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Effective School Leaders – Take 2

Growing strong school leaders is a key step towards improving schools. In March this year we held our annual retreat for School Management Teams (SMTs) belonging to the SSS Network of twelve schools in the area. One of the high schools was so motivated by the experience that they asked us whether we would be willing to facilitate a similar event for the junior schools in their area, so that the connections between feeder and high schools could be strengthened. Of course we said “yes”!

Thus was born the “Tyelinzima Network” – a powerful group of seven schools’ SMTs, gathered together entirely through the drive of Tyelinzima High School’s highly motivated HOD, Simon Genwale. Early in August we gathered at Ocean View Hotel for a day of learning and collaboration, making use of several tools to think about leadership and school improvement. The first of these is UChicago Consortium on School Research’s framework of the Five Essential Supports – a helpful way of conceptualising school improvement that we’ve adapted for a rural, South African context. Basically, if schools develop strength across all Five Supports – Effective Leadership, Involved Families, Collaborative Teachers, Supportive Environment, and Ambitious Teaching – the likelihood is very high that student attendance and learning will markedly improve. More on that here.

We explored what an Effective Leader looks like in schools here and allowed time for individual and collective reflection about what that might mean for the practice of leadership in our schools. There was further input from Steven Covey’s classic text, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, where Habit #1 (Be proactive/Take responsibility) seems to have particular resonance for schools here. From this, schools set “Wildly Important Goals” that would provide focus for improvement efforts in the remaining months of the year. Finally, there was time to hear from schools about their key challenges (absenteeism; lateness; improving academic performance), to learn how different schools are tackling these, and to discuss ways in which this group of schools can work together in the future towards the goal of “every learner succeeds”.

Our team left encouraged by a group of leaders who seem to be “taking responsibility” for improvements in their schools, and we hope to be able to support the group in meaningful ways in the months and years to come. Our sincere thanks to the Solon Foundation and the Rabbi CK Harris Memorial Trust, who make our work with school leaders possible.

The Westerford Connection

Featured Image: at back, from left, are Sarah Caine (Axium, OW), Steve Anderson (WHS Deputy Principal), Helen Dugmore, Emma Terblanche, Ziyaad Behardien, Yejin Jang, Ryan Massyn (WHS teacher), Alice Nuttall, Adam Steyn, Amy Anderson and Clare Acheson (Axium). In front are Michelle Paxton (Axium), Karl Naude, Craig Paxton (Axium, OW), Rebecca Helman, Lindiwe Malefane, Tara Davids, Kirthi Chetty and Caryn Stevens.

 

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There has been a remarkable link between the Zithulele story, and a high school in Cape Town, where many of us went to school (for some, many years ago!). This connection has been strengthened in recent years, as Westerford High School has brought groups of learners to visit. Their most recent tour was well captured by current Westerford learner in the article below.

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Early on the second Friday of the holiday, thirteen eager Westerfordians, Mr Anderson and Mr Massyn set off in the school bus for a nine-day trip of learning, teaching, and gaining new perspectives, in Zithulele, situated on the Wild Coast, in the Eastern Cape. There, we were to work with a non-profit organisation, Axium Education, founded by ‘Old-Westerfordian’, Craig Paxton. Axium grows opportunity and success in rural communities through working with educators and students in a number of schools and in various programmes. In our bus’ trailer were the stationery, scientific calculators, magazines and clothing that we had had donated for distribution by Axium.

Exhausted after two days of travelling, we arrived in the beautiful community of Zithulele. On the Sunday, after a game of Ultimate Frisbee on Lubanzi Beach with the newly-formed Zithulele-Wild Coast Frisbee team, we hiked to Hole in the Wall where we had lunch. The walk was a treat: most of us had never been to Hole in the Wall; the views en route, of the rural landscape – with its open land and grazing animals – were breathtaking.

On Monday morning, the real Zithulele experience began. After an early start, we headed off on our hour-long walk to where the Axium winter school was taking place. This walk enabled us to embrace what it is to be a school learner living in rural South Africa.

