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#28 LEARNING WITHOUT LIMITS - with Corneels Schabort

Updated: Oct 13, 2021

Molweni, welcome everyone. Welcome back to Fresh Perspective. I want you to help me welcome Corneels Schabort. A friend of many years, and a very interesting person. Should I say character, Corneels?

Yes, you may. You may call me a character.

I even drew a little picture. You can’t see if you’re listening to the audio, but – of Corneels. Very accurately depicting him. With more hair, though.

Yes, but just give me two more months of lockdown, and it will be 100% accurate.

Corneels, so I’d like to start with an easy question. Everyone knows the answer to this question. What is it that you do?

Well, I am… it depends on how you frame the question. But to get bread on the table, I'm a lecturer in chemical engineering at the Northwest University in Potchefstroom. So I teach, but then also on the side, I'm involved within a local church, Duet congregation. And in a part-time manner, I also teach there. So I think the answer would be, I teach; it just depends on who I'm teaching. I'm either teaching students in the classroom, or I'm teaching students in the church hall if that's… if that makes sense.


Amongst other things, I just like doing fun... I miss the stage, though. So that's… that’s bad. We should someday make a comeback again of Lagnes. I think that's, that's not a bad idea to get everybody on stage again.

Yes. So, for those of you who don't know what Lagnes is, please unsubscribe from this channel. And don't listen to podcasts… I’m kidding. Lagnes is an improvisation group that Corneels and I were part of, so we used to perform on stage together improvising in the likes of… like Whose Line is it Anyway, only better, and in Afrikaans.

Yes, it was much better. And in Afrikaans of course.

Okay, so you teach.

I teach, yes.

I like that you summarize it, or bring it all together like that. So - what? Why? Why do you teach? What do you love about it?

To me, what I love about teaching most, is - in teaching others, you teach yourself. It's a continuum where you learn in order to teach others. That's one thing. But what I love about teaching, is taking especially difficult concepts, breaking it down, and making it more digestible to whoever is in front of me. I think that's one thing.

And another thing about that is, in doing it, you instill a love for this specific field of study. I've seen that. If you can break something open, if you can open it up to people, they will show more interest in that field. Whether it be… whatever. But yes, taking something difficult, breaking it down, making it less complex to understand.

So okay, there's two things you like. You like the fact that you learn as you teach, but you also like the fact that you can take complex ideas, like in engineering. Or within the Bible, and break it down.


So people can understand it, and you say that… you feel like that creates a love for the subject matter, whatever it might be, with the student.

For me personally, definitely. That's true of me. And what I've seen is – sometimes something is dull subject matter. Then you start diving in, and you start asking questions, which is also a very important thing. And you actually teach people to ask questions. Because I think that's the big problem. People don't ask enough questions. They just go through life. And they feel, I am not allowed to ask questions. And I'm just like, no, ask these questions. Because as long as there are questions, there will be a search for… for the answers. And that's good. I think that's where this love for a subject field can be born. Out of asking the right questions.

And how did you end up being a teacher? That’s not how your path started, right? First, you were a performer in Lagnes, and toured the world.

That’s true. Yes.

Making millions.

Making millions! That was quite nice. No, homie, it’s… something that goes back many, many years. You know this, and I'll say this for the audience to hear. You've played a significant role in this specific area of my life, where you saw something in me that was not necessarily seen by others, even in the church community, and I don't hate them. They just did not see it.

(Laughs) You don’t hate them.

I think the love for teaching was something that came from school days. That's something that was always there. But specifically, with regards to developing this and growing in this, that goes back about 18 years, where I was given the - for the first time, an opportunity to actually teach in a more formal setting. And what I loved about that was, there was a community and within that community, there was the possibility to teach, and there was a good loop. There was a feedback loop. Where teaching was complimented with: perhaps try a bit of this, perhaps do this, that's great, that's awesome. So there was this whole feedback loop that helped me a lot in growing as a teacher.

And then, what's actually funny: when I worked for Sasol, yes, I worked for Sasol after leaving the university - I had this whole idea that I would work back my bursary. I had a Sasol bursary. I will work it back, and then afterward, I would go into full-time ministry and become a youth pastor. And that's not how life panned out.

I did end back in Potchefstroom, but I ended in the role of a teacher. But not as a full-time paid spiritual teacher, more a chemical engineering teacher. Then again, it's funny and it's wonderful in the same sense how these things come together. The longer I'm progressing on this road, the distinguishing factors between these two - the boundaries, it’s less vague. I mean, teaching is a general principle. But how these two things - a natural talent and a spiritual gift, those two actually come together. And that, to me, is wonderful.

