Established in March 2010 the Creating Schools Trust is a non-governmental organisation that focuses on developing new models for building schools: schools that are not only quality educational institutions, but also vibrant hubs servicing the surrounding communities. To date the Trust has been involved in the construction of two schools, Seven Fountains Primary School, and Vele Secondary School. Both of these schools were built under the auspices of the ‘Creating Schools Programme’ and were developed around the following core principles :
Relationships with communities
By offering opportunities for learning and growth not only to learners, but to all members of the community, schools have the potential to play a critical role in the lives of communities, especially those situated in remote and forgotten areas. An initial skills audit and ongoing skills development programmes ensure that the schools can employ as many local people as possible. Providing training, such as workshops on water conservation, permaculture and sewing, potentially increases the earning capacity of adults in the community, thereby improving the home lives of learners. This on-going communication and consultation with communities ensures buy-in from local residents, and helps to create a sense of ownership.
Partnerships with government and private enterprises
The full potential of schools can only be realised through innovative partnerships that extend beyond the roles traditionally established between government and society, or between donors and recipients. By developing sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships with government, NGOS such as the Creating Schools Trust can offer government structures much needed support. In the same vein, the Trust has also been fortunate to benefit from the expertise and
financial support of a number of public and private enterprises, including Dell, Vodacom, ESKOM, Anglo American, Tshikululu, Microsoft, the Ackerman Foundation and the Independent Development Trust.
As part of the Creating Schools Programme essential teacher training to upgrade content knowledge and teaching strategies is offered not only to the schools’ teachers, but to teachers from surrounding schools as well.
Bridging the digital divide
ICT strategies play an enormous role in bridging the digital divide in poorer communities. The schools’ ICT centres are accessible not only to leaners, but also to members of the community, offering an excellent example of how these centres can be used to their maximum capacity.
The importance of the school environment
Architectural innovation at Seven Fountains Primary School and Vele Secondary School have resulted in buildings that are energy efficient and economical to operate, while providing functional and enjoyable spaces for children to learn in – something’s that’s often overlooked in the design of school buildings. This approach has helped to foster an environmental awareness in learners who have gained skills and knowledge in areas such as food farming, and the economical use and recycling of scarce resources, which they will carry with them beyond the school’s borders, into their communities.
It’s also important to point out that these award-winning schools were built on the same budget as any standard government school: rather than money, it’s the collaboration with innovative architects, passionate educators and the local community that makes the real difference.
REAPING THE REWARDS
Feedback from the Department of Education indicates that the Creating Schools Programme has had a significant impact on the lives of learners and that of the surrounding communities. The Grade 12 pass rate at Vele increased from 38% in 2009 to 93% in 2014, with the number of distinctions also sky-rocketing. Bursaries provided by the Trust has seen learners like Tshlidzi Khakhu go on to study medicine, and local resident David Ramabulana, who had dropped out of his degree in Applied Mathematics and was working as a school gardener, register with UNISA to complete a teaching qualification.
Vele Secondary School, designed by East Coast Architects, has also been the recipient of a number of awards, including the AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Arhitecture in 2012, and most recently, an Honourable Mention in the 2014 Greenest School on Earth awards.
While the Creating Schools Trust realises that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution to South Africa’s education crisis, the inroads that the Trust has already made are proof enough that this holistic approach to education does work, and is worth investing in.