An Elementary School

During the initial training my group of volunteers got when we arrived in South Africa, we were supposed to spend a lot of time at local schools getting acquainted with the South African school system. Alas, because of the teachers' strike our time at schools was severely minimized, but we were still able to spend a few days.

I was training at a small (300 kids and 8 classrooms?) Elementary School with 5 other volunteers. Our education about education started immediately. The first day we were there was scheduled as observation, but half of the learners and teachers were gone on “athletics” and union meetings. And before the day was through, we had been drafted to teach. We taught the hokey pokey then turned it into a literacy lesson. Everyone loved it.

On a later visit we were able to do our observations. I observed a Mathematics class where the first 10 minutes were spent counting in unison. The whole class counted from 700 to 1000 by 5s and then from 700 down to 400 by 5s. I also observed an Social Studies lesson. It was a very good lecture about the provinces of South Africa and their relation to the Apartheid era provinces and homelands. But even though the lecture was engaging, the lesson was just the lecture. It’s also possible it was this teacher’s go-to lecture–many teachers have a lesson they give when they are being observed that they’ve had success with before–why fix what is not broken? (I’m sure this happens in the US too!)

Every day at every school begins with morning assembly:

Morning assembly is prayer, singing, announcements, and often a few kids reading or public speaking. Morning assembly is usually only scheduled for a few minutes, but sometimes it can cut into up to an hour of class time if there’s a guest speaker. One of the things I like about my current school is that we sometimes skip assembly all together. More learning time!

Here’s one of the classrooms:

This is what happens when you start giving high-fives:

Check out a hundred billion empty tin-fish (sardine) cans:

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Let’s build an airplane!

Those cans are remnants from that day’s food. Almost every Primary school has a feeding scheme–basically free food (formally called the National School Nutrition Programme). The meal is generally served between 9 and 11 AM, since many kids don’t get anything to eat before school. The feeding scheme is a very popular program. Many kids wouldn’t even bother coming to school, but they are enticed by the chance for free food. There isn’t food every day, but the schools don’t tell kids in advance since many don’t bother showing up if they know they wont be fed.

I think most schools get just a few rand per student per meal. And I think some schools get a mix of money and deliveries. Each meal needs to average just a few American cents per student; maybe as high as 50 cents on a special day, but easily less than 10 when the money is running low. You can’t do tin fish everyday, but even pap (corn meal) and sauce is a welcome meal for many students. There are unfortunately problems with theft and corruption, and you hear stories about disappearing food supplies far more than you should.

There is no feeding scheme at my school. Secondary schools aren’t all part of the program yet although the government wants to eventually expand it. Some schools use their general funds to supply a feeding scheme, but you see few Secondary schools with free food.

It was a shame about the timing of the strike. I would have loved to have spent more time at this school, and to have taught the learners. Me and another volunteer were planning a Maths lesson for the fourth graders. It would have been fun.