And I'm thankful, I'm thankful to you, and I'm thankful to others who have crossed my path and have helped me to become who I am today. And it's something that - you can't do this alone; you need people who act as mentors, who act as people giving input, and having that feedback loop. Otherwise, you'll just become stagnant, and it will just plateau and be a straight line.

That makes a lot of sense. And thanks for acknowledging my role in it, Corneels. I think you’re making it bigger than it was, I was just like...

No, it's much bigger than you think it is. I'm serious. It's one of those things - you need that in life. And I think that's a principle. You saw something in me that others did not see. That was your role in that part of my life. And I believe everybody on earth, I wish it for everyone on earth, that there will be some mentor crossing their path or just somebody speaking life into a specific situation. Just helping them see what they cannot see at that point in time. So I will always cherish this. And I'll always share that as part of my life story. Even after 18 years, it's still part of the story.

Thanks, Corneels, I appreciate that.

What makes a good teacher? What makes you… what makes you able to actually take a complex thing, condense it, and keep students engaged? What are those principles?

Well, first of all, regardless of what your teaching style is, you should be passionate about what you're teaching. I think nothing can be more terrible than listening to somebody teaching on a topic that that person is not necessarily passionate about.

What does it mean to be passionate?

Well, passion. The word passion, of course, is used in a bad sense many times, because passion comes from the Latin word ‘pati-’, which means ‘willing to die for’. Now, I think we are very passionate about things, but I think we use that word wrongly. But, let's allow this. Passionate is to be something that goes beyond just, I have to teach this, now I've taught this, now it's done. It's being the continuous scholar. So I've taught something. Yes, my students will delve deeper into this. But I myself, I will also go and delve in deeper. There's still more to the subject matter that can be discovered.

So it's a never-ending process. But sometimes it's just in the way that some people just radiate the love that they have for that specific subject field, and it's contagious. It's dependent on the subject matter, but it's also dependent on the individual. I've seen, and I've heard in my ten years of teaching, sometimes you get people who will tell you outright - listen, I hate the subject. But it's just the way in which you presented this, just made me love the subject. Even though I will never continue with the subject it's just the way in which you taught that. So I think there's a very big responsibility on the shoulders of teachers to at least show a love for the field and present it in a way that conveys that message.

Because specifically as a chemical engineer, I've seen many times, and I'm now walking on the field of chemistry, for instance, you have teachers who have to teach chemistry at school level. But the teachers themselves, they hate chemistry. And then that hate is also transferred. And you have potential doctors, engineers, physiotherapists, astronauts, all these people who will never become that because of the hate that a certain teacher had with regards to a certain subject. So I think you're not doing that field justice in presenting something that you don’t love.

So that, I would say, is one thing. But then a second thing, and this is a difficult thing. It's good if you understand this: not all people learn in the same way.

So if all people don't learn in the same way, then the same teaching method will also not be applicable to everyone. And yes, that's one of the challenges as a teacher. Because my style, I love my style. But that does not necessarily mean that every student or church congregant will love that style.

I visited Florida last year, not the one in Johannesburg, the one in the States. And I crossed paths with another pastor. It's a very long story. He’s from Durban. And then he made a point, and it helped me so much. He reminded me of this fact. And it's actually a logical thing. Some people are more visual learners, other more audio, other more physical - whatever it is. Regardless of whether I'm talking about the church or the university, the same applies. You will have specific learners who are very diverse. Now the question is, how do we go about this as teachers? I think, first of all, you need to be cognisant of the fact that not everybody will love your style. And I think that's good. I think it's okay. So don't take offence.

If people don't like your teaching style, it's just not the teaching style they like. It does not mean the teaching is bad. And that does not mean that you are bad. It's just, that's not their style. It means, that same work can be presented in another way. And guess what, suddenly, that same person who hated version one, now loves version two. It's not that the content changed. It's just that the style changed. In understanding that, there was a time not that long ago, when I had this conflict in myself. I listened to other teachers, regardless of university or church, and I would say, I don't think this is a good teacher. And then I realised I was wrong.

I am basing my evaluation on my personal teaching style. So what I'm actually saying, and I think it's – be honest - that person is not similar to me. That's what I'm saying. If I say that person is a bad teacher, I should be very wary of those words, because it's not necessarily true. There will be learners out there who will say that person is the best teacher in the whole wide world. And I would just say, but why?

