This school can be a major challenge at times. The word ‘challenge’ is a euphemism of course – sometimes it can feel like a nightmare. Schools like this feel like black holes sometimes, just sucking up the light you bring without compassion or mercy.

The latest struggle has been to simply have afternoon classes. The first quarter went very well in terms of classes in that I was able to give classes three times a week every week to the grade 10s, 11s and 12s. With much discussion and observation I tried to diagnose the situation in the school with regard to maths. The school had come to us reiterating again and again that maths maths maths was really the key problem here. Their other subjects were ok, maths was the real need.

So the problem has always been simple. The situation and ‘why’ behind the problem has been more complicated. This is always the case though – finding problems with the world and ourselves is easy – but determining the practical ‘why’ behind the problem is hard. Root cause analysis is difficult. It is the only way to truly solve a problem though.

So the first ‘why’ that the teachers and I came to agree on was that the basics were a problem for the students. They still needed to grasp those foundational concepts of negative numbers and integers and even basic arithmetic. One afternoon class I stopped in abject frustration and went through this with the top class in the school – Grade 12A:

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Board work (c) JSB

So despite the depth of this problem, it gave purpose to my lessons in the first quarter – knowing exactly what to teach them. I drew up worksheets with problems designed to guide the students into understanding. These went down very well and I was encouraged numerous times as I would literally see the moment when the concepts would click in the minds of students who had been blind to them for so many years.

Now this quarter has been a little different. I came back from the holidays after the first quarter with a lot of enthusiasm to really do things well – but I was stopped right in my tracks. Something was getting in the way of all of my classes – the reason for which I only discovered 2 weeks ago. It turned out from a conversation I had with a teacher who I have befriended at the school that there was trouble from the government after the results from the first quarter. All of the teachers giving matric subjects were tasked with coming up with some kind of plan to fix the situation. Most of the teachers’ plan was to have more after school classes – at the times when I would usually give my classes. So the problem was simply communication. Now I have no quarrel with these after school classes because it’s a great thing. Teachers taking more responsibility for their job and working at getting their students to where they need to be, but I wish I had been told earlier so that I could have made alternative arrangements and not been in the dark wondering why things weren’t coming together for so long.

After I found this piece of information out I started thinking of a new plan and came up with this:

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Maths Poster (c)

In speaking to teachers and students I came upon another major problem and ‘why’ behind the maths problems in the school. Students in the area have struggled to find a safe and dedicated place to do their homework and studying. The idea dawned on me that we needed to try to create a studious atmosphere where students could come and spend time in their books and get assistance from myself and the other VET volunteers (my colleagues) not only in Maths but in whatever work they were working on. The second problem has always been communication. In the first quarter, the only way to get students in your class was to chase them down and struggle and fight to remind them of their class that afternoon. We needed a better, clearer and less time consuming way to communicate with the students. This poster would do the trick. Finally, we needed a venue for this initiative. The Media Centre is a classroom that once looked like this:

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and that now looks like this:

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Kwa-Dinabakubo Media Centre (c) JSB

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Kwa-Dinabakubo (c) JSB

There was still one problem though that put this new plan of mine on hold. Chairs. We had managed to organise tables, we had painted the room. We had cleaned it. We had managed to get some encyclopedias and build a few bookshelves – but we didn’t have chairs. There could be no class until we had chairs. I put a status up on my personal facebook as follows:

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and God provided. The next day or a few hours later I received an sms from a generous person offering to donate R1000 toward chairs for the media centre! I promptly got onto the internet and made a search for school chairs. I came across an advert on Gumtree and got into contact with the seller who I negotiated with and with a discount and an extra R100 of my own I came away with 30 second hand school chairs. With a rented trailer and a borrowed car (with a tow hitch) I delivered the chairs to the school and finally the classes could begin!

Yesterday (May 29) I finally made copies of the poster and pasted it up all over the school. The idea for this class to be held at 15h30 was so that the class wouldn’t get in the way of other classes held by other teachers and also so as to act as a deterrent to all except those students that wanted to come and work. That day many students showed interest and that afternoon our first three students showed up to work and ask questions. Finally – I could assist and teach some students once again after more than a month of struggling against the system in this rural environment.

Today though I must confess that I am frustrated and a little put down. We arrived at school today to find more than half of the posters that I had put up torn down and defaced. Why would they do this? One puts in so much effort only to have it thrown back in the face. Of course I understand that students will be students and that the environment of violence, disrespect and hopelessness around them all inspires such acts of insolence – but still, this is demotivating.

In any case I will not be deterred and I will not be stopped, I fight for principles far above those which try to destroy our work and so as I write this today at 13h20 on 30 May, our class will go on and students will be helped. For the glory of God who inspired all of this and who has helped to make it all happen.

Peace. Jeremy (aka Jack Figure)