Times of Eswatini
Waterford’s Jacky Otula likes developing solutions
MBABANE – Waterford Kamhlaba is renowned worldwide for producing change makers, independent thinkers and opinion leaders in a cross section of sectors.
The enabler for this is a phenomenal system of education that is independent, focused and embraces cross cultural characters.
In November 2022 the school’s Governing Council (GC) announced the appointment of Jackie Otula as the next Principal of Waterford Kamhlaba (WK).
Jackie assumed her duties at WK on January 1, 2023. She embodies qualities of an outstanding leader, who values teamwork and holds firmly to the United World College (UWC) values such as intercultural understanding, mutual responsibility and respect.
Addressing WK’s opening assembly on Wednesday January 25, 2023, Principal Otula mentioned that she believed in the UWC mission of making education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.
Otula joins Waterford from Mpesa Foundation Academy in Kenya, where she was the functional equivalent of a deputy principal.
“There, as well as in her previous appointments, she had proven herself to be a leader who embraces challenging projects, works with colleagues and community members to develop solutions, and guides implementation effectively,” said Dr Sibongile Gumbi, WK’s Chairperson of the GC.
The Times of Eswatini sent Otula some questions to find out her vision and how she views things in general and education in particular.
Before coming to WK, Jackie served in various senior leadership roles including the Head of IB Programmes, Deputy Head of Academics, IB Diploma and Careers-Related Programmes Coordinator, Head of Department in Creativity Activity and Service, Theory of Knowledge, Studies in Language and Literature, Extended Essay supervisor in the IBDP, and a Reflective Projects supervisor in the IBDP.
She has two Master’s Degrees, one in Education and the other in Communication (with a thesis on Conflict Management); and, has presented at a number of international conferences.
The Times: Thank you for allowing me to have this interview with you. I hope that you are settling in well in Eswatini and at Waterford Kamhlaba?
Jackie Otula (JO): It’s a great pleasure to be featured in this publication. In terms of settling in, you will know that I came with my family and, so far, we are having a good stay and were well received by the community here.
Times: You come with vast experience in this internationally renowned academic programme; what is unique about IB and why is it important for students? Also, what are your key IB success factors?
JO: An IB education fosters the development of critical skills and the confidence to thrive in our world. It allows learners the opportunity to make a difference in the world by putting to use the skills acquired while remaining active, compassionate, and lifelong learners. The programmes are student-centric with an emphasis on collaboration, the appreciation of diversity and a commitment to holistic formation. Within the inquiry cycle approach, students find meaningful experiences and connections to real-life situations that are unique to them.
Times: Education expert Conrad Hughes who said: “Education in the 21st Century must go further than subject skills into deep, transferable competences such as critical and philosophical thinking, innovation and entrepreneurship, intercultural competence and collaborative problem solving; attitudes to life such as respecting differences, taking ethical decisions, respecting the planet’s natural resources and sustaining a wholesome, positive approach to a future that is in our hands.”
How far would you agree with the statement by Hughes?
JO: Hughes makes a strong case for education that is relevant to the 21st Century.
The focus on skill acquisition and particularly the transversal skills couldn’t be more aptly put.
Within the compass of this dynamic world, the focus must be on skills for life - meaningful living - so much so that schools are either changing on their own volitions or are being forced to change their approaches to pedagogy by virtue of the demand, to fit within the said compass.
We need to be graduating entrepreneurs, artisans and culturally sensitive individuals who are responsive to the world’s baffling phenomena, with the right attitudes necessary in the face of paradigm shifts.
If we can’t develop problem solvers and innovators, then we have failed in our own quest as educators.
Times: What is your view on the recently released IGCSE & IB 2022 results for Waterford Kamhlaba?
JO: Hearty congratulations to the entire WK community. The results are a manifestation of teamwork and a commitment to excellence. When teams pull together, greater achievements result.
With an average of 33 points against a world average of 31 in November 2022; and a 94.1 per cent pass in IGCSE, WK has proven to be a force to reckon with in the world of academia.
This success is celebrated and acknowledged and I can’t tell you how proud I am of everybody who participated to achieve these sterling performances. Go WK, the sky is not the limit!
Times: You come across as someone with positive character traits that a great leader should have, such as respect for people, compassion, and a sense of teamwork. What would you define as being your leadership attributes and why?
