By Dr Ashley Westaway, GADRA Education manager
Makhanda is home to a wide range of organisations with an interest in education. Whilst we are perhaps not unique in that respect, what sets us apart from any other city in the country is the extent to which our diverse organisations cooperate and collaborate. These partnerships deliver an amazing array of valuable educational products and services. In other words, the partnerships are productive; they generate outcomes and achievements that would otherwise be elusive. The partnerships, as much as the organisations themselves, are responsible for creating the conditions that have given rise to the upcoming Makhanda Education Summit.
The wide range of local organisations involved in basic education in Makhanda can be clustered as follows: schools, Rhodes University, NGOs, Churches, and funders. There are both fee-paying and fee-exempt public schools as well as elite and low-fee independent schools in the city. Rhodes University comprises numerous divisions, faculties and departments, many of which contribute to the upliftment of local schooling. The extraordinary university efforts, involving both academic staff and students, are coordinated by its remarkable Community Engagement division (RUCE) under the leadership of Di Hornby. There is a wonderful assortment of education NGOs, including GADRA Education, Assumption Development Centre, Access Music Programme (AMP), Awarenet, Ikamva Youth, the Lebone Centre, Inkuleleko, and Sophumelela Youth Development Programme, amongst others. Makhanda is sometimes referred to as the city of saints due to the numerous churches in the city. Many of these churches (for example, Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and Seventh-Day Adventist) play various roles in basic education in the city. Several of them avail themselves of their land holdings and resources for schooling and other purposes. Funders are fundamental to the educational landscape described in this article because they provide the resources necessary for implementing projects and programmes.
Over the past decade, all the organisations described above have explored ways of working with one another. In the process, a diversity of partnerships has been forged. Some are equitable informal arrangements, while others are transactional and based on formal agreements. Some involve only two parties, whilst others involve three or more organisations. There are also various initiatives aimed at supporting the emergence of communities of practices (for example, the Makhanda Principals’ Forum) or forums for collective sharing and strategising (for example, the Education Cluster of the Makana Circle of Unity). Within the university, some student involvement is voluntary, whilst other programmes are implemented as service-learning components of students’ respective academic modules. Many of the partnerships involve either specific schools or groupings of schools.
The real value of partnerships and collaboration can be most clearly seen and appreciated when considering their impact. The partnerships yield research, a variety of educational services (such as literacy support, mentoring, tutoring, and extramural opportunities), support services, competitions, and educational institutions, amongst other contributions. Each of these is illustrated below.
In September, the Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education (PECE) at Rhodes University collaborated with GADRA Education to assess the literacy competence of every Grade 4 learner in Makhanda. All the necessary ethical permissions were obtained, and quality assurance mechanisms were implemented to ensure that reliable, publishable research data was generated, collected and filed. Bridging the common gap between education research and real-time practical application, findings were shared with Principals and teachers, delivering valued practical insight into early literacy teaching and learning at individual schools and providing a reliable basis to formulate remediation interventions.
Rhodes University Community Engagement’s BuddingQ programme assists young children with developing fine and gross motor skills, which are essential for emergent literacy. The programme brings together Early Childhood Education centres, primary schools, students, and young learners, supporting teachers to ensure quality and holistic school readiness.
Ikamva Youth is a national organisation that tutors randomly selected high school learners. For over a decade, Ikamva has provided tutorials for local learners from a base at Nombulelo, utilising Rhodes student volunteers (recruited through RUCE) as tutors. The programme is offered to the local fee-exempt high schools.
The nine-tenths mentoring program has become the flagship intervention of the Vice-Chancellor Initiative to Revitalise Public Schooling in Makhanda. The mentoring programme currently reaches over 200 Grade 12 learners across four fee-exempt schools. Its impact on learner performance, especially at the top end of the performance spectrum, has been nothing short of remarkable, to the extent that it was recognised as the best university-based community engagement program in the world by the MacJannet Awards for Global Citizenship. Nine-tenths is implemented through a partnership involving the four schools, RUCE and GADRA Education.
Access Music Project (AMP) is a music education centre at the Joza Youth Hub. The Hub was set up by RUCE in 2011 as a community centre in the heart of Joza, close to Nombulelo High School. AMP connects young people with their creative identities and opportunities in the creative economy in partnership with fourteen local schools. AMP assists its individual beneficiaries, but it also enriches the cultural life of the city through events such as Masicule, an annual concert that showcases the city’s local vocalists and choirs.
The eyes are a crucial input device for the brain. Thus, any condition that hampers vision can result in problems learning. The Eiohn Hayes Foundation Learner Vision programme is an excellent illustration of multi-tiered partnership. This programme entails a collaboration between the Department of Health, Dr Davies Eye Clinic, international ophthalmic optics company Essilor, Kingswood College and GADRA Education. These organisations work together to screen, test, and provide spectacles to all learners in need in Makhanda from Grade R to Grade 12.
Increasingly, academic departments at Rhodes University are exploring appropriate service-learning components for their respective courses. Since 2021, the PECE Department has required its 1st year BEd students to assess the phonetic ability of all Grade 3 children in isiXhosa medium schools in Makhanda. The results of these assessments are the basis for selecting candidates to compete in semi-finals; the winners of these events go through to a grand finale. The partnership between the PECE Department and all the local isiXhosa medium primary schools in Makhanda culminates in a popular annual Spelling Bee competition and promotes isiXhosa literacy.
The Whistle Stop School is having a marked impact on boosting the literacy levels of Foundation and Intermediate phase learners at selected school sites, as evidenced by a recently completed city-wide Grade 4 literacy assessment. The first site was established for learners from St Mary’s Primary School through a partnership between the school, St Mary’s Development and Care Centre (DCC), and GADRA Education.
Over recent years, St Andrews College and DSG have offered a Mathematics and Physical Sciences Academy to learners from Nombulelo Secondary School. This initiative is currently being reconceptualised with the assistance of GADRA Education such that it is better aligned with the full range of support initiatives in the city. Specifically, it now seeks to offer well-rounded support to the top learners in Mathematics and Physical Sciences from five local fee-exempt schools, such that as many of them as possible qualify to pursue science-related degrees at tertiary institutions after they have completed Matric.
The above snapshots of partnerships were chosen to illustrate some of the ways that they add to the educational landscape of Makhanda. Many more productive partnerships could be identified and elaborated. What defines the nature of all these partnerships is that they are generally more than the sum of their respective parts. Partnerships are the mechanism that organisations use to give effect to their commitment to solidarity, and the signs of their effectiveness are everywhere to see.