi. Having the traditional approach with pen and paper in teaching is no longer necessary. Empowering young people with technology will help them fight unemployment,” said Ragophala.
It takes a global village
People who have supported her ICT projects over the years are Coza Cares, the University of Limpopo, Varkey Foundation, Microsoft in Education, University of Johannesburg’s Prof Sarita Ramsaroop, Zibuza.net under Director Malcolm Mooi, Pilot Moses Tshibalanganda from SA Aviation Centre, Nelson Mandela University’s Prof Jean Greyling and the Centre for Public Service Innovation under acting Deputy Director Ms Lydia Sebokedi.
She also thanked Pauline Maas from The Netherlands for training the community children in Microbits, and Julie Hembree from the US who donated reading books and taught the community children how to access online study material.
“I had so much support towards the work that I was doing not just in my tenure as school principal, but also now after my retirement. It was not an easy road but worth it. Above all, my late parents played a huge role by encouraging me to be a teacher while I wanted to go for nursing. Parents know their children best.”