Then I understood. We are diverse. We have different learning styles, we have different teaching styles. Embrace that. And I believe that the challenge comes in - I mean, you can take this point very far, and talk about love languages. I mean, it's the same principle. Just because your love language differs from your partner's love language does not mean that their love language is bad. It just means that it will take a bit more effort to communicate love, and I think with teaching, it's the same. So sometimes you will have to deliberately change your style to accommodate a few. But I think that the reality is, I think it's very difficult if not impossible, to try to embrace everyone in the same time slot. I think that's a bit of a challenge. And I think if you can manage to do that, that would make you a teacher of teachers. I do believe that.

Wow, there’s a lot there, and I want to ask a few questions. I love it. So one thing is, a passion and caring about the subject matter. And then being able to adapt to different students’ needs within limits. How… what's the role that caring for the student plays within that?

So —

Maybe I can justify the question a bit. Or motivate it. What I found is, when I do a presentation, I go speak to a group of people. So it's not necessarily a class that I'm doing weekly or whatever. I'm invited to a speaking event. I go there, I do it. And the times that I prepare myself with the PowerPoint and the content and everything, and I'm focused on that and I present it, it feels… afterwards, it feels like, it was okay. But when I do the effort and put in the work to, you know, make sure that my presentation is good enough; and I ask myself the question, who will be sitting in front of me and do I care about them? Do I care that they learn what I'm trying to teach? The principles I'm trying to convey? That makes a major difference.

And I’ve spent lots of time preparing my presentation, and then after a while, I'm like, I'm not caring about the people I'm teaching, and I chuck the whole thing. And I just pitch up there and I talk to them. That's more effective and potent in my view. So that's why I'm asking that question. As a lecturer at a university, but also a teacher within a church, What role does that play? I'm going to motivate it some more. Within a church, I know that you have to care about, you know, the congregation. That's kind of… it goes with the terrain, but as a lecturer, it can be hard to care for some students.

It can also be difficult to care for some church congregants (laughs).

Fair enough.

Yes. I’m going to be that guy, and start with a quote, to just agree with what you're saying. I think it was Floyd McClung in one of his books, who wrote, they don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. And that's a simple quote to remember. And it links to that. Of course, within the church boundaries, it's easier because relationship is expected, if I can put it that way. Within the university, of course, it's a more professional environment. But that doesn't mean –

You actually don't expect a relationship.

Exactly. But that does not mean there cannot be a caring environment. It just looks differently. I think it looks different, but it's actually interesting. One of these things has changed over the last year in my own life. There's a new role I'm taking on within the school, within the faculty of the school of chemical and minerals engineering. I'm the Undergraduate Program Manager. So what we do is - the school director and myself, at the end of each semester, we have to look at all the marks of the students, and we have to identify where there are problem areas. And we've introduced a new system where students get warnings. It has been like that since the beginning of time, but for the first time, we are actually making sure that they get the message, and then they have to come to us. They have to schedule a meeting. And then we actually have a meeting. And I've been doing this now about two rounds; it takes a lot of time. Care is spelled ‘time’. So you have to sit with these students. And sometimes - I cannot tell you how much my opinion has changed about students just because I've taken interest in hearing what's going on in their lives.

You sit there with a student, and you ask the student - listen, I looked at your matric results, you’ve passed all your subjects with distinctions. I look here, and I see you've not passed this subject this semester. What is up with that? And then we try to refer them to Thuso, the old ‘InGryp’ — it's psychological assistance [the university offers students]. But the point is, sometimes it's simple things. Just like, you know what? I got a laptop at the beginning of the year, and it was stolen. And we’re like, but why didn't you speak up? And then it's, but I did not know I could speak up.

Just having that fulfillment of telling a student, listen. We are not just here to make you a theoretical chemical engineer; we actually do care. And it's in the best interest for us and you, for you to pass these modules. So what has changed in my way of looking at students – because, the problem is, if you're in education, if you're in a teaching role, and every year you have a new group of people sitting in front of you, it's difficult. It's a challenge, especially if you have bigger classes, that you tend to sometimes lose a bit of that, and your student in front of you becomes - and I'm very honest now - just becomes another client sitting in front of you. We have to pass your module, and then we'll move on. And you'll get new students. So I think it's a big, big challenge, and I'm starting to find a balance in that. But yes, I do believe what you're saying is true.

If you don't care about students, they will not care about your module. And that's taking me back to what I said earlier when I said that some of these students, they love you as a teacher, and hence they love the module - they perform well in the module, without loving the module so much. But they're just - it's a show of affection backward. I am showing my affection to you as a lecturer, and appreciation, because you have shown affection in this direction. But it's a bit of a challenge. And as I say, yes, I'm starting to realize that, and I think one of the things that we need to be reminded of - I'm trying to preach to myself actually, in saying this - in being reminded of who is the person sitting in front of you, if you realise, this is not just a surname, a name and a student number, this is actually a human being with a history, with a background.

