Uplifting rural education


Wits School of Education (WSoE) Teaching ExperienceA collaboration between the rural schools, WSoE and the Kwena Basin community, third and fourth year students registered for B.Ed programmes at WSoE, apply to spend three weeks each year in the community and farm schools during their teaching experience. In the 13 years since the programme commenced, more than 350 young student teachers were given an added advantage by working at the Kwena Basin schools. They have been exposed to teaching multi-grade classes, teaching in a language the learners have had little exposure to and working in classrooms where their role became one of a leader rather than a student, working with subjects they have not studied themselves. The project has added to research on early literacy practices in farm schools and has been shared at a number of local and international conferences and symposia, so much so that the first four years of working at the Kwena Basin farm schools is documented in a thesis by Dr Jean Place, Project Leader and Principal Tutor in Foundation Studies in the Wits School of Education, entitled The College Book Sack Project in the Kwena Basin Farm Schools, Mpumalanga: A Case Study. Since then, work on the project has been ongoing and a model for Teaching Experience in very challenging situations has been developed through experience, which could serve as an example to other like-minded individuals who are wishing to uplift their communities through education.

Dr Jean Place Media Centre: The opening of a new library at the rural Klipspruit Combined School in the Kwena Basin, between Waterval Boven and Mashishing (formerly Lydenberg) in Mpumalanga, is an extension of the upliftment programme. "A resource centre/ library is our first step towards being able to enable learners to take control of their learning,” says Grant Coltman from the Division of Languages, Literacies and Literatures at the WSoE. The opening of the library was attended by nearly the entire community: staff members and learners of the school, principals of feeder schools, parents and members of the School Governing Body, members of the Kwena Basin Education Trust and members of the community who have supported the project over many years, all came to bask in the wonderful moment. “It was a very special moment when the library door was opened and the first children walked in with Professor Graham Hall, who had the honour of opening the library, having been present at the first meeting of education students, lecturers, teachers and children at Spoelklippies Farm School thirteen years ago and who had pledged this community our support,” said Dr Place.

Fly Fishing ClinicsThe Gauteng North Fly Fishing Association (GNFFA) has been involved in this project for the past five years: “Our province has adopted this wonderful project to form part of our development programme for the disadvantaged youth. Not only will these great kids be our referees to the tournament, but we will extend this programme by selecting ten students to further their training in the art of fly fishing, entomology, ecology, nature and river conservation, entrepreneurship and guiding. Our aim is, amongst others, to develop these students to such an extent that they can form part of the GNFFA Team and participate in next year’s Youth National Championships.”

Phakama Kitchen FacilityThrough generous funding from TRAC N4, a kitchen upgrade project was initiated in July 2014. Although the school feeding scheme is government funded to ensure that every child attending school is given one meal a day, this is not always possible during inclement weather. The rainy season, high winds or bitter winter conditions bring challenges to the cooking team who cannot cope with these weather conditions to produce a meal on an open fire outside. The Kwena Basin Education Trust engaged with the school and the local service providers to design and construct a more user friendly kitchen facility. A site was identified and input from the school principal was considered for the most suitable position and design criteria, taking into consideration the funds available. The building team from Verlorenkloof Estate was engaged and with their expertise and thrifty utilisation of recycled materials, they were able to also include an addition to the verandah roof for additional protection for the children during extreme weather conditions. Construction commenced during the school holidays and the new facility was inaugurated during March 2015. Our sincere gratitude to TRAC N4 for assisting us to improve the conditions at Phakama School. This excellent collaboration between the local community, the service provider and the Trust ensures that challenges faced by our rural children are made a little easier. 

Basic Concepts UnlimitedThe Teacher Development Project is a bold and exciting project which identified the urgent need to focus on the development of the local teachers. It is a four year programme aimed at uplifting and empowering local teachers. It will target Foundation Phase teachers at Phakama Primary, Umtombopholile Primary, Enkeldoorn Primary and Klipspruit Combined School. This intervention has been specifically designed and researched by Education Psychologist, Dr Louis Benjamin, to target learners from Grade R through to Grade 4 who are at risk of developing learning problems in the early schooling years. This project has already achieved outstanding results in the Hantam Project in the Northern Cape, where the benefits of the intervention were seen to have a lasting effect throughout the primary schools, as well as on the communities. We envisage that this project will add greatly to the sustainability of the education structure in the Kwena Basin.