Reimagining education at undeserved schools
The bell rings at Charles Duna primary school in New Brighton. It’s 1.30pm on a Wednesday. Right on cue, dozens of pupils run to the sports fields. Dressed comfortably – some in jeans, tights or tracksuits, their excitement is palpable. Inside a classroom metres away, is Jarren Gangiah, the new maths, science and tech teacher. “These kids have so much potential already, roots and all, but what we as teachers are doing is fertilising the soil,” Gangiah, who is a student at Nelson Mandela University, said. He joined the school in January through the university’s Centre for the Community School (CCS), after obtaining his BEd in 2018. The programme is one the university’s outreach initiatives aimed at developing alternative approaches to school improvement that are relevant and responsive to the contextual realities of underserved schools and communities in SA. Charles Duna Primary is one of various schools adopted by the CCS programme in Nelson Mandela Bay. Nelson Mandela University media manager Zandile Mbabela said: “The CCS is an engagement entity of the faculty of education. It works with communities to reimagine the schooling system. It is an open secret that the challenges facing schools go beyond pure academics and require a consolidated and collaborative approach. “The CCS takes into account all factors affecting the adequate provision of quality education – the social, political and economic contexts in which the schools find themselves. “Key to this approach is the involvement of parents, educators, the community and pupils themselves in crafting and co-creating suitable and sustainable solutions in a manner that also fosters a sense of ownership,” Mbabela said. As one of Nelson Mandela Bay’s underserved schools, Charles Duna Primary’s functionality rides on the back of teachers, actively involved community members and volunteers who collectively form the school’s leadership body. “When I first visited the school, I was expecting to see people who come in to perhaps tend to the garden or do some maintenance work and go, but I came here and found a family of teachers, pupils, parents and community members who are all interested in not just providing quality education, but forming genuine quality relationships,” Gangiah said. On occasions where certain pupils display a change in behaviour, carefully and mindfully investigating the cause while considering the pupil’s background and family dynamics, is a responsibility the staff share,” Gangiah said. “I know that some people say there will always be that one or two pupils in a class who won’t listen and take it as proof that all they want is to be a distraction in class, but this is not always the case. “At times, they do not intend to be a distraction, but their behaviour is influenced or affected by their circumstances at home. “There are hundreds of pupils with different backgrounds – some come to school hungry and cannot concentrate and some are from abusive homes that leave school as the only safe space for them to
“Charles Duna Primary is one of various schools adopted by the CCS programme in Nelson Mandela Bay”
honestly express their emotions. “That’s where those personal relationships with each pupil help, because we as teachers are then able to listen to their problems and help where we can. “The school’s leaders all share the passion to raise citizens who face the world with confidence and acknowledge humanity above all else,” Gangiah said. “Beyond what’s in a textbook, these pupils are consciously and subconsciously learning about life and the world. “I cannot stress enough how important it is for us to value that these pupils are human beings who matter and have the potential to create a world better than the one we live in today.” In-between fist bumps and chuckles at inside jokes with his pupils, Gangiah tells of the eyeopening experience of living in Summerstrand and travelling to work in the completely different world of New Brighton. The education psychology student who grew up in rural KwaZulu-Natal, said understanding different backgrounds and cultural dynamics is one of several ways to experience pupils on a personal level beyond merely teaching to get paid at the end of the month. “While underserved schools are not these horrible spaces where nothing good happens, it is important for us to acknowledge and be able to adjust to events, such as crime, that impact our day-to-day learning.” As a result of crime in New Brighton, one of the school’s foundation phase teachers could not make it to school after an attempted break-in at her house. “While we don’t sweep such unfortunate realities under the carpet, we continue to encourage our pupils to envision a safer and better world and work towards creating it,” Gangiah said. The team’s efforts are evidently not in vain as a number of Gangiah’s pupils dream of becoming prominent members of society – ranging from pilots, social workers and engineers to lawyers, psychologists and fashion designers. “We are not just looking at helping a child to get a job one day, we want them to be happy people who can adapt and move,” he said.
PASSIONATE APPROACH: Charles Duna Primary teacher Jarren Gangiah joined the school through Nelson Mandela University’s Centre for the Community School programme