And I think the problem we do often stumble upon, is we make assumptions. We make assumptions about people sitting in front of us. And because we make these assumptions, we treat them according to our assumptions. And then you start realizing, this person sitting in front of me, they don't have money, for instance, or he had this laptop, but he sold the laptop, took the money and sent it back home. And you're like, but that's stupid. Yes, it is stupid. Unless mom and dad have no work, and they have no money, and that's the only choice. And you hear these things, and you're just like, oh, man, there's so much to be done. There's so much need out there. And it's right here in front of us. It's a funny concept. But the masks - we're all wearing masks now. We’re also wearing masks on a deeper level.

We hide behind masks. And hence, I don't know what's going on in your life. You don't know what's going on in my life. Hence, there can be no relationship. And then we just operate based on assumptions. And hence, we cannot care. So I think caring will mean to take an active decision to know what's going on in your life. And yes, we can talk a lot about how does that practically pan out in a class of 50 students? How does that work? Those are the challenges, but I agree with what you're saying. Not caring - if you don't care, they don’t care. That's the point.

That's the bottom line. Yeah, I think that the quote was from the "Father heart of God" by Floyd McClung, which is a great book.


I was wondering if you've read anything by Ken Robinson, he wrote the book Element. He also has a TED talk about education. In Element, he talks about the different ways that people actually learn. And I think he lists seven if I remember correctly, but I want to share a short story, which I think you'll appreciate, linking it with both teaching and the church. He tells a story in his TED talk about a drawing class. And the teacher, you know, tells the children they can draw anything they want, and they start drawing, and she's walking, you know, through the desks and looking at everyone's pictures and she asks little Susan, what are you drawing? And she says, it's a picture of God. And the teacher goes, but no one knows what God looks like. And little Susan goes, well, they will in a minute.

I think it’s absolutely brilliant. They will in a minute. I really love that. The point he's making, is that when we are smaller, you know, children, we take a chance. We take a stab at something, we try. But as we grow up, we become more fearful to try. To ask and to just put a creative idea out there. Or a question which might be vulnerable. Yeah, so that was kind of my thought about that. I also wanted to ask you in regard to teaching: what’s the responsibility of the student, because it can be very hard work to listen. So yes, the teacher should have a passion for the subject matter and present it in an interesting way, and should care for you. What's the responsibility of the student? And what do you notice happens there? Even though all of these things are in place, some students just don't engage? What are your thoughts on why that happens?

I think there is a fundamental flaw in the South African school system. I'm making a very bold statement now. And the problem we have is, the teacher or the lecturer is seen as the sage on the stage. You are the person, you know everything. I'm here to listen. I'm just here to listen, I don't have to participate. I don't have to engage. I'm just sitting here. I believe a good teacher is not supposed to be a sage on the stage but rather a guide on the side. And that brings us to a very popular word nowadays, which is self-directed learning. And I believe that we can go a long way in the South African school system, education system as a whole, if we can - instead of trying to dump —

Could you just explain what self-directed learning is?

Self-directed learning is as the name says, I am self-directed. So, what this means - you teach me how, and I will do a thing. So the long and the short is, the execution will lie with me. For instance, let me make a broad statement. I show you how to do research, and you are a self-directed learner. You have an interest in the oceans of the world, but because I've taught you how to acquire information, you will be able to go and obtain that information. Yes, you might ask some questions along the way. But that's the whole point. The advantage of that is, it means learning does not stop. For example, now I’m in the workplace. The boss walks into my office and says listen, it's COVID-19. We can only do these things. And you're like, okay. But I'm a self-directed learner. I do research. I see. You have Zoom, you have Microsoft Teams, you have all these options, and you do an evaluation, you go back, you present a report to the boss, tell him, I've compared all these specific things, and I think we should go with this option.

Nobody has taught that person to do that. That's a self-directed learner who has acquired information that was not to his or her disposal before the time. So we can cut a lot on theory. There's a lot of theory we have in our school system, just theory, theory, theory. And I'm just like, wouldn't it be better to have one module, for instance, where you teach somebody how to obtain the information? And then say, those of you who are interested in geography, boom, you can apply it in that field. Those of you want to do history, go. And you rather give them the skills, the tools, and not just memorizing the first five presidents of the Republic of South Africa. I mean, just memorizing facts - how is that improving me as a being? Yes, it's good for the trivia evening at the bar. Yes, and I can win 500 rand, but I mean, just knowing useless facts… instead of saying listen, I cannot tell you who the first five presidents of South Africa were. But give me two minutes, and I'll be able to tell you. I know how to obtain that information. That, to me, is more valuable, the skill, than just being a walking encyclopedia.

