48 Learners to 1 Educator

Hello, friends,

It’s been a few weeks since I last checked in, and I have lots to tell. These first two weeks have flown by so quickly, a foreshadowing of how fast 6 months will zoom by. As I mentioned earlier, thinking about December really does give me anxiety. I just got here and I’m desperate to stay longer than 6 months. What I’ve especially come to love has been my workplace, the delightfully hectic Slangspurit Primary School. The school is situated in between two townships, educating 1050+ learners everyday. If you’re thinking that 1050 is a bizarre number of students for a primary school (what Canadians refer to as elementary school), you’re absolutely right, hence my preluded use of the word hectic.

The number of learners to educators (teachers) has everything to do with the dark history of apartheid. If you are unfamiliar with the term, I won’t do the people it’s affected  an injustice by providing a brief description. Instead, I encourage you to take it to google and find out on your own. Though apartheid came to an end in South Africa in the early nineties, its scars are ever present in the country’s townships. Through the Group Areas Act of 1950, townships were used as a method to segregate Black South Africans to the outskirts of urban areas, essentially relocating large populations to small portions of land. Despite the end of apartheid, townships are still home to most black people in South Africa, including more than half of the black middle class. In a survey conducted in 2007 among 2500 black adults, about 69% said they lived in townships by choice. Though the townships often times lack public utilities, transportation, adequate education and other resources, they thrive on community spirit and warmth that is lacking in the suburbs.

The South African Schools Act came into effect in 1996, establishing a precedent for equal education among children of all races and gender. Though great on paper, the marginalization of townships has not allowed for true equality. One of the greatest challenges apartheid has left behind is township education. The large gap in the student to teacher ratio contributes to a large portion of the educational shortcomings in townships. I see this everyday at work, as the classrooms in Slangspruit Primary School are overcrowded, detracting from student attention and resulting in students falling behind without any acknowledgement from their teachers. The result of overcrowding is a focus on participation rather than comprehension. Because the teachers attempt to engage all the students, there is little one-on-one interaction for those who don’t comprehend specific concepts. This isn’t the entire scope of the problem, but rather a snapshot of the limitations facing township education.

There is a lack of acknowledgement from the federal government about these obstacles, which is why many schools look to outside programs to supplement township education systems. This is where Ukulapha Community Outreach Project (my host organization) comes in. The many projects Ukulapha has accomplished over the years has improved teaching and learning conditions at Slangspruit. Taking a human rights approach (rather than charity), Ukulapha works with the school in a collaborative, organic relationship that hears the needs of the community. When I first researched on the work Ukulapha does, I was vexed because the recurring thought in my head was the government should be doing this, not an outside organization. Unfortunately, if Slangspruit relied on the government to do one tenth of the work Ukulapha has done, the wait would be interminable.

Now that you have some context toward township education, you can acknowledge just how incredible Ukulapha’s accomplishments over the years have been:

Modular Unit: Ukulapha installed a modular structure on the school grounds, serving as a computer lab for students and office space for Ukulapha onsite staff.
Satellite Library: Ukulapha partnered with the local municipal library of Pietermaritzburg and established a satellite library on school grounds, creating 4 jobs for community members and a LIBRARY. That’s right, before this project, the school didn’t have a library!
Nutritional Lunches: Ukulapha provides a nutrition laden lunch for all 1050 students attending Slang.
School Garden: Ukulapha established a school garden, providing extra nourishment to the school lunches, also employing a community member as a caretaker.
School Uniforms: For students who are most in need, Ukulapha provides uniforms, allowing them to attend school dignified among peers.
Maintenance: Ukulapha has been integral in the maintenance of school grounds. They have secured funding for: ceiling fans in every classroom, painting the school, renovating bathrooms, providing rainwater tanks, fencing the school grounds, etc.
Homework Club: Establishing an after-school homework club, where interns sit one on one with students who aren’t understanding specific concepts due to overcrowding in classrooms.

Meeting Carolyn (the Executive Director), the learners and the educators has been a blast. Everyone is so friendly and supportive, and I’ve finally been able to contextualize my role. Seeing the importance of the partnership between Ukulapha and Slang, I now understand that my role is clear-cut. As a resource mobilization coordinator, I must raise as many funds as I can because there is a necessity. Currently, I’m working on a grant proposal through the South African Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. My deadline is around the corner, and now that I better understand the socio-economic conditions of township schools, I am committed to giving my 110%.

Thanks for sticking around, I know this one was longer than usual.

Until next time!


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