April 2013   

NEWSLETTER # 12 - Dignity, purpose and options

"I never knew that through my achievements I can experience the life I'm in today." - Mzimasi Vayeke, Doctor 'in the making'

Our first group of Grade 12s graduated from senior school at the end of last year, some scoring remarkable achievements in their final school exams. Mzimasi Vayeke has been selected to study medicine in Cuba as part of the Health Department's Rural Doctors programme and is currently interning at Zithulele Hospital. Elliot Nogo is studying a degree in Nursing at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, with his studies fully covered thanks to our partnerships with Umthombo Youth Development Foundation and Zithulele Hospital. Both young men will maintain connections with the hospital throughout their studies, so that the 'rural professional pipeline' that the Ekukhuleni Centre was designed to create will start to bear fruit in the not too distant future!

Alumni in action: Mzimasi with Dr. Simon Le Roux at Zithulele Hospital; electrical engineering student, Siphenathi, pays us a surprise visit; Elliot on campus.

Sadly, for the vast majority of matriculants from the five senior secondary schools we partner with, access to the kinds of opportunities that Mzimasi and Elliot have been exposed to is limited. From the more than 500 students who wrote matric exams at the end of 2012, only 5 (less than 1 %) obtained Bachelors passes with maths and science as subjects (a useful metric to assess school performance). Clearly the myriad obstacles I described in our last newsletter, "The Twelve Labours of Hercules", prove overwhelming for most students, and much more work is needed, much earlier on, if every student who leaves these schools can truly graduate with 'dignity, purpose and options'.

Our 2013 Grade 12 students off to a flying start on Grade 12 Camp.

Towards this end, it has been encouraging to see real drive coming from science and maths teachers in our junior school networks. During the first term we were inundated with requests for meetings from teachers in our area and, increasingly, from neighbouring districts. On one particularly crazy week Axium hosted six different sessions for four networks, including a Financial Management and Budgeting workshop with Ian Junor and the SSS Network, and two Junior Maths sessions with Amy Gleason of Ubuntu Global Connections. Turning meetings into improved results is, of course, the real challenge, but the fact that teachers are recognising their need for these 'communities of practice' and are willing to drive this process, is an encouraging sign that we are moving in the right direction. It also helps to have some examples of success, so the fact that one of our teachers achieved a 95 % pass rate for his Grade 12 physical science class last year serves as an example of what is possible, and a spur to other teachers in his network.

Networks in action: puzzling over polyhedra; Michelle engages with maths teachers from our neighbouring circuit.

We are a small organisation, so the huge challenges facing rural schools far beyond our small pocket in the Eastern Cape, often seem too daunting a task for us to take on alone. Thankfully there are others willing to help us take up the advocacy challenge. In March we were thrilled to host visits from the Legal Resources Centre, Equal Education and the Mail & Guardian newspaper, all aimed at focusing attention on the shocking state of infrastructure and school furniture in the vast majority of schools in our area. Whether by legal means, media attention, or by creating a groundswell of citizen action, we're hoping that the classes of 160+ at Gwebityala Senior Secondary will soon be consigned to their rightful place as a dark part of our nation's history.

Gwebityala Senior Secondary, where over 400 students are crammed into these three classrooms.

After a flurry of new programmes in 2011 and '12, our theme for this year is 'to consolidate and strengthen'. The Khan Academy, piloted at Grade 7, 9 and 10 levels last year now has the opportunity to develop into a regular, thrice weekly programme for 25 students in each of Grades 7 - 9, for the full year. We're excited by the potential this extended programme has to first catch students up, and then lay solid foundations for further mathematics success at senior school. We've also been able to strengthen the Ekukhuleni study groups by visiting each of the five schools on weekday afternoons. This gives opportunities for Ekukhuleni students to build on work covered on Saturdays, and for us to mentor these young leaders as they take on the often intimidating task of leading learning amongst their peers.

The Power of Khan: instant feedback on student progress.
Click for a larger version

Of course, none of this work comes without effort and we consider ourselves supremely fortunate to have such a dynamic team of people working with us this year: Manyanani Mawisa on Khan Academy, Ruan Cilliers teaching science and supporting study groups, Kristi Jooste on teachers and literacy, Kirsty Paxton on maths and careers, Nonkanyiso Vokwana joining us later this year on science, and a number of volunteers filling gaps as they arise. We're also supporting Tim Hutchinson, a recent UCT teaching graduate, who is bravely taking on the challenges of teaching maths at Sea View Senior Secondary. We're pleased too, to see increased interest from funders, including some of the major mining houses, so significant momentum is building for real change to happen.

As always, we can't dream about change or do any of this work without your very loyal support - for this, thank you! In particular, thanks to those of you who made the recent Tigers Tour to Cape Town such a success, and to the LEGO Charity for their substantial donation.

Yours in 'dignity, purpose and options' for every rural child,

Craig, Michelle and the Axium Team

©2013 Axium Education