I like the way you differentiate between information and skill. Teaching the skill versus teaching the information.

Exactly. Self-directed learning is a skill; you become a lifetime scholar. And then the advantage of that is, if somebody is a self-directed learner, that person can achieve much more, because then there are no limits. Currently, if I am information-bound, I'm bound by the syllabus. I'm bound by whatever is chapter 1, 2, 3. But now, because I'm a self-directed learner, I'm not interested in South African history, for instance I want to know about the United States. Then I can do that, because I know where to get information that's reliable. So yes, I think there are various advantages related to that method. What I want to get back to, is: we are not there yet. Yes, in many cases, we are there.

So the status quo, I would say at this point in time, is more one of spoon-fed students in many ways. And that, to me, is a big problem, because those are not effective people in the workplace globally. And South Africa is lagging behind. The rest of the world is not approaching life on a spoon-fed basis. They are more on a skills-focused, self-directed learning basis. But the problem is, now you get a school system, education system, how does it work? It's called teaching to the test. So I coach my students to write exams, and they all pass with distinctions, and those distinctions don't mean anything. And many times when people state these things, they’re like, yeah, you're just saying that because you didn’t do good in school. I did do well at school.

The point I want to make is, obtaining distinctions does not necessarily mean - what does it translate into? You have memorized a couple of exam papers; you were able to memorize 50 facts for your history paper, well done. You're a good parrot. That's what you are. And I know people will say I'm being very harsh. I'm just like, I believe we can spend less time in school and deliver pupils who are much more able to do things in life and be able to contribute to society. I’m just thinking there are better ways. And I think it's just this whole thing about - nobody wants to take a step back and say, perhaps we must rethink this whole model. I don't know.

It makes sense. I mean, the school system we have currently, was designed for the industrial age, it was designed to equip people to work in a factory.


You cannot just continue the factory mindset. It did work well to educate the masses to be able to do low-level skilled work. But I mean, we live in a completely different age now. Information is not the issue, because information is accessible.


I want to distinguish between being able to get the information to answer a question and learning something.

We’re now talking about even a higher level of thinking, and I'm struggling with that at this point in time with my students. So one question I like asking in exam papers or tests, is: critically evaluate the following statement. And that is a higher level of cognitive engagement with information. It's one thing to get the information. I totally agree. But now you have to be able to critically evaluate that. And that is a skill that's very scarce. I don't see that very often. I'm very serious now. People have a struggle with engaging with information, and in a civil way, having debates or having an opinion and saying listen, I hear what you're saying. And you're saying this, this, this. Those are all good grounds for what you're saying. I'm saying this, this, this. I feel stronger about this. You have your opinion, I have my opinion. And I do believe that's one of those skills that - that's more required. But that's something that you need to be taught. It's a thinking way, it's an approach to life. It’s more philosophical. It's on a much higher level than just memorizing facts. But yes, I love that. Personally, I love that. But I don't find that very often.

Is that skill something that can be taught? And how do we do that?

I think it can be taught. If you create an environment from a young age already, and it can start in the family. Where people sit around the table, which is always a good thing. And you just start to discuss topics. Like, do you think that it's a good idea that there’s a ban on selling cigarettes at this point in time? You can have a whole discussion about that, and allow all the opinions around the process. And I do believe that the adult, or the more mature person, which is not necessarily always the adult, but the more mature person, will have to then facilitate the whole discussion and say, oh, but that's a valid point. And if somebody attacks that person, to guide and say, listen, I can hear you don't agree with what this person is saying. But that does not mean that it is not a valid point. So yes, you can state your opinion, and you can state your fact without attacking the person.

So I think it is something that can be taught from a young age by the family. I mean, it can be so much fun. Imagine you have these kinds of discussions in a classroom where you discuss relevant topics about what's going on in the country. Allow people to have opinions. That will force you to acquire the knowledge before the time. I mean, you will not be able to participate if you don't already have, as a prerequisite, the information. So you will have to know what's going on around you. And then you can participate. And I think that's something, if that skill is taught, you'll have much more mature people. And I've picked up - the times I've been in the States. I've seen in the family system there, they are leaning towards that. Encouraging opinion, encouraging people to speak out. To me, in South Africa, it's more - shhh. No, don't talk about these things. We don't talk. It's not politically correct. We don’t discuss this. And then we have these bad braaivleis discussions, which is not necessarily always good. But you hear what I'm saying. I think it is something that can be acquired. I do believe it's something that can be taught.