At the school, we were welcomed by enthusiastic students and the super-motivated Axium teachers. Here, we sat in on Grade ten, eleven and twelve classes, of Mathematics, Life Sciences (Biology), Physical Science and English. We were able to help the teachers and students, when needed, especially in English as local students speak isiXhosa as their home language, but are required to write all their examinations in English.

We learnt a tremendous amount from interacting with the students. Between classes – after solving Mathematics or Science problems – they told us about their way of life, which was so very different from ours. We spoke about various topical issues and they told us about their dreams for the future. Many said they’re aiming to become engineers, accountants or doctors. We were so completely inspired by the motivation of the students and their determination to succeed, no matter what hardships they face. Tara Davids said; “Their determination is motivating me to work even harder.”

After each day, we walked back to our exquisite accommodation, Wild Lubanzi Backpackers, meeting many locals along the way, exchanging greetings with them in isiXhosa and learning more of their language. This routine we followed for four days, determined to experience the rural way of life, and getting a feel for what it’s like to walk long distances to school every day, as most children do in the (former) Transkei region.

On two of the days, a few of our Westerford group were asked to assist with lessons for an Axium Mathematics teacher who had fallen ill. They efficiently and enthusiastically prepared Mathematics lessons and activities to do with the younger grades; it was a challenging but very rewarding task.

On the first afternoon, ‘Old-Westerfordian’, Dr Ben Gaunt gave us a guided tour of the very impressive Zithulele Hospital, of which he is the Clinical Director. Dr Gaunt arrived at Zithulele in 2005 and it is largely thanks to his vision and leadership, and the support of his closely-knit, and motivated team – many of whom are ‘Old-Westerfordians’ – that the hospital has the good reputation that it has today. He inspired us with his knowledge and his wise words, and showed us exactly what rural medicine is and what it entails.

As many of our group are interested in going into the field of Health Sciences, we were able to spend time job-shadowing doctors, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. Dr Gaunt explained that at the hospital, all doctors are ‘generalists’ and need to be able to do whatever is required of them. While job shadowing, we were exposed to the highs and lows of rural medicine; the experience opened our eyes to the challenges of rural public health care, and how the majority of people in our country struggle to access quality care of the kind they receive in Zithulele – a hospital which certainly is a ‘beacon of hope’.

Overall, our perspectives have completely changed as a result of this taste of rural medicine and education. We feel extremely privileged to have experienced this phenomenal trip, and to have been able to help make a difference in another person’s life. We’re grateful to have made connections with people whose experiences are very different from ours, yet who are so similar to us in many ways. This trip has shown us the infinite number of ways there are to help other people and to make a difference. The group has entirely taken to heart the wise words that we were reminded of while at Zithulele: “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

Rebecca Helman (grade 12)

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Remarkable Returns

A regular highlight is when Axium Alumni return home for the holidays, bringing back stories of struggle and hope from their time at universities (and as of January 2017, with our first university graduates, the working world!) across the country. It’s a boost to our team, which helps connect our investments in much younger students with real, tangible success in the form of the articulate, thoughtful young men and women who are starting to make their mark on the world.

More significantly, as the alumni are given space to share with students currently in our programmes, the transfer of knowledge and (most important of all) belief becomes powerful. Suddenly the foreign-sounding “Bachelor of Commerce” begins to take meaningful shape in students’ minds as they hear stories of subjects and career opportunities. A friend or family member a year or two older makes the impossible of “engineering” or “University of Cape Town” seem that much more possible. As these interactions grow, the sense of possibility becomes palpable, and our students return to their books with renewed commitment and enthusiasm for the long road ahead.

Here are some of our Axium alumni who were seen in and around Zithulele during the June-July university break. Some of these inspirational young men and women have featured in previous blog posts – follow the links and give them a read!

