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The heroes fighting for our children’s future

South Africa

EDUCATION INSIGHT

The heroes fighting for our children’s future

An empty classroom at Crags Primary School. Photo: Daily Maverick

Data from the *Youth Explorer 2019 shows that a child growing up in a resource-poor ward of the Western Cape has a 31% chance of passing matric, while one from a resourced ward has a 92% chance. That’s a huge gap, and it’s why we need to back the people fighting in the trenches for South Africa’s children.

Principal Nombulelo Sume started working at Charles Duna Lower Primary School in Port Elizabeth 21 years ago. Back then, it had no electricity and no water. She had to wait 14 years for that to happen, she said. Coca-Cola overhauled the piping system at the school after she met an employee at a function, and the Department of Education finally sorted out the electricity after she petitioned its then-deputy minister. By then she knew she couldn’t wait for the money to come, so she went out and talked about the school’s problems and sought, and found, partnerships to bring in resources.

On 5 June, 2019 at an event launching the #enrichED Symposium in Cape Town, she told a bitter-sweet story about just how creative she got.

We have a memorandum of understanding with a tourism company. They bring in tourists. I charge them R35 per tourist, and that’s how I make money. And when the department was questioning me on are they going to be a distraction on the kids, I said, ‘No, because they’re coming with interest to education. We sit and we talk, I give them tea and coffee – and then I get my R35. It’s a means of making the money that you are not giving me’.”

Sume is single-minded about her goal – giving the children at her school a better chance at life, one as close as possible to that of better-resourced children. One of the ways she does this is by running after-school programmes that teach the learners skills, not only practical, but psycho-social, such as determination, confidence and relationship-building. People like her make the world of difference to schoolchildren with limited opportunities, and there are many of them.

On May 28, 2019, Stats SA released its General Household Survey. It showed that two-thirds of SA learners attend no-fee schools, and that this percentage increased from 21.4% in 2007 to 67.2% in 2018. Looking at 2018’s matric results, of the 50,754 matriculants who passed in the Western Cape, 42.3% received a university entrance pass – of those, only a third were from no- and low-fee schools, according to WCED data. This shows that under-resourced schools produce the poorest results, and with most of SA’s children in under-resourced schools, it means the vast majority of South African children will most likely not get a fair shot at a good life. It’s unjust, and coupled with the high unemployment rate for youth – more than 50% – it doesn’t bode well.

It’s almost impossible, if you’re from a middle-class background, to grasp the realities of what this might mean to a child in this predicament, and what a different life a committed principal like Nombulelo Sume – or one of the thousands of practitioners who work with learners daily – might open up to them.

Principal Terence Adams, of Grosvenor Primary School in Atlantis, near Cape Town, tells of a young boy from his community, a menace in the classroom and so troublesome even his family had given up on him, who began playing ringball in an after-school programme. He was awarded his Western Cape provincial colours, which has transformed his attitude to school and brought him back into the family fold. He’s an inspiration to his classmates now, rather than a menace.

Dance practitioners and co-founders of the Amoyo Performing Arts Foundation, Nandipha Sandlana and Mandisa Qwesha tell of a young girl from difficult circumstances, so shy she hardly spoke, who practised her dancing every day for years and will now audition for the Waterfront Theatre Company. The learner herself says without dance and the practitioners who cheered her on from the side, she would never have known not to limit herself, or even found out she had talent.

The opportunity to shine at something, to excel, cannot be emphasized enough – for some children it’s their first taste of success, even if small, or their first experience of praise and affirmation, and it’s the beginning of a path toward possibilities. These opportunities are opened up through the principals, practitioners, teachers and coaches in after-school programmes – interested, caring adults. Research backs up the fact that what makes the difference for children “at risk” is an adult who’ll fight their corner.

On June 6, 2019, these practitioners, principals and coaches were celebrated at a First Thursday launch at the Community Chest in Cape Town, in an exhibition of their testimonies under the title Humans of the After School Movement. It was a move to have the remarkable people of this sector brought into the spotlight, celebrated for the work they do. Some of the practitioners were once those children with few options. I believe it’s some of the most important work in South Africa. We should be in their corner, by becoming interested in what’s happening in education, and backing them with our voices, our rands, and our deep gratitude. DM

Sonya Schoeman is a writer who has been interviewing and writing for the After School Programme Office for three months. The ASPO, based in the Western Cape Government’s Department of Cultural Affairs, hosted the #enrichED Symposium.

*Data from Youth Explorer (2019) https://youthexplorer.org.za. Data analysis by Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) at University of Cape Town using data from the poorest and most affluent five wards.

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