A new way – underprivileged schools partnering to find real solutions
By Vince van der Bijl
This is a road less travelled. In their journey of discovery, two underprivileged schools, Nkondo PS (E Cape) and Ukhanyo PS (Masiphumelele) last week partnered for academic and holistic education upliftment. So different from the usual and essential projects of a private or model C school partnering to uplift a disadvantaged school.
The union unfolded after two Ukhanyo educators, Ms. Ngunga and Ms. Mlokoti, left Masiphumelele last year and joined Nkondo PS, an under-resourced rural school in a very poor environment near their homes, just outside Mthatha. Such was the positive and creative impact and energy of these two teachers on her school that the principal Mrs. Cwane wanted to see Ukhanyo PS for herself. The Nkondo principal brought 14 educators and 60 learners to experience all aspects of Ukhanyo and see the Western Cape.
Just as a battling learner from a poor environment feels isolated and helpless and in need of a friend to work through the issue with, so poor schools need similar relationships. Who better to share war stories with and find workable solutions, than the staff and principals who daily deal with the identical myriad of issues?
Experienced educators from both schools discussed solutions to problems that beset them both. There was no pretense in the discussions, no hidden agendas – real stories about real experiences.
While the size and structure of the two schools were different the issues are the same.
Ukhanyo has the advantage of NGO, Rotary, Foundations and sports organizational support which has boosted the holistic education in the school. The school is supported in academics (by NGO, Masicorp’s funding and running of the math’s, English and science labs), in sport (by The MCC Masi 750 Club funding and running the broad sports programme) and in life skills (by Coolplay who instruct the coaches with life skills training).
Interventions like these stimulate the learners and staff to new possibilities, revealing their broader abilities and potential. For these interventions to be sustained and grow, however, the staff need to drive these concepts day in and day out. Interventions die if staff and coaches do not follow through. Ukhanyo flourishes through their dedicated staff driving these interventions broadening the holistic education of the learners.
Ukhanyo learners are now confident, experimental, creative and as well as fully absorbed in the after-school activities of sport, maths and English clubs, choir, tribal dancing, and chess.
The staff of Nkondo Primary School has a similar positive attitude and dedication to Ukhanyo.
However, the school lacks these outside interventions. Nkondo has very limited funds, no sports facilities, no library, and no local NGO support system – add to that their classes range from 49 to 72 learners, which is a challenge in itself!
Last week, the Nkondo staff integrated into Ukhanyo’s s academic systems including the maths and English labs and the learners were put through a life skills orientation and then played practice matches on the two artificial playing fields and astroturf cricket nets.
The two principals agreed to work closely together and assist each other where possible. The Nkondo staff took back some of the ideas they learned from the specialist learning labs and the life skills session.
Nkondo were gifted sets of books, educational games, worksheets, netball posts, rugby, soccer, and netballs to kick start the library and sport at the school, by the MCC Masi 750 Club, Masicorp and Ukhanyo.
The day revealed the extent to which such grassroots partnerships between marginalized schools can uplift the schools’ spirits and performance.
These schools are the hubs of their wider environment. The Ukhanyo PS premises, for example, over the weekends and holidays, host community meetings, religious and others, baby showers, family get-togethers, and holiday programmes, overseen by the school’s security and systems. Ukhanyo’s role in Masiphumelele is respected by all. The school emanates new ideas for the future health of the learners, their families and indeed the whole community
A few of the learnings that flowed through the discussions were;
- Underprivileged schools must find local or wider support to stimulate funding, facilities, and equipment
- These schools must link with NGOs, companies, and organizations within their environment
- The local elder generation can assist learners after schools with homework, reading and the like.
- Volunteers from the surrounding areas can assist in after school activities from chess, choir, art through to sports, as well as school maintenance and other duties.
- Schools need to engage and seek the support of their wider community, not just the parents.
The SA reality is that over 20 000 schools need the help of their communities to fill the void left by the lack of proper funding and follow-through by the national and regional governments.
These partnerships should be replicated throughout South Africa. The politician plans take a long time to implement; i.e. there are currently still 3 500 schools with pit toilets.
The government can assist this initiative at a minimal cost. The local communities need to be encouraged to get involved and can be by the National Government, which could assist by paying the volunteers a stipend. This would give the local community renewed vigour through employment and working with the next generation.
Underprivileged schools need to follow this road navigated by Nkondo and actively seek out schools to partner them, whether underprivileged or model C. Government, too, need to assist by supporting these disadvantaged schools with minimal aid to volunteers. A new way to uplift holistic education in South Africa.