By Emmanuel Nkomo
The blind Zimbabwean high school teacher Jacob Gwenanguruwe is one of the first disabled educators in the country to teach abled-bodied students.
“When the kids are making noise I can figure out the voices and identify who is making noise. That, to them is very astonishing…”
It is break time at Entumbane High School and Jacob Gwenanguruwe (34) beckons me to take a walk with him in the warm winter sun.
If you would watch us walk side-by-side, you wouldn’t even notice that one of us is visually impaired.
Jacob started losing his sight in one eye in 1985 at age five due to measles. By age 16 he was completely blind.
Ten years later in 2006, he decided to become a teacher and enrolled at Hillside Teachers’ College.
“When I took my first job here teaching English in 2008 it was a marvel for many to see a person with my disability coming into teaching,” Jacob says.
“The headmistress at that time was not enthusiastic. I explained to her that I have a voice and I would address the kids just like any other teacher.”
Records in braille
An assistant teacher helps Jacob by doing the writing on the chalkboard, marking written work and controlling students.
But it’s Jacob who accesses the students. He pulls out a paper written in braille to explain how he does it. “As my assistant reads out the work written by my pupils,
I make notes on the kids’ progress, so I keep a record of their course work. All their marks are here so I know who’s doing well and who needs to work harder,” he says.
As we talk, I’m fascinated by the way he greets passing students and teachers by name. After 18 years of blindness, Jacob’s ears have become his eyes.
“I have learnt to identify people by their voices and I’ve become very good at it. When the kids are making noise I can figure out the voices and identify who is making noise.
That, to them is very astonishing. By encouraging all the students to participate, I get used to each of their voices.”
Two young students pass by and greet Jacob. He introduces me to them by name.
“We look forward to his lessons because he’s good and I understand him,” says Andile. “We even take turns to go and take him from the staff room when it’s lesson time.
He is just like any teacher and we value that. Other kids have a shortage of teachers and we are lucky to have a teacher of English.”
Linda, the other student, adds: “Some of us like to misbehave or run away from class, so we make sure we are his eyes so he knows who is not behaving.”
Jacob bemoans his community’s attitude towards the local school. “People here are sceptical about the school and the standard of education,
so they send their kids to schools in other areas – but those are parents who can afford better schools. However we are trying to improve the standard of education,” he says.
“In 2013 I taught an ‘O’ level class and we recorded a 60% pass rate in English, which was better than the 55% in the previous year,”
he says with a grin of satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.
Jacob may be blind, but he’s certainly not impaired when it comes to teaching.