Monday, August 6, 2012

Day 9 –Two High Schools in East London

Today’s activities began at the East London campus of the University of Fort Hare.

This university is known as the place where many of South Africa’s freedom fighters (Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Robert Sobukwe) did their post-secondary studies. We met the Director of Fort Hare’s International Affairs, Arthur Johnson. Arthur arranged for us to visit two secondary schools in East London, then return to the University to meet with some education faculty.

We drove only 10 minutes from the East London campus to our first stop, but the contrast between the urban campus setting and the informal settlements was very distinct:

We arrived in the township of Duncan Village, where, just outside our first school, we saw this large monument:

Some digging online uncovered that this monument was a memorial to a 1985 event in this village, known as the Duncan Village Massacre, when 32 people lost their lives in a battle with police. The statute portrays a Xhosa warrior ready for battle.

After that unique introduction to Duncan Village, we entered the gates of the Kusile High School and were introduced to Principal F.H. Gayiza:

Kusile High School

Kusile Principal F.H. Gayiza

Principal Gayiza, who has been running this school since 1996, spent a good deal of time with our group discussing the structure and operation of Kusile. He explained that the school had a staff of 46 teachers, including student teachers from Walter Sisulu University and social workers from Fort Hare. His staff is responsible for 1228 students and he kindly shared the enrollment figures for the five grades (8 through 12) in his school:

Enrollment: 243 281 341 248 115

We asked him about the large jump in grade 10 enrollment, and we heard (again) about how a passing score in grade 10 was heavily weighted by the end-of-year exams. This shift resulted in a large failure rate for grade 10 students and a high repeat rate for that grade. This confirmed what we had heard just two days ago during our visit to Mandela Metropolitan University (read that excerpt here).

Principal Gayiza seemed open to questions, so we asked him what he thought were the biggest challenges to the Kusile School. He paused for a moment, then told us that security and the state of the facility were probably his two biggest issues. He went on to explain that, although the school served the surrounding community, people from the informal settlements continue to vandalize the school. He cited instances where fences were cut and water taken in the middle of the might. This has caused the school to hire a guard to patrol the perimeter during off-hours. His facility issues were nothing that unusual, in that the number and size of the classes required too many students to be places in one room (e.g. the grade 8 and 9 class size was about 60 students). He did say, however, that “the government is doing its best”.

We took a quick tour of the ground floor and saw students during their morning break, plaing ball and enjoying the fine ‘winter’ weather (it was about 60 F!)

Kusile students eager to get their picture taken!

We finished our tour and thanked the Principal for his time and the opportunity to learn about his school.

Our next stop was another high school, only one mile down the road. In just a few minutes, we arrived at Lumko High School and met with their principal, W. M. Links.

Principal Links, a very soft-spoken man, has been in charge of Lumko for ten years. He told us that the 20 staff members at Lumko were responsible for 1000 students – about double the staff-to-student ratio that was present at Kusile. Lumko was a no-fee school, so students came from as far as 10 miles away to attend. Principal Links pointed out that about 80% of the school’s parents were uneducated, so the burden of education fell squarely on his staff. Despite this, Lumko was proud to show an 85% pass rate in the compulsory (state) exams.

The school day here concentrated on course content, with school running from 7am to 2:30 pm, and a compulsory session that ran from 2:30 to 6pm! Most staff were involved in this extended session, providing a staggering 22 more hours of instruction each week! There were no sports at Lumko, despite a field just beyond their classroom buildings. Principal Links explained that the school could not afford the fee required by the town to use the field.

Infrastructure was this school’s number one concern. With so many students and only a few classrooms, class size was an ongoing issue. We saw a History class for 62 grade 11 students:

(Sorry, my composite shot missed a section of the back wall – there are more kids not shown!!) 

and a Cultures class that held 72 grade 8 students:

In both classes, believe it or not, the instructors seemed to genuinely enjoy what they were doing and the students seemed well-behaved.

When we asked about the possibility of more space or more classes, one of the staff spoke to us about plans and promises for an expanded site, but that nothing had come to pass. The school had even drafted its own plan for what type of site they could use, and the local government had gone so far as to make a promise to start building – but that was several years ago. In the meantime, the Lumko staff continues to do their work and provide an education for as many as they can handle.

1 comment: