Pearson's Alice Bhebhe says teaching runs in her blood

Alice was involved in driving L&D for SA's first democratically elected parliamentarians.

Pearson Executive Director of HR Alice Bhebhe was part of a team that was responsible for ensuring the effective implementation of learning and development strategies of the first democratically elected legislators. She also worked with HR managers of the nine provincial legislatures and National Parliament. Soon after the 1994 election, there was a partnership between the European Union (EU) and South Africa to support the transition of the legislatures including the implementation of HR related initiatives. Alice got a job with the EU parliamentary support programme and her role, among others, was to ensure the effective implementation of the HRD plan for the legislators.

She says:

“It was an amazing experience considering the political environment at the time. To have the opportunity to be part of the transformation journey and serve my own country was an absolute honour."

She worked with the Speakers Forum and the chief whips of all the different parties to identify the learning needs of parliamentarians and eventually came up with a shared plan that was agreed to by all stakeholders. 

“There was research that had already been done to identify what the skills need and what initiatives, processes and such that needed to be put in place. Our team had to identify the required expertise and key role players that would be required to execute the learning agenda,” she says.

Collaboration even in disagreement

She worked with the first group of parliamentarians, including the likes of the Honourable Frene Ginwala and Madame Naledi Pandoor, and it was an experience that shaped her perspective on many levels. The way that those parliamentarians carried themselves and interacted with each other drove her to seriously consider becoming a politician herself. The spirit of that time was such that all the parliamentarians would spend days and nights away from their families just to make sure that the new democracy would not fail and, although she did not become a politician, she knew she would be intentional about becoming a change agent.

She says:

“I'm so glad I had that experience because I see things differently now. It was extremely transformational because it reinforced what my parents taught me... that life is not about you. That every day you are alive you are creating a legacy and that the number of people that you impact and how you impact them is dependent not only on the things you do but also the things that you don't do.”

Until 1994, all those individuals had never been together in one place. However, given the collaborative spirit that prevailed, one would have never guessed the people who were now working together would have previously viewed each other as ‘enemies.’

“It was not a difficult job because, at that stage, all of the parties were committed to ensuring that things did not fall apart as we transitioned to the new South Africa," she says. "There was already a spirit of collaboration in the build-up to that watershed moment when the ANC won the country's first-ever democratic election. People had already started bridging the gaps. It really showed what we can achieve as a nation if we all pull together in the same direction.”

During lunch times, Alice says that members of different parties and races would sit together. There was a sense across all racial and party lines that the collective was responsible for how the story of the new South Africa country would unfold. It really was a new dawn.

Teaching runs in the blood 

Born in South Africa, Alice grew up in Zimbabwe. She returned in 1991 when she felt a need to come back and moved to the Eastern Cape. After completing her degree at University, She became a teacher because she wanted to be able to spend time with her children during school holidays. It was then that she fell in love with teaching.

It was when she joined Maskew Miller Longman and began working with teachers and guiding them on how to teach English as a second language in the areas that were then known as Ciskei and Transkei, that she saw first-hand  the plight of South African youth and was confronted with the impossible challenge facing educators in rural areas. Students would huddle in a small hut as there were no classrooms and share a single textbook between five or more of them, while the teacher tried to do their best with very limited resources.

“My dad was a teacher and my mom, who was a nurse, eventually became a teacher at the School of Nursing. Many of my uncles and aunties were teachers too, so I was always around teachers and the subject of learning. While studying Philosophy at university, one of the subjects that fascinated me was the Philosophy of Education and I fell deeply in love with learning and development," says Alice.

“If you are interested in learning that means you are interested in people and helping them achieve their full potential. Because it is through learning (formal and informal) that you find yourself and why you are here and hopefully become the best version of yourself."