  • Elliot Nogo, Ekukhuleni ’12, Umthombo Scholar and BSc (Nursing) at Nelson Mandela University ‘16, working at Cloete-Joubert Hospital
  • Asiphe Mkeke, Ekukhuleni ’13, BSocSci at Walter Sisulu University ‘16
  • Aphelele Ndlela, Ekukhuleni ’14, REAP Scholar and BSc (BioTech) at University of the Western Cape ‘18
  • Songezo Ncanywa, Ekukhuleni ’14, BSc (Electrical Engineering) at Walter Sisulu University
  • Mawande Nohononwana, Ekukhuleni ’15, REAP Scholar and BSc (Nursing) at University of the Western Cape ‘18
  • Lindile Khatazile, Ekukhuleni ’15, BCom at Walter Sisulu University ‘19
  • S’busile Mavokoza, Ekukhuleni ’15, REAP Scholar and BSc at University of Cape Town ‘19
  • Zodwa Nho, Ekukhuleni ’15, Social Development Bursar and Bachelor of Social Work at Nelson Mandela University ‘18
  • Gcobani Mkuti, Ekukhuleni ’15 and Jumpstart ’16, REAP Scholar and BCom at University of Johannesburg ‘19
  • Mbuyekezi Ntleki, Ekukhuleni ’15, South African Actuarial Bursar and BBusSci (Actuarial Science) at University of Cape Town ‘19
  • Yonelwa Biko, Ekukhuleni ’15, REAP Scholar and BA at University of the Western Cape ‘18
  • Masibulele Bota, Ekukhuleni ’16, REAP Scholar and BSc (Nursing) at University of the Western Cape ‘20
  • Nyameka Vayeke, Ekukhuleni ’16, Thuthuka Bursar and BCom at Walter Sisulu University ‘20
  • Zuko Sogoni, Ekukhuleni ’16, REAP Scholar and BBusSci (Actuarial Science) at University of Cape Town ‘20

Gcobani Mkuti – Axium Alumnus and Accountant to be

We recently caught up with a very focused and determined Axium alumnus during his university holidays. Give his wise words a read and feel inspired.

 Who is Gcobani Mkuti?
I am from the area of ‘Hole in The Wall’ and matriculated from Dudumayo Senior Secondary School in 2015. I was also one of the Axium learners who attended the Ekukhuleni and Study Group programme from 2013 to 2015. I am now studying accounting at the University of Johannesburg.

(Gcobani didn’t “just” matriculate in 2015 – he received a Bachelor’s pass with 86% for Mathematics and 74% for Physical Science.)

What have you been up to since you matriculated in 2015?
After matric I experienced many challenges regarding study and career options because I didn’t really know which choice was right for me. I decided to take a gap year in 2016 so that I could research my options properly. During my gap year I joined the Jumpstart skills programme (facilitated by Jabulani Rural Health Foundation) in Zithulele, which really helped me a lot. Through this I was able to meet many people like an accountant working here in Zithulele who helped me understand more about what kind of work accountants do. I also visited the hospital to see the practical side of being a doctor.

Were you happy about taking a gap year?
I was not happy at the time but I saw it as a good choice. Most of my friends were beginning their studies at universities and they couldn’t understand why I was taking a gap year.

At Axium we often have learners who pass matric but are not able to get into their choice of study. It is often best for these learners to rewrite a few of their subjects and try to apply again the following year but taking a gap year is not something many people have the choice to do here. Did you feel pressured into getting a job to earn money for your family?
I was also rewriting English matric exam during my gap year. My parents were not happy at all because I was not looking for a job. I think my family is proud of me now. I received a lot of affirmation from my sisters, from my friends and from Craig and Ruan at Axium. This really encouraged me. I met a lot of my school friends who encouraged me and gave me affirmation during grade 10 through Axium at their holiday bootcamp.

Making decisions about what do to after school needs a lot of help and support from teachers and parents. You mentioned affirmation and how it helped you. How do you think teachers could improve the way that they affirm and encourage rural learners?
Yes, affirmation is very important. I think that if teachers could positively encourage learners more. In my experience I have always just been taught how to pass. I have not been taught how to actually study by myself and stand alone. I don’t think we are taught how to think for ourselves, to think out of the box and how to believe in ourselves. Teachers should always tell learners that they are capable and that they can do it.

Is there anything you would like to share with other rural learners that would be helpful to them?
I think it is important to have faith, especially at university during difficult times. They need to believe that they can do it. They need to know that they have more than what they see in themselves.

What are your future plans?
The plans I have at the moment are academic. Academically, I want to complete my degree in accounting but my main goal is to become a chartered accountant.

Are you enjoying life in the city of Johannesburg?
Johannesburg is really nice and I am enjoying it but it is nice to come home after a few months. I didn’t know until I went there that I love nature and being in nature so much. There it is just buildings and artificial things.

What has been the most challenging part of university for you?
At university, when you first go there, you may think that you are confident and have confidence. I thought that I had confidence only to find out that I didn’t really. During my first lecture I was really shocked when my Mathematics lecturer finished four chapters within two hours. I was surprised to see how many learners were in my class; 500! And that wasn’t including the learners who are being lectured in Afrikaans. It was really shocking.
When I told one of the leaders in my residence that I am studying accounting and that I did not do it at school, he asked me a question; “Are you prepared to fail?” I said, “No! I cannot fail. I have never ever failed.” And he was right, it was the truth because I failed my first accounting test. I was so angry and upset after that test, I cried. I felt like I had no hope because my lecturer told us that the second test would be even more difficult. I began to tell myself that I would not allow a piece of paper to tell me that I am a failure.

Things are always more fast-paced in a city which is very different to rural areas where people are generally more relaxed. How has your concept of time changed since you have spent time in a city?
I think that I have realized the importance of managing my time. It is something people do not always get taught in rural areas; how to plan. I have also realized that the main cause of stress for people living in cities is time. Even five minutes is a lot. Planning and sticking to your plans is very important.

What has been helpful for you to improve your planning and time management? It is something we at Axium find very difficult to teach learners.
You will not be able to plan if your mind is full of things. It is very important to empty your mind by writing down everything that is weighing on your mind on a piece of paper. Once I have written it all down there are three things I do; first I find all the things that will take me a short time to finish, just a few minutes, and I do those things immediately. Secondly, I look for the things that are not very important and I see if I could get someone else to help me with these. I also put these aside to complete later because they aren’t so important. Lastly if there are things that are important and are going to take me a longer time to complete, then I write it down on my calendar. My calendar and my piece of paper then become my mind and my mind is empty of stress. I have to check my calendar and piece of every day to make sure that I stick to my planning.

 Gcobani, any closing words?
I would like to say a few words. Firstly, the details matter in everything. In terms of your work and even your personal matters. Secondly, there is a phrase that I use; “If you don’t know and you don’t ask, it is your fault.” So if you don’t know something, you must go and ask someone.

Improving schools through Rural Research

 

Blog piece by Craig Paxton (co-founder of Axium Education)
Photos by Matthew Moon

A significant chunk of Axium’s ‘raison d’etre’ is informed by the fact that we’re convinced that what we do here should be helpful to many… So while on a daily basis we’re motivated to serve the students and people we see in front of us to the best of our ability, we also try to keep in mind that we occupy a privileged position (funded privately, operating outside of the constraints of state education) that comes with it the responsibility to use what we do and learn to contribute more broadly to the issues facing the 40% of schools in South Africa that could be considered rural. This informs how we approach our work.

Our programmes and interventions generally have a very positive feel: there are useful resources; teachers and students generally learn something; they often feel motivated; they sometimes even feel empowered. This is often not the case at many rural schools, where the constraints of the system make it very challenging for adequate resourcing, learning and motivation to exist. As we interact with schools in our area, there is a constant reminder that as positive as our programmes seem to be, they are a drop in the ocean compared to the vast need for quality education in our area and in rural schools more generally. So if we are to address these bigger issues in any meaningful way as an organisation and as a country, developing a well-informed framework for rural school improvement seemed an important step to take.

