Part of my initiation over the last few weeks has been a series of visits to the diverse group of schools across our district. The idea behind the journey was to get a sense of the-lay-of-the-land, gain some system intelligence via the exposures to the peculiar aspects of each area, the issues that create blockages and the good and promising practices that can inform the ongoing pursuit for excellent schooling. So, from Stellenbosch to Paarl to Ceres to Montagu and Bonnievale and back to Worcester and surrounds, I met many principals, educators and learners. Each strive to color in my forming picture of the district, what they believe I to need know, ought to know and their desires to lift the learning experiences of our children.
In one such visit, I arrived at Bonnievale Primary. The principal is a towering figure, his physical presence almost suffocating. Yet, Hansie Marthinus, is a gentle soul, an educator who has a passion for his role in this community. It's hard to believe he also carries alongside him diminished kidney capacity. It doesn't slow him down one bit. He is too enthused at the imminent construction of his new school.
My introduction to his school is prefaced by a request for me to address his learners and staff at an assembly. I'm stunned by the sheer numbers in the quad - 1200 children, neatly attired and eagerly waiting for me to say something, in Afrikaans. Never underestimate human resilience! Cometh the hour, cometh the man! I proceed to share the need for them to remain dedicated to their schooling, why it's important for them to reach Grade 12 and beyond, their future roles in their community, and so on. All in Afrikaans. I receive a warm applause at the end therefore; I'm still not sure if any of it was correctly constructed, but no one was saying too much in this regard.
Before we exit the school, the SMT give me some insight into their challenges. Despite having an absentee rate of below 1%, their biggest challenge is that the parents of the learners are mostly farm workers; part of the 1000s of seasonal staff who traverse the length-and-breath of the Winelands during harvest season, from farm to farm, picking the various fruit that ultimately we consume as juice, wine or eats. So when this trek starts, learners are often withdrawn from school to accompany the parents, or because the parents are absent, the children simply stay away from school or are sent to guardians for the period. These dynamics often give rise to anti social behavior. But the staff don't give up. They pursue those who stay absent with vigor.
Visiting these outlying areas drive home the importance of delivering a world class education experience for these learners; they are as thirsty for knowledge and skills acquisition as any urban child and as such, deserve to be treated no different!