A-level education comes to Joburg's East Rand

2014-11-16 15:00

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A township school on Johannesburg’s East Rand is administering one of the world’s most prestigious and rigorous academic qualifications – for just R200 a month.

African School for Excellence in Tsakane is teaching the Cambridge International Examinations curriculum which will result in its pupils achieving A Levels, a school-leaving qualification recognised by most universities in the world. The school – started by social entrepreneurs Nonhlanhla Masina, Jay Kloppenberg and Melusi Radebe – is operating from mobile classrooms on a rented piece of land. A a permanent facility is being completed nearby.

Former schoolmates Masina and Radebe – who are both from Tsakane – said they conceived the idea after matriculating in 2006. “When I arrived at Wits [University], I realised that I was hopelessly unprepared for the demands of academic life. Academically, I was weak and unprepared. And it suddenly dawned on me that this is what most people with a similar background have to go through,” said Masina.

Masina and Radebe started running classes on Saturdays, and in winter and summer school holidays, but realised that if the pupils were to walk into any university in the world and succeed, their efforts were woefully inadequate.

So, according to Kloppenberg, who had joined them in giving lessons, they decided to start their own school.

Their premise, said Kloppenberg, was that children should not be deprived of quality education because of their backgrounds.

“What the kids don’t have when they come to us is a lot of money and good foundational skills. What they do have is an incredible passion for learning. And we wanted to use the passion to give them an education as good as the very best schools in the country,” Kloppenberg said.

“We want our scholars to be able to step into any university in the world and expect to succeed.”

And so last year, the team recruited 87 Grade 7 pupils and put them through an intensive programme to improve their numeracy and literacy levels. Kloppenberg said none of the 87 could read above Grade 3 level and all used their fingers to count.

“By the end of the year, we gave them the Cambridge assessment to see how many of them had caught up to UK levels. Our ambitious goal was that it would take them two years to catch up to UK levels of literacy and mathematics. We found that after one year, 99% of them had caught up.

“Earlier this year, they wrote the Maths Olympiad and between 25% and 30% made the semifinals. And we made them write the Annual National Assessment for 9th Graders, not Grade 8, and the class achieved about 95%, and that was ahead of the wealthiest quintile in the whole country,” he said.

Parents pay about R200 a month in fees, however, it costs about R8?000 a year to educate a pupil. The balance is subsidised by donations from corporates, said Kloppenberg. Once the school moves to its new premises next year, Kloppenberg said they will apply for government subsidies.

Masina said there was a 10-year plan to establish similar schools in townships across Gauteng.

Grade 8 pupil Tafadzwa Mvzerengani (15) said the school had given him new hope. Mvzerengani, who has read about 3?600 pages of literature in the past two weeks, said the school has ignited his passion for reading, which had improved his vocabulary and exposed him to a wide variety of topics.

Low-fee private schools are proliferating in South Africa as parents seek alternatives to government schools, which have a reputation for being below par.

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