Building skills and shattering stereotypes in the classroom

 
 
 

The class can’t wait to see what they’re making next. They intently follow their woodwork teacher’s precise motions, noting each manoeuvre. But not everyone was always this trusting of the instructor. Philile Shabalala is the only female teacher in Hodisa Technical Secondary School’s technical department. “People didn't think I had the capabilities to do such a job,” she says. With confidence, Shabalala pushed through the doubts of the naysayers. “I’m a woman working in a male-dominated industry and I’m producing results that are quality,” she says. Today, Shabalala is all about building skills and shattering stereotypes. 

After studying civil technology, Shabalala decided to try her hand at woodwork. “It allowed me to be innovative, creative, and do things from scratch,” she says. When Shabalala began teaching in the town of Mangaung, it reinforced her love for the craft. She shows learners how to make furniture from coffee tables to drawers, as well as models of roof trusses and skirtings. In doing so, Shabalala is opening up avenues for them to be successful entrepreneurs in the construction industry. “You are instilling a skill in this child that they can use for their entire lives,” she says. 

Shabalala currently has six girls in her Grade 12 woodworking class, and all have an interest in engineering. She stands before them as an example of someone who won’t let outdated ideas get in the way of her progress. “Of course people will talk,” Shabalala says. “But it doesn't have an impact on me because I know my strengths.” When she isn’t working as a carpenter, she’s practising her handiwork with her second passion – makeup. “What connects my love for both is that they allow me to express myself,” Shabalala says. Ultimately, she’s constructing a space where gender doesn’t define people’s direction or skill set. “I believe everyone has the capability,” Shabalala says. “You can do it and you can succeed.”