South African Township Schools
EwB’s efforts have been focused on Fezeka Senior Secondary School, Mseki Primary School and, to a limited extent, St. Francis Adult Education Centre (located on the former Songeze campus) and the surrounding township of Gugulethu (population: 500,000), just outside of Cape Town, South Africa. We also support a small dance company in Gugulethu (Zama Dance Centre).
Our overall mandate is to work in different parts of the world and, for many years, we primarily focused on South Africa. This allowed us to gain knowledge of the community, to work profoundly and deeply with problems on site, and to use this experience to serve additional communities in South Africa and beyond.
Vancouver First Nations Programs
In light of this experience, we have now expanded to serve First Nations people in the Vancouver lower mainland.
EwB and AnxietyBC have partnered with the Alternate School Programs in Chilliwack to strengthen knowledge and capacity among students, parents or caregivers, and educators about management of anxiety and anxiety disorders.
The outcome of the project is to build resilient minds and improve student’s learning.
A large percentage of students in the programs are of First Nations heritage, from the Sto:lo Nation (also known as Shxwetetilthet).
In addition, EwB is providing financial support to Dogwood 25. Dogwood 25 provides culturally responsive mentorship opportunities for Aboriginal students in elementary, high school, and post-secondary schools , using an evidence-based model of peer mentorship that supports academic success.
The Challenge in South Africa
The problems at schools like Fezeka are significant:
- Located in an impoverished overcrowded shanty town, crime and violence are rife;
- The combined total of approximately 1,300 students means classes are hopelessly overcrowded with approximately 40 children per classroom;
- A significantly high drop-out rate between Grades 11 (445 students) and 12 (100 students) means many students do not complete their schooling. Reasons for dropping out include their need to earn a living and support their families;
- There is a lack of jobs (60% unemployment) and many formerly good students are forced to turn to drugs and/or crime;
- 44 teachers work with inadequate technical aids and resources;
- Not only are black schools like Fezeka struggling with inadequate facilities and social problems, they exist in an education system that for years excluded them. During the apartheid era, very few blacks had the opportunity to graduate from high school. Some of the teachers in township schools like Fezeka are still suffering from the effects of this discrimination.
EwB’s 5-Year Plan
EwB is currently midway through a 5-year plan to move Fezeka and Mseki to a higher level of academic achievement. Initially, our efforts were in response to basic needs (classrooms were built at Fezeka) and to feedback from visioning sessions (dance and photography were among our first projects).
However, it became increasingly evident that to change the academic outcomes we needed to address root issues such as basic Mathematics and English literacy, and teacher and administrative support.
Recent initiatives have reflected that: volunteer teachers, tutors and project managers; after-school lessons; professional development; and career counselling and follow-up post graduation.
The great challenge ahead is to address, in whatever way we can, the underlying socio-economic barriers to success. A simple example is the vast number of students who attend school hungry each day, which affects their ability to learn. Our after-school program includes a hot meal for each student.