Column: Underprivileged South African schools partner for solutions through sport and beyond

This is a road less travelled. It is a wonderful new avenue for poor schools in SA to navigate.

Two underprivileged schools, Nkondo Primary (near Mthatha) and Ukhanyo Primary (Masiphumelele) last week partnered for academic and holistic education upliftment. So different from the usual and essential projects of a private or model C school partnering to uplift a disadvantaged school. 

The union began after two Ukhanyo educators, Ms. Ngunga and Ms. Mlokoti, left Masiphumelele last year and joined rural Nkondo. Such was the positive and creative impact and energy of these two teachers on her school that the principal Mrs. Cwane wanted to see Ukhanyo PS for herself. The Nkondo principal brought 14 educators and 60 learners to experience all aspects of Ukhanyo and see the Western Cape.

What a compliment for Principal Michael Thyali and Ukhanyo Primary.

Experienced educators from both schools discussed solutions to problems that beset them both. There was no pretence in the discussions, no hidden agendas – real stories about real experiences.

While the size and structure of the two schools were different, they faced similar issues.

Ukhanyo has the advantage of support from the likes of Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the Rotary Foundation, and sporting organisations. The school is supported 

  • In sport (by The MCC Masi 750 Club, which manages the all-embracing sports programme) 
  • In academics (by NGO Masicorp’s funding and running of the maths, English and science labs)
  • In life skills (by Coolplay, who instruct the coaches with life skills training)

For such interventions to lead to sustained growth,, however, the staff need to drive these concepts consistently. Ukhanyo’s staff delivers with distinction.

Ukhanyo learners’ growth extends beyond the confines of the classroom to sport, Maths and English clubs, choir, tribal dancing, and chess.  

Despite a similarly holistic attitude to learning among the staff, Nkondo has not benefitted from external interventions. The school has limited funds, no sports facilities, no library and no local NGO support system. Classes of 49 to 72 learners are difficult to manage for even the most dedicated teachers.

Last week, the Nkondo staff integrated into Ukhanyo’s academic systems, including the maths and English labs. Learners received life skills mentoring and then played practice matches on the two artificial playing fields and astroturf cricket nets.

The two principals agreed to work closely together and assist each other where possible. The Nkondo staff took back some of the ideas they learned from the specialised labs and the life skills session.  

MCC Masi 750 Club, Masicorp and Ukhanyo donated sets of books, educational games, worksheets, rugby, soccer and netball balls and netball posts to Nkondo. The aim was to kick-start the library and sport at the school.

The day revealed the extent to which such grassroots partnerships between marginalized schools can uplift the schools’ spirits and performance. 

These schools are the hubs of their wider environment. The Ukhanyo Primary premises hosts community meetings, religious events, baby showers, family get-togethers and holiday programmes. Ukhanyo’s role in Masiphumelele is respected by all. The school offers new ideas for the future health of the community.

A few of the suggestions from  discussions were;

  • Underprivileged schools must find local or wider support to stimulate funding, facilities and equipment.
  • These schools must link with NGOs, companies and organizations within their environment. 
  • The local elder generation can assist learners after schools with homework and reading.
  • Volunteers from the surrounding areas can assist in after-school activities ranging from chess, choir and art through to sports, as well as school maintenance and other duties.
  • Schools need to engage and seek the support of their wider community, not just the parents.

Over 20 000 South African schools need the help of their communities to fill the void left by the lack of proper funding and initiative from national and regional governments.

The fact that there are still 3 500 schools with pit toilets is a sign that government plans take too long to implement. The partnership between schools are effective in sidestepping red tape.

National Government can assist this initiative at minimal cost. They can boost involvement among local communities by paying volunteers a stipend. .This would benefit job-seekers and school pupils alike.

Underprivileged schools could take a leaf out of Nkondo’s book and actively seek  partnerships with other schools , whether underprivileged or Model C. – ETM

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Vince van der Bijl
Vince van der Bijl played 156 first-class matches in England and South Africa. He later served as the ICC umpires' and referees' manager. He's now the leader of the MCC Masi 750 Club.