Opportunities are powerful things. If you're a regular reader of our newsletter, you'll have picked up a recurring theme of the deficit, particularly in language and maths, which junior school students carry with them into the later grades. You may also have picked up on our early attempts at providing opportunities to address this, at least in maths, through a Khan Academy programme tailored to our rural setting. After only three months we're already seeing quantitative (below) and qualitative (with many more stories like Lihle's, above) evidence of improvement. This is a hugely exciting programme and we're now looking at ways both to expand our afternoon offering and to embed it into the functioning of local schools!
We've been working with schools here for three years now and so we sometimes forget that for most of our supporters living in urban environments, it is hard to picture life 'on the periphery'. For instance, the Khan Academy programme mentioned above operates without fixed-line electricity and internet connection. Local accommodation is so scarce that most teachers travel three hours to and from school each day and we have a constant battle to find places for our own staff to stay. Perhaps most disturbing may be the local school context, where our nearest school spent most of May suspended, on a 'student-strike' protesting - amongst other things - the lack of a physical science teacher. This potent combination of lack of infrastructure, school support and opportunities for growth conspire to make educational change a challenging prospect in this environment.
Against this tough backdrop for learning and teaching, we draw inspiration from local teachers who recognise their obligation as professionals to continually improve their knowledge and skills, and are willing to make sacrifices to do so. This was abundantly evident at a series of 'learning events' for our Junior School Maths Teacher Network, led by Andrew Lewis from publishers and long-time supporters of ours, The Answer Series. We doubted whether teachers would be able to commit to four afternoons in one week. However, not only did numbers increase as the week went on, but the level of engagement was unrelenting and we had to put a stop to the 'bubble' of maths chatter at the end of each day so that we could get home! The circuit subject advisor commented that the week had "taken her maths to a whole new level" - a tribute to the quality of the programme, but also to her commitment to on-going learning.
As I write, our grade 12 students at the Ekukhuleni Centre are sitting their mid-year examinations, which form a critical part of their entrance requirements for tertiary study. This is unfortunately only one of the many hurdles they face between now and next year. While we are able to assist them with some aspects of the career guidance, job shadow and application processes, it is often at the application fee itself that their progress comes to a grinding halt (the tertiary fees themselves will hopefully be taken care of through student loans and bursaries). This usually only amounts to a few hundred rand (USD50), but is a lot to ask of a rural family. Would you consider supporting a student? To do so, please click here for details and include the word 'student' in the reference.
We give thanks for our growing circle of supporters, which now includes the Anglo American Chairman's Fund, and a widening sphere of influence, with pieces in both The Cape Times and the Mail and Guardian in recent months. We hope that the end result of all of this will be a more just deal for rural students and teachers, here and elsewhere 'on the periphery'.
Yours in rural education,
Craig, Michelle and The Axium Team