Poniso Watema: A force to reckon with in the education sector

 

Growing up full of zest to one day become a leader, counsellor and role model to some, Poniso Watema has persevered and conquered her space in society, becoming the only female principal in Zimbabwe’s eight polytechnic colleges.

The principled and result-oriented Watema has dared the country’s education sector, taking the bull by its horns and leading Mutare Polytechnic College to greater heights.

As the world is celebrating International Women’s Day in this women’s month running under the theme “Balance for Better” some are itching to know who is Watema and what role has she played in enhancing gender balance and success in the Zimbabwe’s education sector. 

Born in the City of Kings and Queens (Bulawayo), Watema started her education at Maphisa Primary School, and then proceeded to Ihlati Secondary School before going for her tertiary level in the Midlands Province.

Watema’s educationist journey began in 1984 after training at one of the then prestigious teachers’ colleges, Batanai an annex of then Gwelo Teachers College situated where Midlands State University is today. 

After completing her studies, she dived into the teaching profession where she taught Food and Nutrition, Fashion and Fabrics under Home Economics and Geography at various secondary schools that include Nemakonde High in Chinhoyi, Victoria High in Masvingo, Ndarama High also in Masvingo.

Aiming for greater heights, Watema jumped ship from high school tutoring to lecturing at tertiary institutions. 

Her first point of entry was at Masvingo Polytechnic in 1993 where she was an ambassador in the establishment of the Division of Applied Arts and Science and pioneered the Clothing Department.

During her stay at Masvingo Polytechnic as head of division (Applied Arts and Sciences), in 2004 she established the Department of Tourism and Hospitality, before being voted vice chairperson of the Women in Tourism Business in 2011. 

She rose through the ranks to become Masvingo vice principal in 2012 and eventually promoted to Mutare Polytechnic principal in 2014, a position she still holds today and is making great strides at it. 

Today Mutare poly has grown to become one of the best polytechnics in Zimbabwe drawing more than 3 000 students across all levels yearly. 

The college, which has become popularly known as ‘The pacesetter’ — a motto that was suggested by Watema — has over the years become a force to reckon with, increasing its visibility at national and international level.

With her steering the wheel for the past four years, the college has participated in the Zanzibar Open Debate championship and Pan-African Debate Championships, as well as the Southern African Regional Students and Youth Conference on Sexual and Reproductive Health rights held in South Africa; and scooped several recognition awards in the process.

“The journey to my current destination was not rosy; to be frank many storms and floods were experienced throughout my journey. Being a woman working in a male-dominated field penetration was really hard, but l worked hard for me to reach my current position,” Watema told the Daily News on Sunday.

She added that growing up in a male-dominated family of seven, where there were five boys and two girls being identical twins challenged her to rise up to the occasion, be a hard worker, face challenges, have the ability of being tough, bold, goal getter and focused. 

Being at the helm of one of the best colleges in Zimbabwe, Watema has worked tirelessly to prioritise gender balance in the uptake of various courses by encouraging female students to be bold enough to take up male-dominated courses like engineering.

“We are highly involved in revenue generation strategic business units, canopy production, construction of an applied arts and science laboratory, maintenance of environment and infrastructure,” Watema said.

“To top it off we have strived to ensure that all gender is awarded equal opportunities for promotion and fair streaming. This has seen the launching of Female Students in Engineering Association in 2018.”

Last year, the institution launched its first Research Conference aimed at empowering, nurturing and tapping a research culture in ideation, creativity and innovation for industrialisation and modernisation. 

Watema has transformed the institution from a chalkboard instruction to modern interactive boards and overhead projectors through the installation of 56 interactive boards and projectors in all classrooms, for disruptive innovation with all technical courses being involved in Computer Aided Design learning where creativity is nurtured as per their course demands. 

 “To ensure that the courses we offer are relevant to industry, we engage the industry during our symposium and get feedback on their expectations from students as well as the current trends,” she said.

Watema is a recipient of several awards including the 2017 Women’s Top Leadership Excellence Award — Special Recognition in Higher and Tertiary Education Science and Technology Development; 2017 Outstanding Female in the Public Service Sector awarded by Megafest; 2017 Female Manager of the year 2nd Runner up; and she recently scooped the female manager of the year 2018 award.

Apart from the Megafest awards she has also received accolades through the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) awards.

In the next five years, she dreams of developing innovative and creative artisans, technician’s technologists who can contribute to industrialisation and modernisation of the country, thereby contributing to the Gross Domestic Product as the development of human capital is key to economic growth. 

Thus the assertion that “building a gender balanced society is not a one day event but a process, it is not a women’s issue, but a business issue,” as gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive.

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