Learning from SA’s best

2014-07-20 15:00

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Celebrities and academics are taking on the task of teaching 15 struggling pupils on reality TV

Imagine being taught history by Rivonia Trialist Denis Goldberg, one of Nelson Mandela’s oldest friends.

Next up are music classes led by Freshlyground singer Zolani Mahola, followed by job interview and life skills tips by Professor Jonathan Jansen.

The cherry on top: cooking classes under the watchful gaze of Karen Dudley, founder of The Kitchen in Woodstock, where Michelle Obama stopped for lunch not too long ago.

Isn’t that a school nerd’s biggest dream?

Well, a new SABC2 reality TV show called Dream School SA is offering 15 struggling South African pupils the opportunity to shine under these and many more celebrity tutors.

“What happens when you take 15 kids failing at school and try a completely different approach?” was the core question posed by the producers of the show, loosely based on Jamie Oliver’s Dream School television series in the UK.

Dream School SA’s principal is Johan Volsteedt, the highly regarded former headmaster of Grey College in Bloemfontein.

“Some of them have really struggled and this is what makes it so wonderful for them to get another chance,” said Volsteedt.

The show offers intimate glimpses into the hearts and journeys of the pupils – offering valuable insight into hurdles faced by South Africa’s youth.

Producer Paul Yule told City Press that pertinent issues like bullying and teenage pregnancies emerged.

“The kids have either failed because of circumstances at home, their parents, society or themselves. Many of them are deeply traumatised. So it is significant that Dream School SA offers a psychologist who is able to reach those dark places,” he said.

The pupils are Chenique (15) from Cape Town, who dreams of becoming a judge; Keagan (15) from Joburg, whose role model is rugby player Morné du Plessis but whose courage has foundered because of bullies at school; Lihle (18) from Khayelitsha, who aspires to become a soccer star and a businessman; Masibulele?(17) from Woodstock, who battles with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and wants to become both an actor and a master chef; Monique (19) from Kraaifontein, who lists her grandfather as her icon; and Natasha (17) from Mitchells Plain, whose dream job is in the medical field.

“There are no extramural activities at my school like sports or drama, and there is a major problem with drugs and smoking,” she says.

Then there is Noorun (16) from Manenberg, who admits her biggest challenge is “laziness”; Nuraan (15) from Hanover Park, who has taken to bunking because of problems at home; Simphiwe (16) from Langa, who wants to become a rapper and whose idols include Kanye West; Thandeka (18) from Soweto, who wants to become a journalist but dropped out of school when she fell pregnant; Trevor (16) from Durban, who failed a grade after relentless bullying and depression; and Tshepo (19) from Soweto, who wants to own a dance school one day, and believes that “God don’t make no junk”.

There’s also Vincent (15) from Table View, whose hero is Muhammad Ali and who wants to become a DJ; Waunita (17) from Pretoria, who was in a serious motorcycle accident in 2012; and Zamashenga (18) from Soweto, who says she struggles to concentrate on her calling to be a traditional healer.

Yule said: “We were looking for kids who are bright but failing. It’s also insightful as these are the born-frees of our country.”

Dream School SA will air on SABC2 at 7pm on Mondays and Tuesdays over the next seven weeks.

Yule said the first episodes were well received this week, with more than 4?500 viewers participating in related discussions on the mobile platform WeChat.

Meanwhile, the production team is scouting for 15 pupils to star in the second season of the show. Application forms can be downloaded from WeChat or the show’s official website.


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