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Five years ago we* embarked on a research project to do just that. I have had (and in many ways continue to have!) reservations about the usefulness of academic research in the field of education, where so little of the research that is done seems to find its way to improving the practice of teachers and schools. Having said that, if the responses to our presentations to local schools, as well as to officials at District, Provincial and National level, are anything to go by, the findings of this research seem to have some potential to be useful.

Over the next few months I’ll be attempting to answer some of the big questions that the research examined in blog-sized bites**:

  • Why rural schools? And why here?
  • Why do rural schools seem stuck?
  • If you’re thinking about improving rural schools, where should you start?
  • How might we re-envision the role of district support to rural schools?
  • What does a great rural school look like? And how do we get there?

This is not the first education research to come out of Zithulele (and check out the growing health research database developing through our friends at Philani!), nor will it be the last, with Ingrid Mostert starting her PhD this year examining maths teaching in rural Foundation Phase classrooms. Over time we as Axium would like to become a hub*** for rural research that tackles real education problems in a way that helps us better understand the context and actually improves practice… not just here, but in thousands of similar classrooms and schools across the country.

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*While in many ways this research was a solo venture and eventually resulted in my PhD, the effort was certainly a collective one, with input from many of my colleagues at Axium (particularly my wife!) and from teachers and students in the schools we work. My thanks to our board for giving their blessing to this project, and for the graciousness of my colleagues in dealing with my frequent absences and constraints on my time.

**If you’re too excited to wait, check out the six-page summary here.

***If you’re based at a university, or are considering embarking on your own rural research journey, do contact craig@axiumeducation.org for ways in which we can work together.

Meet the Team – Ingrid Mostert

At the beginning of 2017, after many years of wishing that I could move back to the Eastern Cape (and particularly to the former Transkei region), I relocated to Zithulele to work for Axium Education. In May of 2016 I had met with Craig and discovered that two of the areas that Axium wanted to grow in – numeracy in the foundation phase and teacher networks – were two of the areas that I was interested in and had experience with. And so my journey with Axium began.

As the numeracy coordinator my work is divided between supporting the community readers (the Nobalisa) in thinking of creative ways to incorporate numeracy into their after school reading clubs as well as supporting foundation phase teachers in two local schools to explore alternative Mathematics teaching approaches. Although I have experience supporting Mathematics teachers in schools, when I started at the beginning of the year I had no experience in teaching or working in rural schools. This means that a large portion of my time has been spent observing teaching, and talking to teachers and the Nobalisa in order to start understanding some of the complexities of working in a rural school. From my perspective, the biggest barrier to learning is the large class sizes. The classes I spend time in range from 67 to 107 learners – in one class, with one teacher. It isn’t possible to provide 7-year-old children with the kind of individual attention and differentiated support that is required when there are more than 100 learners in a class.

And yet there are ways to engage a large group of learners and to start laying the foundations necessary for learning mathematics in later years. Many of the strategies that seem to be showing promise have been adapted from games played at the after school mathematics clubs I have worked in previously. While many of these games can be played by two learners without the involvement of a teacher, what has worked well both in schools and at the reading clubs is to adapt the games slightly so that they are played by the whole group or by two learners, with the whole group watching. Because another challenge of teaching in a rural school is a lack of resources, the games that we have been experimenting with require no or very few resources – learners use their hands and fingers, bottle tops or sometimes scrap paper.

Practicing addition and subtraction with playing cards

In order for the support that the teachers are receiving to be sustainable in an under-resourced context, we have been using only things available in the schools to make resources with the teachers, such as poster paper and permanent markers. Something as simple as a 1 to 100 number chart is a powerful tool to introduce the 10 base structure of the number system we use and to help them count not only in 1s but also in 10s, starting at any number.

 Home-made cards of the isiXhosa names of numbers and number chart         

Try this challenge: If the numbers from 1 to 100 are arranged on a 10 x 10 grid, what numbers are to the left, right, above and below the number 65?

