The pupils’ principal

2011-01-04 00:00

“AN outstanding educational leader par excellence”, are just some of the words associated with outgoing Epworth Co-educational Pre-Primary and Primary School principal John Mathfield for his unstinting investment in education. He retires as the leader of the school after 14 years of service.

The school’s children are sad to say goodbye to the man who knew each one of them by name and made it his mission to ensure that there were no sad faces around as he moved through the school on a daily basis.

Their teachers will tell you that the whole school has been illuminated by Mathfield’s drive and many admirable qualities.

“My time here certainly seems much shorter than it’s been, simply because it’s been such an amazing and rewarding experience for me,” Mathfield says in an interview with The Witness.

Just speaking about his experience with children, Mathfield’s face lights up.

“It was in the second week of my teacher diploma course when I walked into a classroom for the first time. They took us to a local school and I ended up with a Standard 3 class (Grade 5). It was then, when I interacted with the children, that I knew that this was what I wanted to do,” recalls Mathfield.

His globetrotting days as a young man freshly out of high school cemented the idea in Mathfield’s mind of a career in teaching.

“After completing a gap year working and travelling around Europe, I decided on my return to South Africa to get a post-matric qualification. Since I had met a lot of dynamic people while on my travels, who happened to be teachers, I decided to go that route,” says Mathfield.

In 1969, he enrolled for a Natal Teacher’s Senior Diploma. This was followed by a Higher Natal Diploma for Primary Education in 1972. It was in his student years that he met his wife Pam, who is a deputy principal at Alexandra High School.

In 1973, Mathfield started his teaching career, and later went on to obtain a BA and BA honours degree in history at the University of South Africa, followed by a master of education degree in curriculum development at the University of Natal. He has worked as a head of department at Prestbury Primary School, deputy principal at Pelham Senior Primary, and founder-principal at Richardia Primary School in Richards Bay.

However, Mathfield’s experience in education has been as extensive as his many talents. In 1985, he was senior subject advisor in the former Natal Education Department, where he was co-responsible for the implementation of the curriculum in about 250 primary schools. He later rose through the ranks by occupying the seat of superintendent of education, within the Natal Education Department and the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education and Training, responsible for co-ordinating the primary advisory services. He has also taken the lead on numerous provincial and national committees and has done extensive research and comparative studies both locally and internationally. This has included looking at the development and implementation of the outcomes based education-type curriculum models in the United States.

Among his proudest moments has been the privilege of co-ordinating a networking initiative during the early nineties between the then five separate departments of education in the province. This was in anticipation of the formation of a single department.

“I am probably stating the obvious when I say that each of these eras has been a significantly inspiring, rewarding and amazing learning curves for me. Each has allowed me to celebrate education, albeit from different perspectives.”

However, Mathfield says with clarity and confidence that it has especially been a privilege for him to have spent this current era of his career at Epworth. What is equally clear is that this won’t be his last era since he plans to continue his involvement with education in a less formal way.

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