A few years ago Graeme Bloch of the Development Bank of South Africa estimated that 60 - 80 % of South African schools were dysfunctional, and given the recent textbook debacle in Limpopo there is good reason to think he is correct about the systemic dysfunction. We live and work in this reality - on the one hand attempting to help teachers and school leaders to build capacity in schools, but on the other, knowing that under the current reality students receive all too little from the system, providing additional opportunities for them to fulfil their potential. You'll see evidence of both dysfunction and opportunity in this newsletter - we hope it is the latter that stays with you!
The quote at the top of this email speaks volumes for the work that our partners at Zithulele Hospital and the Jabulani Rural Health Foundation are doing in 'reculturing' what was not long ago a fairly insignificant, ineffective rural hospital. Perhaps the more important message, however, is about Elliot and his fifteen peers, who spent an eye-opening week in July job shadowing at the hospital. They form part of our first matric cohort of the Ekukhuleni Centre and many will be going into health related programmes at tertiary institutions next year - thanks to a partnership with Umthombo Youth Development Foundation and many of you who have supported them by covering their application fees! The idea is to "home grow" the next generation of rural professionals by providing academic and careers support while they are at school, and it is exciting to see this long-term vision starting to become reality!
I mentioned in the previous newsletter that students were on strike at our local senior school. The fallout from this has been that the physical science and maths teacher was 'pushed' out of the school, leaving nearly 200 students without a teacher in these critical subjects. We don't have the resources to fill this gap, but we offered to set up what is essentially a self-study programme for the grade 10's affected by the situation, knowing that what would be of long-term benefit for these students is an ability to drive their own learning. Using our Ekukhuleni students as science tutors, and the Khan Academy materials to cover maths, 60 students have had a very different experience of learning science and maths over the past six weeks. We're realistic about the potential outcomes of this short-term intervention, but as much as the students are learning, so are we learning about the kinds of sustainable mechanisms that can counter dysfunction. Interestingly, we now have about 110 students using Khan Academy in grades 7, 9 and 10 and we'll know much more about its effectiveness in our context by December.
The Bomvana Science Teacher Network launched its first Inter-school Science Competition in July, with matric students from four schools competing for prizes provided by the Solon Foundation. This group of senior school teachers is growing in confidence and it was good to see them work together to pull this event off. A much larger group of junior science teachers in the area are now organising themselves into a similar kind of professional network and we're doing what we can to support them in this. We've consistently found, with the senior science group, the junior maths group and now this junior science group, that teachers are frank about where they need help and eager to take up opportunities to learn. Changing deep-set teaching cultures and methods is no easy process, but at least this is a start! A network for school Senior Management Teams (principals, deputies and head of departments) is scheduled for launch before the end of the year, watch this space for details
Part of changing teaching cultures lies in exposing schools and teachers to different ways of doing things. For the second year we've partnered with the University of Cape Town's School of Education to provide a rural teaching experience for their students. The students find their time in local schools very stimulating and stretching, but there are plenty of opportunities for mutual learning, which make these interactions good for the schools too. We're now in a position where graduates from these programmes are requesting to work in rural schools - a very positive move in terms of getting quality people into the places they are needed most.
Finally, for a place that is incredibly hard to get to, Zithulele seems to attract more than its fair share of international visitors. We've had two volunteer groups come through with 2WayTravel, bringing energy for education all the way from Norway and the United States! The U.S. group also helped launch the Zithulele Tigers Touch Rugby team, thanks to donations from Ubuntu Global Connections. Our thanks go to these groups and to all our other friends and supporters. Please follow our work 'live' by liking us on Facebook and consider supporting our students financially as they prepare for their final exams.
As you can see, dealing with dysfunction can be an opportunity in itself!
Yours in rural education,
Craig, Michelle and the Axium Team