Another challenge faced by schools is not knowing how to use the resources that they do have – for example manipulatives or even the laptops that all foundation phase teachers in the province have been provided with. So another way of supporting teachers has been to help them use what they already have.

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Mrs Didi, the foundation phase HOD at Mhlahlane Junior School, learning how to use a counting frame and colour puzzle.

While schools have few resources and large class sizes, the after school reading clubs run by the Nobalisas are smaller and better resourced. This means that games involving cards can be played. One game in particular, Top Ten, is ideal for the clubs as it is already played by adults in the community and because learners have to find pairs of numbers that add to 10 – a very important skill for doing calculations. Other games that are played at reading clubs to support numeracy are UNO and snakes and ladders as well as the low resource games played in schools. Because the Nobalisas focus primarily on isiXhosa literacy, they have identified songs and stories that include numbers and counting which can be used both during their work in schools and in reading clubs.

FullSizeRender 4More than 700 bottle tops collected by the Grade 2 class at Mhlahlane Junior School.

As an organization we still have a lot to learn about supporting teachers in teaching Mathematics to foundation phase learners in large classes where the language of learning and teaching is isiXhosa. We have, however, started on this journey, a journey that we believe is hugely important if we are to achieve our goal of raising student achievement.

Top Matriculant of 2016 – Zuko Sogoni

Zuko Sogoni matriculated from Dudumayo Senior Secondary school at the end of 2016 with seven distinctions. He was the first student from the area to do so – ever! His outstanding results include 91% for Mathematics and 99% for Physical Science. Zuko was an immensely committed member of our Ekukhuleni programme throughout his Grade 10 to 12 years, and was active in promoting a vibrant study group culture among his peers. He is now on a full scholarship through the Rural Education Access Programme (REAP) and studying Actuarial Science at the University Cape Town.

We recently caught up with Zuko on life at the UCT and the secrets to his success…

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Zuko, how’s life as a university student?

Life here is good and on the other hand it’s not as good. I have social freedom now so I can do whatever I want and whenever I want to. That sounds great but actually, it also means I am my responsibility now. At the moment I’m coping but varsity is truly overwhelming.

What have you found easy? What has been challenging?

Studying and understanding by myself is what I find easy. I think this is because even during high school I was largely independent of my teachers. I’ve realised that many people here find studying by themselves difficult and unfortunately lectures don’t teach but only facilitate learning and assist in keeping with the curriculum.

Zuko, you did tremendously well at school. What were some of the secrets to your success?

Working hard and consistently. Pre-studying. I did as many past papers as I could. For Mathematics and Physical Sciences it’s good to do at least six papers each.

 

 

Dudumayo, the Rural Outlier

Dudumayo Senior Secondary school has managed to improve its matric (grade 12) pass rate from 53.3% in 2015 to 83.89% in 2016, a stunning feat for a school located in South Africa’s rural Eastern Cape. Axium Education’s Gené McAravey spoke to Dudumayo principal Nkosivumile Kwezi about what strategies the school has been employing to achieve such a drastic turnaround.

Situated within the rural Eastern Cape, more than an hour’s drive from the closest urban area and approximately two hour’s drive away from former president Nelson Mandela’s rural home of Qunu, lies Dudumayo Senior Secondary School. Dudumayo, serving approximately 1400 learners from Grades 10 to 12, faces all the typical challenges plaguing rural government schools. These obstacles include limited school infrastructure and resources, teachers who commute long distances daily, students living in households surviving on government grants and massive school overcrowding. Despite these, the school’s leadership and learners are determined to rise above the typically dark predictions for rural learner achievement. Now, with a more than 30% increase in Dudumayo’s matric pass rate from 2015 to 2016, it looks like these ambitions are becoming a reality.

