Le­bone II Col­lege: Pri­vate but with a dif­fer­ence

Mail & Guardian - - News -

At the foot of Tshufi Hill in Pho­keng, North West, stands Le­bone II Col­lege of the Royal Bafo­keng. It is a pri­vate school that was the dream of Bafo­keng ruler Kgosi Moll­wane Le­bone II, who died 18 years ago.

Head­mas­ter David du Toit said dur­ing the Mail & Guardian’s visit this week that when the school was es­tab­lished in 1998 it was run from pre­fab class­rooms. But the late king’s brother and cur­rent king of the Bafo­keng, Kgosi Leruo Tshekedi Molotlegi, re­alised that this did not live up to his brother’s dream, and the cur­rent Le­bone II Col­lege of the Royal Bafo­keng was built.

At first glance it eas­ily fits the de­scrip­tion of a typ­i­cal pri­vate school. In Jour­ney through our Space, a book about the his­tory of the school, Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi’s fore­word reads: “My per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence as a stu­dent at Hil­ton Col­lege, where I wit­nessed African stu­dents be­com­ing alien­ated from their cul­tural iden­ti­ties, their her­itage [be­ing un­der­mined], and feel­ing em­bar­rassed about their lan­guages and tra­di­tions, made me en­vi­sion a place of aca­demic ex­cel­lence rooted in African tra­di­tions and aes­thet­ics, re­plete with sym­bols and sto­ries that chil­dren from ru­ral and de­vel­op­ing com­mu­ni­ties like Pho­keng can recog­nise and proudly call their own. Le­bone II Col­lege man­i­fests that vi­sion in many ways.”

From the mo­ment you drive into the school, all the sig­nage is in English and Setswana. This prac­tice car­ries through all the build­ings.

Du Toit says about 85% of the 770 pupils are black, with 82% be­ing Setswana-speaking and the rest isiXhosa and Se­pedi speak­ers. The re­main­der are white, In­dian and Chi­nese.

“What is unique about the school is the fact that it was cre­ated with the vi­sion of be­ing an out­stand­ing in­de­pen­dent school, but was never es­tab­lished to be nec­es­sar­ily for the wealthy.”

He added that the school has never had to deal with is­sues of trans­for­ma­tion.

“Most of the other top-end pri­vate schools were es­tab­lished as white schools and they are now hav­ing to trans­form.”

Du Toit says the school was specif­i­cally for Setswana-speaking chil­dren, with a di­verse staff that was mostly Setswana-speaking.

The school, ex­ist­ing in a Tswana com­mu­nity, re­flected this in its cul­ture, tra­di­tion and lan­guage.

Du Toit says the school does not apol­o­gise for be­ing a pri­vate school that has its val­ues rooted in Tswana cul­ture.

“We use drums in­stead of a bell. But at the same time we are an English-medium school be­cause we know, par­tic­u­larly in high school, we are pre­par­ing pupils for ter­tiary [ed­u­ca­tion],” he says.

“Ev­ery­body does English and Setswana and, by mak­ing a choice to come here, you know that is what you are com­ing to. I think we don’t try to con­vince peo­ple about our val­ues and who we are, be­cause you choose [the school].”

Pupils have a choice to take ei­ther Afrikaans or Setswana as a sec­ond lan­guage in grade eight.

But if a pupil who is nonSetswan­a-speaking starts school in grade eight they are re­quired to take lessons for at least a year in con­ver­sa­tional Setswana.

Du Toit says pupils are also en­cour­aged to have class dis­cus­sions in Setswana and if the teacher does not speak the lan­guage some­one trans­lates for him or her.

He also says the school was never part of the #HairMustFa­ll cam­paign, be­cause chil­dren are en­cour­aged to wear their hair any way they like, as long as it is neat and prac­ti­cal.

Pupils were spot­ted with block braids and dread­locks, and boys wore trendy hair­cuts. “We do not have to change a tra­di­tion of 100 years, and [say] that you can’t do this with hair, it must be short.

“We are an African school, we’ve got African chil­dren and that’s what African hair is and it is part of what we are,” says Du Toit. DJ Black Cof­fee greets you as you en­ter the arts class. Well, a pic­ture of him does. It’s apt, be­cause the class is named af­ter the in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed mu­si­cian.

All other classes have some­thing sim­i­lar on dis­play at the Fu­ture Na­tion School in Lyndhurst, east Jo­han­nes­burg.

Mam­pho Langa, the head of Fu­ture Na­tion Schools — the other school is in Fleurhof, west Jo­han­nes­burg — told the Mail & Guardian dur­ing a visit to the school this week that this was the pupils’ idea.

“Each class is named af­ter an African per­son­al­ity that they think has done well in their field and in­spires them,” said Langa.

The school opened its doors in Jan­uary.

But this is not a tra­di­tional pri­vate school, ac­cord­ing to Langa, and it is ev­i­dent.

Pupils are not re­stricted to wear­ing a uni­form, but rather wear “school gear”.

“Uni­form means one size fits all … here you can wear your track­suit with your shirt, wear your sneak­ers, and we don’t have days where you wear this or that,” she says. “It helps them with de­ci­sion-mak­ing. They are not meant to be the same; they are dif­fer­ent. It al­lows that in­di­vid­u­al­ity, that unique­ness and de­ci­sion-mak­ing to say: ‘To­day I feel like wear­ing track­suit pants and a blue shirt’. Let them do that.”

There are also no rules about hair.

The school fol­lows the na­tional Cur­ricu­lum and As­sess­ment Pol­icy State­ment, but Langa says their ap­proach to teach­ing is dif­fer­ent.

“Our model is project-based learn­ing. We are mov­ing away from lec­tur­ing, chalk-and-talk type of teach­ing.”

She says this model teaches pupils to ques­tion and al­lows them to ex­plore and design projects.

“In the 21st cen­tury it is more about what you can do, rather than what you know,” says Langa.

The school is also com­pil­ing a cur­ricu­lum for African stud­ies.

This ties in with its goal to pro­duce African lead­ers.

The school has in­cor­po­rated in­dige­nous knowl­edge sys­tems into his­tory and sci­ence stud­ies.

“Sim­ple things like teach­ing them how to make mageu. Our grand­mom and -dads used to know how to make mageu with­out buy­ing yeast, so they had that sci­en­tific knowl­edge, but those things were not recorded any­where. Those are things we are teach­ing our kids: African ori­gins,” says Langa.

An­other unique fea­ture about the school is shared bath­rooms.

“Our teach­ers share the bath­rooms with our stu­dents be­cause we be­lieve the clean­li­ness and the re­spect come from there. Why should the stu­dents’ bath­rooms be dif­fer­ent from the teach­ers’ bath­rooms?

“If I want clean­li­ness I should also ex­pect it from the stu­dents. If I want them to re­spect prop­erty, they should see me shar­ing it with them. Our bath­rooms are not treated dif­fer­ently. It makes the stu­dents feel val­ued,” says Langa.

The school cur­rently has 262 pupils and caters for grades R to two and grades seven and eight. It has am­bi­tions to ex­pand to other prov­inces and pos­si­bly fur­ther on the con­ti­nent. —

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