We chatted to devoted mom, book fanatic, and inspiring and respected business woman, Zodwa Pakade, about her career in Education, the importance of reading, and which paperback is currently occupying her bedside table.
Zodwa is chief executive at MANATI Alternate Student Funding (MASF), a newly founded South African student funding private enterprise. Prior to this she was Executive Director for Pearson SA, the largest education company globally. With 16 years’ experience in Strategy, Business Development, Stakeholder Relations, Marketing and Communication across a variety of industries, she is like a walking library of knowledge and insight and we were able to take a closer look at some of her chapters.
Tell us a bit about MASF…
MASF is a provider of affordable loans and bursaries to tertiary-level students. We’re set up to provide greater access, achievement and affordability of post school studies for all South Africans, in particular the ‘missing middle’. Our model is quite unique in that we partner with universities, colleges and corporates before engaging any student. We pay special attention to the course that our students undertake as we want to ensure their employability, and to ensure a good probability that the courses being pursued are relevant for the marketplace. Having served on the Board of the CTI Education Group (now Pearson Institute), we experienced first hand the challenge of tertiary education fees across all 12 campuses. My days are often consumed with meeting with Educational Institutions, Corporates, parents, sponsors and students on how we can partner to provide funding for university studies for deserving students. We provide guidance on the study choices to ensure that their skills are relevant when they complete their studies. We’re also looking at ways in which we can support our MASF Alumni once they have completed their studies and catapult them beyond their greatest aspirations. We focus on the student, providing individually assessed loans based on a student’s past performance and future employment probabilities. The students we’re focusing on are those that wish to study at higher education institutions across South Africa, but are unable to do so because they cannot afford it or cannot secure funding. We’re also not leaving the private Higher Education sector behind. I benefitted from government funding via access to a scholarship, and can today bear testament to the value of education and enablement through funding.
The road up until now…
My very first paying job, straight out of university, was with BP Southern Africa. My first project was as an analyst in the sale of BP Oil assets in Lesotho and Swaziland, which required a lot of engagement with a wide range of stakeholders, ensuring minimal job losses and upskilling and empowerment of locals. This experience has had a lasting impact in all I’ve done in the ensuing 12 years post BPSA. So when Pearson came knocking on my door a little over 5 years ago, I was at a point where I wanted to do work that would have a real impact on society, build my career and still have me at the pulse of the economy. Essentially, the Education industry provided that golden thread connecting all my dots, enabling me to better understand how to further enhance, in my personal life, my daughter’s learning needs outside of the classroom. When Manati was born, it enabled me to further re-enter my industry of choice, Financial Services, yet still continue to change people’s lives and enable young people to flourish through learning.
A career in Education – what can one expect?
Education comes with a broad range of focus areas. These can range from policy making, funding, infrastructure development, teaching and learning, content development and publishing, owning and operating schools and many others.
Traditionally, our Education system has dealt with challenges of reach, access, quality, pass rates, affordability, professional development of teachers and feeding schemes to name a few. Careers in education must deal with all these challenges, so there’s scope for young people with a wide range of skills to enter the industry.
We’ve seen a recent influx of technology OEMs into the Education industry, chasing the digital education opportunity. The industry is evolving very fast and each day is different. Being in Education and witnessing the difference you can make in people’s lives is an absolute privilege.
A page out of your book…
On a normal day without travel, my day starts off with some quiet time. My choice of quiet time is prayer. I then do some exercise, followed by school drop off. My evenings include dinner with the family, checking and signing homework and reading time. First I read with my daughter Yamani who gets to bed by 8:00pm. Then it’s me time, which consists mostly of reading. Reading relieves stress and relaxes me, regardless of the content type or genre. I go deep into the characters of each book I read. Research will confirm that reading increases your IQ, EQ and vocabulary. People that read are certainly a lot smarter. They are aware of the world around them and the events that led to the realities they live today. They understand how the world works. They appreciate differing opinions. I believe that reading helps us to monitor the channels of our thinking, calibrated by morals and ethics. I’ve been reading since I was a toddler and my parents always encouraged us to read. My Dad always told us that we belonged at the front of the queue, and we needed real knowledge to get and stay there. In my own experience, reading has educated not only my mind, but also my heart and soul. You begin to question what type of heart and soul you have as you go through many stories, fiction and non-fiction, politics, romance, history; and take that journey of self-discovery towards your true self. I’m a lot more appreciative of people’s experiences, and deal with life with a whole lot more empathy. Regardless of what I’ve read, I find it has helped me in every aspect of my life. I hope one day to hand over a library of great books to my daughter and generations to come.
The importance of reading and when to begin…
The sooner children start reading, the better for them academically, socially and for their vocabulary and analytical skills. The benefits are endless. I started reading to my daughter Yamani while she was still in the womb, and I continued until she could in turn read out loud to me, at the age of three or four. We host our ‘book club for two’ each week, and share what we each took out of our respective books.
We’re looking to raise children with a good grasp of general knowledge and world events, children with an active imagination that comes from having been lost in the world of fairy tales in early life.
My view is that the age at which education starts in South Africa is a problem. The sooner children start tackling literacy and numeracy, the greater their chance at academic success, compared to trying to fix literacy and numeracy issues at a later stage. Not only does reading as early as age 3 give children a good chance at academic excellence, these reading moments leave an indelible mark in their hearts. In my home, we read for pleasure a lot. When it comes to reading for school, the transition is very easy and often enjoyable. It becomes an exercise in discovery and new information, rather than a school task. Reading is where I go to switch off. Parents can cultivate a culture of reading in their homes by finding age appropriate books and genres that your children will enjoy. Start a book club for kids. Millions of children still lack basic literacy skills. The kids that are doing well at school are the ones that are doing further reading outside of the classroom.
What is currently on your bedside table?
I’m currently reading an old classic ‘Too Big To Fail’ by Andrew Ross Sorkin, which unpacks the events leading to the credit crunch about a decade ago. Being in Financial Services, this book is so relevant, giving the reader a blow-by-blow account of the effects of collusion and scheming that can take place in the financial markets. I’ve just finished reading Hidden Figures, which tells the story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who played a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US Space Program. They may have been America’s best kept secret because of their race and gender. I watched the movie with my 10-year old daughter and she asked a lot of questions about civil rights. I love reading biographies, and one of my all-time favourite books is ‘The Last lecture’ by Randy Pausch. I always look out for African authors, and I’ve enjoyed Leila Aboulela, Chimamanda Adichie, Mariama Ba and many others. It’s been interesting too, to read the biographies of a number of South Africans. I share my views on the books I read with my daughter, encouraging her to remain curious about the world around her and to follow career and life paths that will secure her a meaningful life.