Mr Nkosivumile Kwezi, who was appointed to his post at Dudumayo in February of 2016, is serving both as the school’s principal and as its Science teacher. As a former rural learner himself from the Bizana community in the Eastern Cape, he is passionate about helping rural learners overcome the odds to achieve success. When asked why he chose to work at Dudumayo, he had the following to say:

“So before I came here to Dudumayo I always had that passion [for rural education]. Because when I was listening to people, especially people who are working in rural areas they always said to me ‘Look, the reason why you are producing good results is because you are in town. Go to rural areas, you will see the reality.’”

Mr Kwezi’s previous experience includes a stint as the vice-principal of Zingisa Comprehensive High School as well as a teaching post at St John’s College, both situated in urban Mthatha.

“And I said, ‘You are lying! You are lying. Learners who normally excel in town are learners who are from deep rural areas,’” he explains. “I wanted to show them that now, even if the school is just under a tree, if there is a teacher, a teacher is the best resource. That school can perform very well.”

Since starting at Dudumayo, Mr Kwezi has implemented a number of programs to assist his learners. These include revision sessions in the mornings starting before 6am and running until 7.30am as well as supervised self-study in the evenings from 6pm until 10pm for Matric learners, Mondays through Thursdays. There are also compulsory, hour-long study sessions for grades ten and eleven after lessons have finished for the day. In addition, the staff hold classes on Saturdays on a rotating basis to make sure they have adequate time to cover the syllabus thoroughly.

When asked how the learners cope with such a strenuous academic schedule, Mr Kwezi smiles and responds, “You know, just have a visit, maybe in the morning, you will see them. I find them here in the morning. They are so motivated, hayi. They come running like anything…saying Nobakunzima. We will win. Even if it’s difficult, we will win…Really! The spirit that is in our children, it’s quite amazing.”

Mr Kwezi’s own attitude towards teaching has also played a role in this regard. He believes that encouraging and motivating learners is key, both inside and outside the classroom. He reports that he often begins his interactions with the learners by sharing a few inspiring words with them.

“Just have two or three words. ‘Hey good people, remember, hard work drives you to be a better person tomorrow. There is nothing that you can get without working hard. Hard work, the mix of determination and perseverance, that’s what brings about success. You need to share just one motivational word with them and then you get to the business. You teach them, you give them examples, give them class activities, you give them homework.”

After that, he explains, it’s about spending time with each learner, nurturing a strong relationship with them and keeping their spirits up. “Talk to them on a continuous basis, that ‘Look, you’ll do it,’” he says. “Even if a learner gets two marks or three marks in a test say, ‘You know, the reason why you are getting two or three clearly indicates that you have intelligence of doing well in this, so make sure that you triple these three marks in the next test.’ Even the very slow learner…will work hard now, not to disappoint you, you see? So that’s the system that I’ve been using.”

Asked how he finds time to engage with learners on top of his administrative duties as principal and his full teaching load, he shrugs and says simply, “If you are a teacher, ma’am, you know, you sacrifice. You forfeit something in order to get something.”

“I normally arrive here at quarter-to- six in the morning and I will be leaving at ten. And [tomorrow] morning I’ll be here at quarter-to- six. That’s a lot of sacrifice,” he explains. In the early mornings Mr Kwezi is joined by dedicated fellow staff members; Deputy Principals Ms Mdaka and Mr Ludidi as well as Head of Department Mr Hlanganyana. Mr Kwezi, like the rest of his staff, resides in Mthatha, an hour away. He makes the long drive on roads peppered with potholes and roaming livestock, in often rainy and misty conditions, twice daily.

“So you’ll find that now, for example, today I’m going to complete the organic chemistry. I’m going to give them a test, I’m going to mark that test, I’m going to give it back to them before I even go home. Can you see that, by then, all other educators are at home, you know, doing all their things, ma’am? You need to make time. If you can’t find time you need to make time by yourself. You just sacrifice, just for the benefit of an African child… Because I know that I’m a principal and it ends there but then I cannot destroy the future of the little children…I have to work [harder] so that at least they become what they want. I mustn’t be a stumbling block to their progress.”

