Saturday, September 11, 2010

New Schools in South Africa Serve the Underserved

I read this article about dying children and wasted potential, desperate parents, old guard teachers unions, and the emergence of new no-excuses schools and thought it could have been about most big cities in our country – but it's about South Africa.  It's exciting to see the progress there!

As many of South Africa's public schools have failed a post-apartheid generation of children from poor townships and rural areas, a budding movement of educators, philanthropists and desperate parents is increasingly searching for alternatives.

For a decade, banks and foundations here have sponsored promising township students to attend elite, mostly white schools. But now new private schools are springing up to serve poor and working-class black children, giving the still dominant public system some newfound competition and perhaps even devising models that will end up influencing it.

The 500 students at three schools known as Leap represent one approach. All of the students, including Gcobani, come from black townships. They are immersed in an educational environment that is reminiscent of some of the most successful American charter schools.

…But a growing number of families, even without philanthropic support and tired of what they see as unmotivated public school teachers, are scraping together money on their own to send their children to bare-bones private schools tucked away in abandoned factories, shopping centers, shacks and high-rises, a new study of rural and urban communities in three provinces found.

In fact, researchers discovered far more of these low-fee private schools than official statistics suggest and surprisingly noted that public school teachers dissatisfied with their own workplaces were among the parents of students in these schools. While national studies are needed to gauge the full scope of the phenomenon, the researchers said, the evidence suggests that such schools are increasingly popular.

"Some ask, 'Why aren't parents screaming about the appalling state of public education?' " said Ann Bernstein, executive director of the Johannesburg-based Center for Development and Enterprise, which conducted the study. "They're moving with their feet."

At the Leap schools, students have extended classes during the week, from 8:15 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., and they attend on Saturday mornings. They spend extra time on math, science and English. Seniors preparing for the matriculation examinations that will shape their futures stay until 8 p.m. three nights a week.

But the schools instill more than a fierce work ethic. Each day, students have a life orientation class, or L.O. as they call it, where they talk about the personal problems that can derail an education — a stepfather who expects a girl to clean house rather than do her homework, a student trying to study in the shack where her family lives and runs a saloon, and another student who goes to school hungry because her mother's salary as a maid runs out before the end of the month.


New Schools in South Africa Serve the Underserved

Published: September 8, 2010

CAPE TOWN — Gcobani Mndini, a shy, lanky 17-year-old, said he was already a gangster by the time he started ninth grade. His small gang, which called itself the Tomatoes, was robbing people, fighting over girls and getting high on Jack Daniel's and marijuana.

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