That makes sense. And I also like the fact that when you're listening to someone, and you validate their opinion, saying that makes sense, because you are supporting your opinion with reasons for that opinion, or certain kind of facts. When you validate someone's opinion, saying, that does make sense, it doesn't mean that you agree.

Exactly. You're touching on a very, very, very important point. And especially for the church. I can agree with you or disagree with you. It does not change my heart towards you. So there are some things, and I think it's the Moravians who said this: In essential things, unity. In nonessential things, liberty. In all things, love. And I think the problem is, especially within the church sometimes, we want to classify everything as essential. And I'm like, I don't think so.

I think there are some things that are not essential, and we can have liberty with regards to differentiating views on these things. But it's applicable to everything. Just treating people a bit more humanely. It's a good way of starting that. To say, listen, I hear what you're saying. And using the Imago principles. So - what I hear you're saying, is ABCDE. That does not mean I agree one inch with what you're saying, but at least you've been heard. And you cannot accuse me of not listening. And just by having a platform where people speak, and where they are heard, immediately changes the animosity that might be there. And people are like, okay, I'm fine. I'm walking away from this, and we still don't agree, but he's a very nice guy. And that's good. I mean, we don't need to convince every single person in the world to think the same way that we do. And I'm glad about that. The world would be so boring if everybody agreed on every single thing. I don't think that was the plan. I mean, it's taking me back to the beginning of this discussion. The world is diverse. Creation is diverse, people are diverse. So respect diversity.

That makes a lot of sense. I want to just go back to the student's responsibility. Because it’s hard work to really learn something. You can regurgitate information, but to really learn something on a level that you can critically evaluate or have an opinion, you have to be able to digest that. What is the skill set required for that? What is the skill set required to be able to get information, digest information, and then use it to critically evaluate or formulate a unique opinion, or personal opinion?

Again, there are a couple of possibilities. I'm thinking about one now. For instance, there's a lot of theory that needs to be understood. Let's talk very specifically. So you have this distillation column, and we have to determine the sequence in which these distillation columns are set up. Now, there is what's called heuristics. Decision tree. How do you decide this comes before that, that comes before that, etc. So they have the responsibility to go through the theory. Okay. Now we get into the class. Now I picked this example up, which I’ve not seen before. And I tell them, you already have the theory. Let's apply the theory. Now I want to see how you're thinking. So I would subdivide them into groups. And I would tell them listen, I give you 10 minutes. Apply that. And then we'll have the discussion, and then we will have reasoning. And then I would say, okay, so what is the first rule we have with heuristics? And they would say, remove all corrosive materials first. And I say, okay, so which one of these ways do we want to do this? Option one, two, and eight is a good option. Okay, everybody agrees. No, I don't agree. Why don't you agree? But what about this and that?

So there's an interaction, but it's not me talking. It's me providing a learning opportunity. By giving a real-life example, and asking them to apply what they've already acquired, now, in this case. And the nice thing about these things, some of these questions are open-ended, there's not just one correct answer, and you need to tell them, there's no right and wrong. It depends on the situation, I mean, in our case, you have a problem where you need to put in a heat exchanger. You can use cooling water for that, but you can also use some exotic coolant. If you use the exotic coolant, you will need a smaller heat exchanger, but the coolant costs a lot of money. Or you can build a much more expensive big heat exchanger, but the water is dirt cheap. So you need to sensitize them, and then you say, but that's just cost. And then I'm like, but what about the environment? And then you talk about that, and ethical issues in that. So you will need to guide them and throw these things in, because remember: if you're already a chemical engineer, these things come naturally. If you're still a student, you need to be reminded.

So it's a process. I think that's the big thing. It's a process, and you need to ascertain, who's sitting in front of me? Where are they now? Sometimes you need to throw in more, sometimes you need to throw in less. But it's encouraging them to learn. It's encouraging them to ask the questions and asking them why they are not asking questions when they are supposed to be asking questions. That's another thing.

And let's talk about mindset. I don't know you've come across the book by Carol Dweck called Mindset.


Corneels, you can't only read chemical engineering books.

(Laughs) I was born to lead, not to read.

