2012 has started inauspiciously for schools in the Eastern Cape. Once again it seems like everything possible conspired to ensure that teaching and learning did not happen in the smooth, routine way that the school year should begin: dismissal and then reinstatement of thousands of temporary teachers; wrangles in the corridors of power that seem to have little to do with the best interests of children; and a month-long "go slow" by teachers, which saw hundreds of schools brought to a standstill. It is no wonder that even now, nearly 20 years into a democratic South Africa, there are children learning under trees, in mud-brick buildings and in packed classrooms a hundred-strong!
Against this backdrop it becomes perhaps even clearer what can be accomplished when teachers and students simply go about their business in a committed, focused way. The schools we work with have seemed largely unruffled by the external mess and there has been a clear focus on learning from day one. We've been impressed with the commitment by teachers to running extra classes on weekends and by their focus on results. And the evidence is there from last year's Grade 12 results at these schools that this simple discipline and dedication to the task at hand is what's required to move schools forward.
|Grade 12 Pass Rates (%) 2009 - 2011|
|Eastern Cape Province||51.0||58.3||58.1|
|* In August 2011 we ceased working with Gwebityala Senior Secondary school after it became clear that internal disorganisation, inconsistent attendance and disruptions were preventing meaningful partnership. I've included their results here to illustrate the stark comparison between "schools that work" and schools that don't. We continue to support the few students and teachers at the school who show commitment to learning in spite of the internal challenges.|
Similarly, our second year of work with teachers and students has started well. At the Ekukhuleni Centre, students have already had an additional eight days of instruction in science, maths and English. Through a fantastic partnership with the Rural Education Access Programme (REAP), our first group of Grade 12 students have embarked on an exploration of careers, with the real possibility of funding for tertiary study, should they continue to make academic gains this year. The Junior School Maths Teacher Network had a meeting early into the school year with a focus on fractions, and the Bomvana Science Network meets next week for an exploration of Vertical Projectile Motion and other fun science things. There has clearly been a committed start to the year by these groups of teachers and students.
When Axium started in 2009 we had a strong conviction that technology would play a role in bringing opportunities to rural students. Later that year one of the first things we noticed about the senior school students we worked with was that it was their weak junior school maths skills that made the higher level content they encountered later so difficult. At the time we weren't sure what shape or form a technological solution to these issues would take, but three years on we're excited about a pilot programme using the Khan Academy maths materials in an online-offline combination tailored for our rural setting. This has real potential to be a breakthrough for students, enabling them to work through material that not only fills gaps, but pushes them on to higher-level content at their own pace, independent of their teachers' abilities and dedication. Watch this space
So, very much in spite of the external conditions, we're excited about the pockets of hope that we're privileged to encounter on a daily basis. Our sincere thanks go to those who enable us to do this. In particular, the Potter Foundation and Numeric, under Andrew Einhorn's very capable leadership, have taken the Khan Academy from idea to reality in the space of a few months; and, The Loewenstein Trust has ensured our Ekukhuleni Programmes move into their second year in a much stronger position.
Craig, Michelle and the Axium Team