UNLOCKING LEARNER POTENTAL
Columba leadership programme helps convert young learners into leaders
Staff and pupils attending a study club that fosters confidence and connection say marks and attitudes have improved.
Study clubs have improved the performance of learners at Edward Phatudi Comprehensive School of Specialisation in Saulsville township near Atteridgeville, Pretoria.
This is according to teachers and learners who are participating in the Columba leadership programme.
Daily Maverick visited the school, which specialises in maths, science and information and communication technologies, to investigate how it has benefited from the programme since last year.
“When we did study clubs our marks improved,” said 15-year-old Tercia Khumalo, a Grade 10 learner who attended Columba’s training camp in March.
Along with the leadership skills they learned from the camp, students implemented ideas on how to improve their schooling environment.
Sifiso Sithole, vice programme coordinator at the school, said he learned together with his students. “We did activities together. Whatever values we took from there, we were together. When we came back again, we never separated. We’ve been together ever since.”
He said leaders were awarded with “Columba mentor” tags to identify themselves to other learners.
“They’ve done a very good job in maintaining order around the school,” he said.
Other projects that the mentors have embarked on included establishing a vegetable garden, clean-up campaigns and sorting out books at the library.
About the programme
Tracy Hackland, Columba CEO, said it started its work in 2009 as a not-for-profit trust. The focus has been on values-based leadership. The trust works with principals, teachers and learners, but this work does not end in schools. It continues with young people who have already left the education system.
“It’s basically promoting the resilience of that young person. It’s connecting them with the sense of their own goals, their own purpose and what they are trying to achieve. If you do that, especially the way that Columba is doing it, you’ve got young people [who are] hungry for their education,” Hackland said.
She said learners become motivated.
“They start setting goals for themselves. They start tutoring their peers. It’s a human-centred approach rather than focusing on curriculum or educational resources.”
This work extends to teachers.
“So we know we are worried by the fact that teachers leave the education system. They’re overwhelmed. They struggle with a lot of the pressure on them, but we also realise that when an educator starts reconnecting with their own sense of purpose they become much more motivated. And the purpose we’re talking about is that the educator is a champion of youth potential.”
So, she said, teachers then come to understand that they are in the classroom to teach and want to see their learners thriving in life by not only passing exams, but also holistically.
Hackland said they do not treat young people like empty vessels to be filled with content. She said their programmes focus on unlocking potential.
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“It’s very much [like saying] I believe in you. You have all kinds of potential. We’re going to create experiences for you and we are going to pull out that potential. You’re going to discover what you’re capable of.”
The cohort that participates in the programme, she said, includes carefully selected learners and not just those who are doing well or are recognised leaders, but also those known as troublemakers and those who are shy.
“It’s an intense process. It’s very deep. People walk away saying it’s life-changing. We’ve got young people who were at huge risk of dropping out of school. They started realising that they matter.”
Columba has partnered with 277 high schools spread across Gauteng, the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State, Western Cape and North West.
She said they work with a school for several years, normally three years of intervention and two years to exit.
Hackland said they encourage collaboration among participants.
“We walk alongside them. The nub of this intervention is leadership. It is not about talk but action.”
Principal Willie Mkhwanazi said he was approached by Columba two years ago.
He bought into the idea of working with the trust. The way in which the programme was explained, he said, convinced him that it was going to help nurture learners. He joined his learners in the programme.
“When I attended there were a lot of benefits we gained as an institution in terms of leadership and management and life skills in general — us as managers and the learners at the same time,” Mkhwanazi said.
The programme, he said, has impacted very positively on his staff and learners. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.