Scottish Charity Number: SCO36069

21st November 2016

Stephanie Smith: 3rd report from South Africa

Home | Footprinter Reports | Stephanie Smith: 3rd report from South Africa

So at the end of my last report I said that the end of the third term would show the fruits of our labour and I believe that is just what happened; the whole ‘whatever you put out to the Universe it will respond’ thing. In terms of TETA, our reading programme, the third term brought a new Foundation programme, a library system at Isolomzi and the conversion of a classroom to a library at Soga JSS.

The July holidays (the fact that it is winter still baffles me) brought winter school to Isolomzi, the high school. Transkei Outreach has partnered with Isolomzi and they run a winter school to help improve the pass rates of Isolomzi final year learners.

This year there were other organisations that came to Ngcizela with the idea of partnering with other schools in the Transkei region. The groups that came along were really interesting and had similar ideas and goals as both Gayle and I, with regards to helping to empower this community. It was great being around this kind of energy and having further support with the work that we were doing.

So with the end of the academic year fast approaching and having bantered ideas with a range of different interest groups, Gayle and I sat down and began (re)-scoping TETA to shape something that could be a sustainable programme in the community. The outcome of this was the TETA Foundation, Junior and Senior programmes.

The Junior programme is for Grade 4 learners (ages range from 8-11) which, at the moment, functions as an interventionist programme to help with the low level of literacy overall in Grade 4. The Education Centre and their international volunteers will continue to run this programme and read one-on-one with the learners multiple times a week to improve literacy. The goal in the future is for the Junior programme to act as additional one-on-one support to literate Grade 4 learners who are transitioning from learning in isiXhosa to English.

The Foundation programme has been inbuilt into the class curriculum of Grades R-3 to help improve overall literacy at these lower year levels whilst the children are at ages where they are able to absorb a lot of information.  The TETA programme has been structured into Literacy Levels 1-4 and has set outcomes that the learners should achieve by the end of each year.

The teachers at Soga JSS especially have shown enthusiasm for the TETA programmes and have taken on the timetable. It was this level of commitment from Soga JSS that inspired us to change an unused classroom into a low-cost library. The Transkei outreach team were able to put us in touch with corporations that would be able to sponsor a small project and so with paint, a hammer and piping in hand (see pictures) we went to converting the disused classroom into a library.

Unfortunately, there is no space for an onsite library at Isolomzi and so the TETA Senior programme is a library day that is held once a week. It is regulated by student library monitors and, moving forward, will be overseen by the Education Centre. The library day has been given structure with a system that assigns books given out to each student for a specified time period. So far this system is looking promising as there are less books that are unaccounted for and the library monitors have been very effective in gently urging their classmates to bring back any overdue books ?

Whilst at face-value the implementation of these programmes may seem intuitive, especially for anyone that has been educated in a schooling system like that of the UK, the reality is that it is not intuitive to the community where we have been working. To get to a point where a large percentage of your learners are not literate demonstrates a level of neglect. This is not to blame the educators. They really do the best that they are able to with the resources they are given, but they are not equipped to deliver the curriculum the way it should be, and as a result the learners are affected negatively with their education.

Gayle and I have worked with the community to develop a programme that could really benefit the learners if implemented consistently. We plan on touching base with the Education Centre to see how the programmes are developing and will be there to assist remotely in any way possible.

A stop sign is a command not a suggestion

I sent an email to my uncle with the subject title “a stop sign is a command not a suggestion”. A few years back I was driving in the US and ran a stop sign at a T-Junction (it was after this event that I understood what this phrase actually meant). My uncle gently explained that you must stop at a stop sign.

I used this as my subject title because it nicely summed up the school timetable at Isolomzi; it is more of a suggestion rather than a command. Whilst you are able to teach in your allocated timeslot about 75% of the time the other 25% of the time there may be an impromptu school function or a need for the learners to be let out early and there is no system to allow for this time to be made back up. As you can imagine trying to adapt a set national curriculum to such a structure is just one of the many factors that contributes to the educational needs in rural parts of the Eastern Cape.

With this structure as my background I had to finish the syllabus for Grade 10 and 11 Chemistry during Term 3. In saying that it is amazing how quickly you adapt to your teaching environment. I made sure that I was fully prepared for all of their lessons so that if they managed to have a free period, because a teacher was not around for example, then I was able to take that lesson.

As much as I was able to voice my concerns about the amount of school time that was missed because of the above reasons, I also had to just make it work and finish the syllabus with the students so that I could leave them time to revise before their exams. When in an environment like this one there is a middle ground that you have to find between sticking to your principles and just going with the flow; adapting and changing without compromising who you are. This was probably the hardest part of being in Ngcizela. This very different attitude permeated in every aspect of life and whilst it was really awesome in making me less up tight about many things in my personal life, it was hard to have this attitude professionally as, for me, it was the students that suffered because of this.

Being able to take ownership of TETA and MProjekt really kept me sane, as it was separate from the school structures and so could be run a bit more efficiently.

MProjekt is the menstrual health management programme that we ran and it also came to an end this term with the second and third groups. The evaluations showed that the girls were interested in partaking in the workshops and enjoyed having a female only space.

The older women of the community were particularly interested in making reusable menstrual cloths and so the left over material was given to mama next door to use to start making and selling the cloths in the community. We are also really excited because a teacher from Isolomzi, and a member of Transkei Outreach are committed in continuing with a menstrual health management programme and so MProjekt will be working with them to help devise something that can be sustained in the community.

It seems really weird that this year of volunteering has nearly come to an end. Teaching finished in the third term as the fourth term is a couple of weeks of revision and then it is exam time for the whole school. We also finished with TETA and MProjekt this term as TETA is being handed over to the Education Centre to continue with next year.

I am at the point where I am reflecting on my time here remembering the highs and lows of the whole experience. One particular high was seeing Kamogelo, I mentioned him last time, voluntarily picking up a book and reading it. It was a lesson where I allowed the Grade 9 to do crafts or read, and he was one of a couple of people who chose to read. I believe that having access to books and being encouraged to read has begun to open him up to a new world.

I am still processing this whole experience and hope to give you a good summation of how it has been in my last report.

Till then,

Stephanie ?

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