MMEP provides meaningful skills education to pupils

2017-11-02 12:25
Teacher, or Bug, Zinhle Msimango conducts a road safety lesson, part of the life skills programme run by the Midlands Meander Education Project, at Haza Primary School in Merrivale, Howick.

Teacher, or Bug, Zinhle Msimango conducts a road safety lesson, part of the life skills programme run by the Midlands Meander Education Project, at Haza Primary School in Merrivale, Howick. (MMEP)

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Tucked away under the main office block and reception at Midmar Dam is a small NGO that is dedicated to providing meaningful education to 20 schools and over 6 000 children throughout the Midlands.

Started in 2004 by Nikki Brighton, the Midlands Meander Education Project (MMEP) was initially part of the ecoschools programme, a very formal, international programme run by WESSA, which focuses only on environmental education.

“It was in 2014 that the MMEP realised it needed to focus more on skills education and not solely on environmental education,” said Jessica Gird, MMEP project manager and fundraiser. “So we developed our own programme that supports teachers, addresses gaps in education and attempts to bring the material to life by including practical elements that will enhance understanding.”

The teachers, or Bugs, each have a specialist subject they teach and visit the schools involved in the programme to co-teach with the class teachers during Caps-aligned lessons, such as practical technology, life skills, environmental education, maths, literacy and permaculture. Gird said this often helps teachers who are teaching more than one grade at a time.

“The Bugs do a lot of skill work with the teachers,” said Gird. “They try to inspire a love for learning in the teachers and the children. They teach in a tactile way and demonstrate how concepts, for example in maths, can be used in real life, so it’s useful. Our teaching methods address the holistic development of children and aim to encourage their capabilities, curiosity and creativity.”

Gird said that while they have had to give up on some schools that have shown little interest, there are many teachers who have fully bought into what MMEP has to offer, allowing the project to have a meaningful impact on the pupils at those schools. “This makes our work a lot easier as the teachers are prepared for our lessons when we arrive and follow up with the pupils after we’ve left.”

The core team at MMEP consists of eight to nine people, who are permanently employed. “While this is their permanent job, they can’t do it full time as there is a danger of burnout. At most a Bug or teacher will teach at 10 schools; it depends on what they can handle,” said Gird, who joined the project in 2006 and worked in the field for six years doing permaculture, which is the practice of producing food and energy using ways that do not deplete the Earth’s natural resources. She took a break for a while and rejoined the project taking over its management and fundraising.

“My passion has always been education, how to share something in a really meaningful way that resonates deeply with someone and inspires him or her to learn more,” Gird said. “We’ve implemented so many wonderful things here at MMEP, such as sociocracy, which is all about relationships.

In line with the concept of sociocracy, Gird says their small NGO puts people and relationships first. “People out in the field have creative freedom and they make the most beautiful lessons.”

According to Gird, they focus on a person’s role, on his or her value, what he or she brings to the organisation. “It’s not about climbing the ladder,” Gird said. “There’s a lot of respect in the system, we presume that all involved are adults and are accountable and responsible for their own functions. There’s no micro-managing.”

All their work is funded through fundraising and Gird said they are constantly looking for new funders, which is getting more difficult. “We have funders, mostly corporates, who value the work we do,” she said. “They constantly ask us for qualitative and quantitative feedback, such as ‘What’s the progress? How do you know you are making a difference?’ We ask ourselves those questions all the time, too, and at the end of the year we evaluate what we have done as an organisation. We take this quite seriously as it helps us remain fresh and relevant.”

The MMEP is also involved in various other community projects, such as the Midlands Environmental Education Forum which was formed by different bodies involved in education. They will meet and share ideas, thus ensuring that work is not being duplicated and keep up to date with what’s going on in education.

The Mpophomeni Enviro-Club is a weekend club for children interested in learning more about the environment, while the Superbug Club, which meets monthly and is run by social workers, provides a safe space for vulnerable children to talk. The Sisonke Now or Never Network for social workers operates as a support group where social workers can debrief with those who understand their work. It’s also a platform from which children from the Super Bug Club can be referred should they need extra help.

Piloted in 2015, Lisakhanya is an internship programme for school leavers from Mpophomeni and addresses the educational gaps that exist between school and the workplace.

“Often the children in the rural areas are forgotten and feel forgotten. The teachers are so grateful that we make an effort to go out to their schools to teach them, help them teach and talk to the children. We try to teach them skills but it’s more than that,” Gird said.

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