Leaders are readers, Corneels. Let’s put that out there as well (laughs). So Carol did a lot of research in the education world, and now her research is being applied in different spheres of life, including sport and business. But education is kind of where it started. And she distinguishes between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. So fixed mindset is, my abilities are innate, I was born with it. So either I have the ability to be a chemical engineer, or… let's take another example, to do maths, or I don't. I was born that way. Or, to be good at sports or not. And whether you believe that you are bad at something, that's a fixed mindset, and we can all see that that's bad. But also, when you believe that you are born good at something, that's also a fixed mindset, and it's also not good, not healthy. Because then you think that it's something that you have that cannot improve, that cannot develop. And it causes you to shy away from certain things. From challenges, because if I believe I'm good at something and there’s a challenging thing, I might be exposed for not being good at it. And that will be bad for my self-esteem. Feedback, I’ll avoid certain feedback.

But these kinds of students and people flourish in the test system, because they can do the test, get the result, and feel good. But they will also - they're more likely to cheat in the fixed mindset, because what if I get a bad mark and then you know, once again, I'm exposed. So they might even cheat to be able to uphold that image. That facade of, I’m smart. Whereas the growth mindset on the other hand, is - skills are built. So I can learn to be good at maths. It is a skill that I can develop over time, I can learn to be a better athlete. And that mindset is created through feedback as well from the start. So when we tell the child that, you know, you are clever, that can create a fixed mindset. Or stupid, of course. But if you tell someone, you’ve worked very hard at this and look at the results you've got. Now, you’re developing the growth mindset, because you're telling the child it's the effort that you put in that gets you the result. That’s the summary of the book from my side, but still, read it. There's some, you know, there’s a few sentences more in the book.

(Laughs) It sounds like such a good summary. I mean, I cannot beat that. Not in that short a time.

Please read that book. It’s brilliant. I just wanted to put it out there and hear your opinion on - have you seen this play out with students, where you feel like, you are just going to be left behind no matter what my teaching style is, no matter how much I care, no matter what? And that might be attributed to the fixed mindset.

Yeah, on an individual basis, I've definitely come across this. But it's a difficult thing. A difficult, difficult thing. Because sometimes, that mindset has been fixed for many years. Remember, by the time they get to university, they are at least 19, 18 years of age, minimum 18. Some of them 17. But that's their age. And some of those things, it cuts to the core, it's a deep thing. And to fix that in a six-month module, I think that's very difficult. I've seen that especially with mathematics that goes on at university level, where students just don't believe they have the ability to do that. And what I hear you're saying is, just telling them no, actually, you can. That's not the solution, but there's another way. And that is allowing them to grow. I think it's true to a certain extent. I don't think I will ever be able to play cricket well. Some of those things are just… It’s too late, it’s too late for me.


So I think it depends. I mean, there are some of these things that - I'm thinking about Strengths Finder, which - I did read that book, you know, where you do the test, and then you realize what you are good at. But I'm not going to elaborate on the principle. I do believe it's possible for any person to achieve anything, but depending on what your zero base is, will determine how much effort will be required. And I think there are people who are naturally talented to have ball sense. It's an inborn ability, and they can do anything. And you can use the growth approach, growth mindset approach, but they will reach it much earlier. Some people - I mean - sometimes it’s like, no, we can send you for cricket lessons every single day of the week, and try to boost you - I just don't think it's a physical ability that you have. So I think it depends. It depends on what this thing is.

But what I do believe from a teaching point of view, I believe that - I'm not talking theory, I'm talking about understanding and grasping things. I do believe that a good teacher will be able to break that down to make it simple enough for any person to understand it, and from that perspective, I will agree with this setup. That’s why I will say, a growth mindset will be good in that case. Thinking about physical abilities, I think that might be a bit tricky. That's just my take.

I like the fact that you put it - the zero base, where you start from. The amount of effort it will take you to develop a certain skill will differ, and the level to which you can rise will also differ. But with something like maths, depending on the teacher, the passion and your mindset, because it's got rules and it works a certain way. It's just about understanding that.

Exactly. One thing I very regularly stumble upon is - I love languages. So that's - that's one of the things that I love.

I thought you were gonna say, I love lamp.

(Laughs) It's kind of a big deal.

No – the thing is that I love languages, and then I come across people, and they will tell me, oh, Corneels, you are so clever. And I’m like, no, no, no. Then they would make a statement, saying: I will never be able to learn another language. So that's a fixed mindset.

Yes it is.

And I question that, always. I'm just like, that's nonsense. Then they would say things like, I also want to speak that language. And I'm like, no, you're lying to yourself. Because if you really wanted to speak that language, you would have already gotten some sort of online course, or textbooks, set aside a certain amount of hours to do that every day. I think that perhaps fits in here. We also have this idea that it's a gift, so it just falls upon you. And then you can speak another language. That's not true. If people say, wow Corneels, you speak good German. I will tell them, yes, because I've been speaking it for more than 20 years. If you do something for more than twenty years, and it did not start off with me speaking like that, it started off with learning all the rules, all the grammar, and it was hard. It was tough. I had to memorize those things. Now, I'm glad I memorized it, because I apply it every day. But that's a more simple language, because it's a Germanic language to me as an Afrikaans-speaking person. But the long and the short is, with everything - like language: mindset, change it. Put in the effort. And I think what's true, people will make statements like yeah, but I'm not a language person. I'm not a math person. You must just find that niche.

