No child left be­hind

Vuk'uzenzele - - Women's Month - Ma­tona Fat­man

When Yanela Nt­lauzana left the UK ear­lier this year and headed back home to South Africa, she was de­ter­mined not to go back.

“If I go back, I would’ve failed,” says Nt­lauzana.

The 37-year-old left a se­cure pay­check and her two boys, aged nine and 14, to pur­sue her life­long dream of open­ing a school that would en­sure that ev­ery child gets an equal op­por­tu­nity in life by get­ting the very best in­di­vid­u­alised ed­u­ca­tion.

For Nt­lauzana an ACAE (ad­vo­cacy on autism and re­lated con­di­tions) spe­cial­ist and be­spoke trainer -- fail­ure is not an op­tion.

She is putting ev­ery fi­bre of her be­ing into mak­ing Plum­field Spe­cial­ist School work. The school is nes­tled in the tran­quil slopes of Chartwell in Gaut­eng.

The vision for Plum­field, while born of glo­ri­ous ideals, is by no means an easy feat, even for Nt­lauzana and her co-founder, Hlumela Six­ishe, who is a Go­liath of in­di­vid­u­alised ed­u­ca­tion in her own right.

The duo are build­ing a be­spoke school from the ground up that spe­cialises in lead­er­ship and tech­nol­ogy. What sets it apart from its well-re­sourced coun­ter­parts that pro­vide spe­cialised pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion is its fo­cus on chil­dren with Autism and At­ten­tion Deficit Hyper­ac­tiv­ity Dis­or­der (ADHD).

These are the very same chil­dren that get re­jected and branded as ‘un­teach­able’, rob­bing them of their ba­sic right to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and an equal op­por­tu­nity to thrive in life.

Both Nt­lauzana and Six­ishe un­der­stand that an Autism or ADHD di­ag­no­sis is not the “no re­turn” de­cree some would have the par­ents be­lieve. It sim­ply means the teach­ing and learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment has to re­spond dif­fer­ently and to each in­di­vid­ual to af­ford the child at the cen­tre of it all the op­por­tu­nity to dis­cover how smart, ca­pa­ble and in­tel­li­gent they are and to be able to con­trib­ute to the col­lec­tive.

The school’s core cur­ricu­lum is lib­eral arts along with sub­jects like cod­ing with stu­dents learn­ing fun­da­men­tal pro­gram­ming con­cepts in­clud­ing a Lego-like vis­ual lan­guage, which pro­gresses to Java Script and Python.

The po­ten­tial of a child with autism

No one knows bet­ter the po­ten­tial of a child with autism than Nt­lauzana, as both her boys are autis­tic. This is why she is de­ter­mined to make Plum­field a success. Its a dream to­wards which she and Six­ishe toil day and night.

Nt­lauzana is work­ing to get to a point where her two boys can join her and be part of the stu­dent body at Plum­field.

The care that her boys are get­ting from the pub­lic sys­tem in the UK is what drives her to want the same for chil­dren with Autism in South Africa.

When it comes to pro­vid­ing chil­dren with op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­sources, Six­ishe is just as pas­sion­ate as Nt­lauzana. They are un­re­lent­ing in their view that all chil­dren must be given equal op­por­tu­ni­ties. Ul­ti­mately, they want the end goal of ed­u­ca­tion to change.

For now, Plum­field doesn’t en­joy any fund­ing and Six­ishe and Nt­lauzana are not draw­ing salaries. Their com­mit­ment to af­ford­able, qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion is what keeps them go­ing. They one day hope to get the De­part­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion to sub­sidise learn­ers with Autism so they can get tu­ition at Plum­field.

Six­ishe and Nt­lauzana are not scared to dream big and act even big­ger. They plan to grow their school to of­fer board­ing in the fu­ture. So far, Nt­lauzana and Six­ishe have man­aged to show that with the right mind­set and un­bend­ing re­solve, any­thing is pos­si­ble. Even a spe­cialised school called Plum­field.

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