Perhaps the single biggest obstacle to quality rural education is the fact that teachers do not live near their schools. At our pilot site at Zithulele village in the Eastern Cape, teachers typically travel for an hour and a half each way between Mthata, the closest metropolis, and their schools… on a daily basis! The implications are numerous and profound: extra-murals and remedial classes immediately go out the window; vandalism and theft is left unchecked; supportive school communities cannot exist without the vital links between parents, teachers and students, typically fostered after school hours. This lack of ownership and accountability for the school and its students pervades all facets of school life.

Learners embarking on the long walk home.

Before we hasten to blame the "lazy" teachers (again!), ask yourself whether you would be willing to live without electricity and running water for an extended period of time, for that is the only alternative. It appears to be the youngest, least qualified teachers who end up in these most rural of schools, where they must first "earn their stripes" before finding

Signs of a lack of ownership:
solar panels no more.

jobs closer to home. For the Eastern Cape, this means those schools closest to the coast end up getting the least experienced teachers and they face a constant turnover of staff. The hallmarks of quality schools in urban areas - continuity of staffing, a vibrant wider school community, a full school day with varied offerings, and hard-working, experienced teachers - simply cannot flourish under these conditions.

This challenge is but one of many that make up "the rural dilemma", Axium Education's call to arms. We are continuing to learn more about the complexities of rural education through our Maths Bootcamps, two of which we ran during the extended June-July school holidays. Once again response from the schools we visited was good and once again students more than doubled their algebra results over the course of the week. With another camp planned for September, by the end of the year we're aiming to have built solid relationships with four of the five or six schools we will partner with next year when we roll-out more intensive support programs.

Elated prizewinners and associate staff at Bootcamp #4

An unintended consequence of these camps has been the remarkable impact it has had on the associate staff who have worked so tirelessly with us in the classroom. Our team usually consists of a mix of teachers, university students and high-achieving school students from Cape Town. By the end of our most recent visit we had: given impetus to a chemical engineer's foray into teaching; helped fuel another teacher's passion for rural education; shifted a number of youngsters' career aspirations towards teaching and almost completed our first full-time staff hire for 2011! If these brief experiences in Axium classrooms can be so meaningful for our team, imagine the potential for rural children involved on a daily basis… the pipeline of rural professionals that we are hoping to create may be closer than we think!

Another highlight has been the tentative steps taken towards the launch of the first Science Teacher Network in the Eastern Cape. As mentioned in our last newsletter, Brian Gray has been instrumental in starting this group, using his experience gleaned from 13 other networks around southern Africa. Its success, of course, depends entirely on the physical science teachers involved taking ownership of the idea and driving the group forward, so we will have to be patient and let time tell whether our investments in the process will pay dividends.

The start of a Science Teacher Network?

Possibly like most of you, we have already spent considerable time thinking and planning for next year, when we will be sending a dedicated team to our Zithulele pilot project. This will involve serious wonders of budgetary multiplication, as we start paying full-time salaries and significant operating costs for the first time. .. so spare a thought and a prayer for the various foundation and CSI staff currently poring over our proposals!!! As mentioned in the opening paragraphs, finding accommodation is also a real issue in the area, so we are exploring all options to ensure our staff have somewhere to call home.

Of course the very fact that we are facing these challenges means that our mission "to grow talent and opportunity in rural areas" is fast becoming a reality - and that could not be more exciting! Sincere thanks to Breadline Africa, the Solon Foundation, Nick Bennett and the Life-2-the-Limit team, as well as Chrissie MacArthur for their generous support of our work this year.

Yours in fun, difference-making, rural education,

Craig, Michelle and the Axium Team

© Axium Education 2010