Principal Lindiwe

Educational Leadership still a concern – under 40% of women occupy Principal positions in South African schools

During the month of August, in South Africa, women from all walks of life are celebrated for their strength and contribution in their respective industries and communities. In these commemorations, women in the education sector, particularly those at grassroots level are often overlooked. This year, KST lifts female principals in the schools we work in within the Free State Department of Education.

According to a study conducted by Prof Nuraan Davids in 2018[1], women are under-represented in school leadership positions. This is despite significant shifts towards gender equity over the past two decades. Female teachers make up about 68% of the country’s teaching force. But only 36% of principals are women. According to KST and the Free State Department of Education, the Motheo district employs 116 female school Principals out of 314 schools, whilst Fezile Dabi has 46 female principals (including those in acting positions) out of 142 schools.

This means that only 36.6% of women in Motheo district and 32% of women in Fezile Dabi district occupy Principal positions albeit being the majority gender in this profession at district and/or  national level.

Not only that, at basic education level, the Teaching and Learning International Survey ( which is coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conducted an international education survey to assess the state of education among countries of which South Africa was the only participant on the African continent. The findings on gender distribution of teacher and principal’s workforce showed a degree of gender imbalance and disparities in the scope of promotion to leadership positions. In South Africa, only 22% of principals are women, compared to 60% of teachers. This can be bench-marked against the OECD averages of 47% of women among school leaders and 68% among teachers.

Part of this marginalized group includes a phenomenal woman who overcame adversities and rose to the occasion to challenge the status quo – Mrs Tsotetsi, Principal of Katleho Mpumelelo Secondary School in the Fezile Dabi district.

Principal Lindiwe Tsotetsi in her office

In the 35 years of her teaching life,’, Mrs Lindiwe Tsotetsi has been a Principal for eight years. As she shares her professional journey, Mrs Tsotetsi provides more in-depth details on how she fared on her way to becoming an educational leader in a school that achieved 100% pass rate in the 2019 National Senior Certificate examinations. All is not doom and gloom as she inspires young people to reach their goals:

How was the journey to becoming a school Principal?

It was emotionally, spiritually, and physically straining. My family was also affected.

Were there any challenges along the way?

A lot not related to my abilities to run an effective institution.

Do you think there are sufficient women occupying Principal roles in schools? If so, how do you think this can be improved?

No. The community must do away with the concept that secondary school leadership is a man’s world. We must be judged equally, according to our capabilities. 

Your school achieved 100% pass rate in the 2019 NSC examinations – What would you say your recipe for success is in achieving these sterling results?

Motivation of learners, teachers, and active participation of parents in affairs of the school played a major role. Simply telling one that “you can do it” is the best encouragement. Everyone was given a fair chance to explore his or her potential. 

What support did the school/you receive from the FSDoE during the Covid-19 lockdown?

During lockdown, there were subject programmes aired on local radio stations, but learners needed monitoring. The parents played a major role in assisting with this. Parents who were essential workers collected work from different educators to learners at home; and returned it back to educators to be marked. Topics that needed explanation were done as learners are grouped according to where they stay, and group leaders were identified.

What additional support do your Grade 12’s need to ensure positive outcomes before final exams?

Our school is a Section 20 school, meaning we are dependent on government for the allocation of textbooks and stationery.  Our finances unfortunately will not allow us to hold camps or get help from outside. We need resources such as screens, projectors, TV, and DVD players, as well as whiteboards. 

What advice would you give to young people, especially young girls, who are interested in the teaching profession?

They must believe in themselves. We all have different talents which need to be explored. They must be not be afraid to tread on uncharted waters if they have potential. Teaching is the mother of all professions. As a teacher you will be venturing in all careers because you are preparing learners for the bigger world.

Why do you love teaching?

Teaching is a calling to me, and it is in my genetic makeup.

Principal Lindiwe Tsotetsi accepting an award for attaining 100% pass rate for the 2019 National Senior Certificate examinations on behalf of her school – Katleho Mpumelelo Secondary School

We need to remember to celebrate unsung heroes like Mrs Tsotetsi and advocate for inclusivity in educational leadership to provide women better opportunities to lead in schools. Not only is this necessary, it will also restore and builds trust within communities amongst to support women in educational leadership roles.