Despite Mr Kwezi’s commitment and the efforts of his students, the challenges they face remain daunting. He describes visiting the cottages of his learners to collect them when they are late, only to find them sleeping on the floor with scarcely a blanket to cover them.

“This area is really, really, really overwhelmed by poverty, I’m telling you…We do not focus onto that because definitely, psychologically, it will traumatise us, but we just pretend as if things are normal and we normally assist some of the learners. You will find that some learners they do not have parents…Some of them, we really adopted them as educators. For example, even myself, there are learners that I am currently responsible for the payment of fees, you know, uniform, etc.”

He shakes his head sadly “There are so many, you know, but then we normally communicate with [the department of] social development…We assist the with food parcels and all that. But you could see that this is not sustainable for a very long time.”

Mr Kwezi’s greatest ambition for Dudumayo, beyond achieving a 100% pass rate in this year’s matric examinations, is to build a hostel for the school. “If we can have a hostel…everybody will eat the same food, everybody will stay in the same place, everybody will sleep in the same bed,” he explains.

The excitement in his voice is apparent as he expands on his vision. “If we can get a hostel with teacher’s cottage, if you want to sleep here, you can stay here…you are not rushing anywhere. You wake up in the morning with learners, ‘Come on, it’s time, good people, let us go back to school,’ and everybody runs to school,” he sketches out, laughter in his voice.

Because of large commuting distances, many learners in their matric year move into government funded RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) housing and cottages located near the school. This comes with its own set of dangers, however. Theft, house breaking and even students who get raped are tragically common occurrences, explains Mr Kwezi.

“If we have a hostel here, you can’t talk about that anymore. You will never ever talk about those things because the school will be fenced, there will be security, there will be matrons, there will be everybody. So learners will be safe.”

Mr Kwezi’s other ambitions include increasing the number of Bachelors passes as well as the number of students with distinctions. The school, who’s classes for Matrics began on the 3 rd of January, appears to be well on its way to achieving these goals, along with a 100% pass rate. We at Axium Education wish the learners and staff all the best for the rest of this academic year. Under the capable leadership of Mr Kwezi, and if hard work has anything to do it, we are expecting promising results from Dudumayo’s Grade 12 class of 2017!

School Management Team Retreat March 2017

Axium’s work with teachers and school leaders aims to encourage and build capacity in these key drivers of change in schools. The annual Senior Management Team (SMT) Retreat is an opportunity for school leaders from the Siyahluma Sisonke Sakhingomso (SSS) Network of schools to gather at an offsite venue for team building, sharing and collaborative problem solving.

It had been 15 months since our last SMT Retreat and the excitement was palpable in the weeks leading up to the event, with many teachers contacting us to make sure it was still happening! This was the 5th of these annual retreats and we used the occasion to invite principals from the Manyano Network – a group of schools in the Nelson Mandela Bay area, who had helped us launch our own network of schools at the very first SMT Retreat in 2012 – to return and check in on progress. Usually held in December, the long gap between events was as a result of requests from schools to reschedule to the beginning of the year in order to allow more effective follow up.

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The theme of the weekend was “Effective Leadership”, building on the first of the “5 Essential Supports” for school improvement – a framework introduced to schools at the last event. Schools had identified three main areas of focus: effective leadership for order and control; effective leadership for curriculum management; and, effective leaders taking responsibility (the first of Covey’s Seven Habits). Discussions were impassioned and inspiring, while possibly lacking the focus and practical application that we had hoped for in our planning – something we’re musing over how to remedy for future events. In particular, the Manyano team left us with a strong challenge about our role in creating opportunities for the children we serve. The 29 teachers seemed to leave the weekend encouraged and motivated, and we hope this will bear fruit at the nine schools they represent.

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Probably the most encouraging outcome of the weekend was the election of a very strong steering committee for the SSS Network, including several key principals and teachers – the “movers and shakers” if you like – in our community of schools. Watch this space for an update on developing a programme of action for the network, as this steering group meets early in the new term…