Yeah. Or, I’m not creative

Exactly. And that's nonsense. It's a creative statement. But yeah, so the point is, that's negative speak. It's not good. I don't like negative speak. That… that makes me go, you are right. You will never speak a language. I would just think, tell it to them. If they want to believe that about themselves, who am I to disagree? (Laughs) You are 100% correct. Because if that's your mindset, you'll never reach it in any case.

Yes. If you believe – is it Henry Ford who said, whether you believe you can or believe you cannot, you're right?

I've never checked that. You know, that’s one thing. You get all these quotes online, and then it's attributed to these people. And the last couple of months, I've been really checking that. So I will check that, whether he really said that. People just quote these quotes, and then continue. And then it is, ‘It was Henry Ford’. Was it really? Did he really say that?

(Laughs) My approach is, Corneels, if the person is not certain of who said it, I claim it. No, it was me.

Oh, that's good. So Homie, you said this. (Laughs)

And I go onto Wikipedia, and I add a quote there in my name.

(Laughs) Quotable quotes, yeah.

I wanted to ask you about – do you know Tim Ferriss? He wrote The Four-Hour Work Week, The Four Hour Body, Tools of Titans, The Four Hour Chef.

I have heard about The Four Hour Work Week. I like that.

Anyway, you love languages, and he's developed a way to learn languages within six months. He’s developed a system. So please go check out Tim Ferriss.

I'll check out Ferriss, and Carol Dweck. And then Ken Robinson.

So I wanted to ask you, what's been very influential books in your life?

Ooh, now I must think. There's one book that I actually read more recently, it’s a book by Floyd McClung. It's one of his last books that he wrote. The book's name is Leading like Jesus. And what he is stating in that book, is the whole upside-down kingdom. The whole thing about servant leadership. And that book, I've used that so many times over the last couple of months. In schools, we sometimes visit schools for leadership training. I've realized that it’s the most difficult thing - for many schools, where many of the pupils are professing Christians, they are totally flabbergasted when you set up this model, and you say, well, Jesus said He did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. And everybody will sit there and say, that's wonderful, that's great. Amen, that's good.

And then, we get to the practicality. The matrics, and the ways in which they will treat the grade eights. How does that translate out to this? And suddenly, there's this disconnect. It's like, they don't have a problem saying amen to these things. But as soon as it comes to - now they have to apply it in their own life, they’re like, no, but it does not work like that. That's… that's interesting. So that's one book that I read. You're putting me on the spot now with regards to the books that I've read. If I come up with other ones, I’ll tell you.

So you said you’re not just a sage on the stage, and I like the rhyming, but the guide on the side. You're a poet, and you don't even realize it.


Classic line. Corneels, thank you. Thank you very much for joining us and sharing your perspective on teaching specifically, but also on life. My last question is, what do you feel is your superpower?

My superpower is to make people laugh. That is an important thing. We need more laughter in this world. I don't necessarily tell good jokes, but I will laugh at your jokes, and as I laugh at your jokes, everybody will laugh. That's just how life works. So I would say that is my superpower.

I agree you have a very unique laugh, as I'm sure you've been told many times. You're the only person that I know that can be recognized by their laugh.

It's good, because then you don't need to remember faces. They will come to you. Just laugh, they’ll come to you.


And if people want to contact you, where can they reach you? Where can they follow you?

Well, that's a very interesting thing. I mean… I left social media about two, three years ago. So I left Facebook, I left Twitter, and my life is better. I must write a book about that perhaps. But the long and the short is, I’ve quit social media quite a while ago. I think it’s so easy nowadays to get trapped in the “like-my-posts” kind of environment, “share-to-be-seen”, and that. I know that’s not applicable to everyone, but that had a major impact on my life. So you won’t find me on Facebook. I’m not on Twitter, I’m not on LinkedIn, I’m not on these platforms. You can e-mail me at So yes, that’s what you have. Or, my formal university e-mail,

I’m sure you can expect an influx of e-mails coming your way with different questions about social media.


Thank you, Corneels. Thank you for being on the podcast. I wish you all the best.

It’s a pleasure.


Books mentioned in this podcast can be bought from Amazon using these links:

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