JO: I value respect, teamwork, and commitment to purpose. I am big on collaboration, accountability, and transparency too.
As a leader, it is incumbent on our part to grow fellow leaders. I do not wear the crown, I hold my team with their hands and together we forge forward; through huddles, successes and failures.
I believe that the world would benefit more if we were compassionate, yet firm in our resolve. Mine is a purpose-driven philosophy.
Times: How have you prepared for your transition from your previous role, to leading a whole school in a brand-new environment and country?
JO: Change is never easy, however brave one is.
I am an open-minded human being with a great affinity to trust both my instincts and people. Getting the support of my family (they are on this journey with me) and my colleagues was paramount.
I am slowly learning how to pronounce names (Eswatini names are beautiful yet challenging to say - please be patient with me). I am exploring places in my spare time - Malkerns where John Bosco, Swazi Candles, and Malandela’s are situated, to begin with.
My greatest desire is to make contacts and establish relationships within and outside of Eswatini. I would like to blend in with the culture and sway to the rhythm of WK.
Leading an institution of this magnitude is humbling, especially so because of the diversity therein, and I am more cognisant of this as I interact with and share the story of my life which has become a significant element of my leadership.
I am equally grateful for my previous experience in leadership, which has come in handy when I have to inspire the college community towards the greater mission.
Times: Generally, what inspires you, and what values best define you?
JO: My faith in humanity and the hope I see reflected in the faces of the people around me.
I am an educator by choice, because this is the most fulfilling career - working to impact young people who are our hope for a better world. My values are as stated above - really investing in people through compassionate leadership.
Times: At Waterford, there is a tradition of having student-led activities. What are your views on student-led activities within a school? What is your way of getting the best out of students?
JO: I come to Waterford against a backdrop of developing transformational leaders.
What better way than to instill a sense of this great responsibility? With this in mind, it is almost impossible not to have a student-led process. I believe in these students and I know they have it in them to drive this agenda; so this is a no brainer really!
Times: Now, I would like to take you back to your decision to come to WK. What is the value proposition that attracted you to the school?
JO: Kamhlaba hands down! The college has a great legacy and the need to be a part of this rich legacy was definitely an attraction.
Tie this to Kamhlaba - you got me. I mean diversity, equity, inclusivity and justice are pillars upon which any institution will thrive - if we truly value the world.
Times: As you would know, one of the important functions in a school is one of advancement. The school’s Advancement Department is embarking on a campaign to raise a significant amount of money in 2023 for three main areas: scholarships, sustainability projects, and IT (connectivity). What is your perspective on this campaign and how do you plan to support it?
JO: This is a great undertaking and one that is necessary in light of our infrastructural needs and the desire to create sustainable learning and living spaces for our students and staff.
I am in support of these initiatives and will focus my attention towards every venture that the AO undertakes.
Actually, given that we are celebrating our 60th anniversary under the auspices of justice for Africa, these AO initiatives are self-advocating.
Times: As you have just mentioned, this year WK is celebrating 60 years of existence through the 60th-anniversary campaign. What is the significance of this campaign and why should stakeholders and the world support it?
JO: I have said it before at our opening meetings: 60 is no mean feat. This is a significant milestone, worthy of commemoration. 60 represents maturity, grace, abundance, and success.
It is a reminder that WK has come full circle.
The significance of our campaign is the creation of this sense of accomplishment, a celebration of the achievements of the college in light of Michael Stern’s vision, an opportunity to reflect on our past, account for the outcomes, reflect on the present and look with confidence on our future.
What will WK look like 60 years from now? This is a good question at the moment.
The world should support this campaign because, for 60 years, Waterford Kamhlaba has inspired generations of people to believe that societies can change for the betterment of mankind.
Times: What are your general success criteria in an academic environment? What does success look like to you?
JO: Success is healthy living, success is accomplishment of one’s dreams, goals, objectives, purpose. Success is peace. In an academic environment, the general success criteria is making the vision and the mission of the institution come alive. In more traditional contexts, academic success may be pegged on good grades yet more modern contexts consider success as the holistic student formation with the added bonus of agency for both staff and students.
Times: Thank you for your time and wishing you all the best at Waterford Kamhlaba.