Work in Progress - The Powerful Pull of Africa
Paul Moss, Principal of St James Junior Schools, London, now works with the Trust on teacher training. In September 2009 we asked him to check progress at three of the Schools we support in South Africa.
This was my fourth visit to South Africa and my first in the role of Principal. Africa has a powerful pull and I was looking forward to visiting three schools, St. James Durban, St. James Johannesburg and Masibambane School, Orange Farm, just outside Johannesburg.
I was greeted by interesting headlines in the national press:
♦ SCHOOLING A NATIONAL DISASTER.
♦ 80% OF SOUTH AFRICAN SCHOOLS ARE DYSFUNCTIONAL.
♦ OUTCOMES EDUCATION RESULTS IN POOR TRAINING FOR TEACHERS, A HOST OF FORM FILLING AND COMPLIANCE RITUALS.
One of the architects of ‘outcomes based education’ in South Africa had just published a book called The Toxic Mix. The book stated that the ‘Outcomes’ idea was a complete failure. Thankfully the three schools are already establishing a different tone and despite national pessimism there are signs of hope.
St. James Durban is a mere three years old but has the feel of something established and substantial. Next year the school will grow to five classes and between 65-80 children. The headmistress, Anisha Ramlaul is interviewing prospective teachers. She has quite a responsibility on her shoulders. The School is based in a rundown part of town. It shines and sets a fine example to the local community. But it is not easy to maintain the high standards that the children require and deserve in such difficult circumstances. She and the teachers are doing a great job. The oldest class are a splendid testament to St. James education. They are upright, articulate and intelligent.
St. James Johannesburg was right in the middle of celebrating Heritage Day and Founder’s Day. It is a most interesting school and the most significant feature is the sense of harmony and respect amongst the teachers and the children. It has a wide cultural mix but has a fine sense of balance. The friends and neighbours of St. James, the School of Philosophy, have moved just across the road to another building. So St. James now have the whole site to themselves.
Throughout the school the willingness of all to co-operate, give and serve is obvious. The Heritage Day was a brilliant reflection of Africa, a host of different cultures joined by love and a genuine desire to develop the nation. Newly-appointed headmaster Mark Grace is a firm but gentle leader and all have responded to his presence.
Masibambane School is run by Pieter Steyn, the former head of St. James Johannesburg. It is a primary school of nearly 700 pupils and 28 teachers. The school is in partnership with a wealthy independent school and meets the needs of Orange Farm, a community of informal settlements. In January 2010 the senior section of the school opened. It is a very inspiring place. Pieter leads with love and directness and is respected by all.
He asked me to speak at a parents’ conference. The atmosphere was outstanding and the strength of the school and community apparent. I am sure you would have been inspired by the speech, the song and by a group of eight year olds reciting a prayer from the St. James Reading Scheme.
The school is an example of a living philosophy playing its part in the community and allowing the spirit of Africa to manifest.
The three schools are an example of post-apartheid effort and honesty. Apartheid means ‘keep separate’. The schools unite all who step through their doors.
Through the role of Principal and the work for ERT I am now following various initiatives. I would love to run a Teachers’ Conference in Africa where all aspects of the South African community and culture were respected and made manifest. There is also a good chance that soon we will be offering short teacher training courses at St. James Junior School to appropriate candidates from abroad. We will keep you informed.
So South Africa has needs but it also has infinite potential. In twelve short days I gave 8 lectures, attended 15 meetings, 3 assemblies and ran a workshop for teachers. It is always best to go where the work is!