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Education for a better tomorrow

Sarah #1.jpg
"Folly and Luxury" by Philippe Bousquet is on display in the Human Rights Commission's library.
Photo by Sarah Kinney.

By Sarah Kinney

Wire is everywhere.

Old mattress springs and chain link fencing are lashed together with barbed wire, forming winding paths between the shacks of a squatter settlement in Kliptown. Overhead, unauthorized wires tie into the power lines, to steal electricity for the homes made of scavenged materials.

This informal settlement is one of 11 in Kliptown, a township southwest of Johannesburg, South Africa. Its first informal settlements were formed in 1903. The residential area now has formal housing, a major shopping mall, and a university, but informal settlements like this are still common.

Amid the shacks of corrugated metal and plywood, a few buildings, some of grey concrete others of wood, stand out as solid and permanent. Unlike the surrounding homes, they legally access electricity. The main building has solar panels to power a computer lab.

It is here where Thulani Madondo, director of the Kliptown Youth Program, places his hope for lifting the community out of poverty. He believes the best way to improve the quality of life of the community is by making sure the children have the best education possible.

The computer lab facilitates the use of about 20 desktops and 290 XO laptops donated by the One Laptop per Child program. Students are encouraged to bring them home and take ownership of the technology. In addition to providing the technology, KYP offers computer classes and tutoring through Reading Eggs and Khan Academy.

KYP's mission is to eradicate poverty and fight disadvantages by providing educational support and after school activities the children of Kliptown.

In the settlement, Madondo says, making it past 12th grade in school is an accomplishment and happens all too rarely. Outside his office building, he proudly displays the dozen or so photos of this year's seniors in their matching maroon school uniforms.

They also have an after school program for in-person tutoring.

In the courtyard in the center of the community buildings, fidgety students sit in a ring of dark-green plastic lawn chairs around a tall man in a white coat. He quizzes them with multi-digit multiplication problems on a white board propped on a chair.

Only one third of Kliptown students expect to pass their matric exam at the end of 12th grade, according to KYP's website, but with the tutoring program, almost every KYP member has passed theirs.

The students are at a disadvantage because the matriculation essays must be written in English. Yet, for many students who live in this settlement, Zulu is their primary language, says Madondo.

During apartheid, under the Bantu Education Act, students were forced to learn in Afrikaans, including writing their senior examination essay. With the end of apartheid, students can ask for instruction in their native language, though most instruction is given in English. Children generally begin to learn English in third grade.

South Africa's bill of rights ensures the right to education, but there are many barriers.

Classrooms in public schools often have one teacher for 60 students, says Madondo. Often, students walk for 25 to 30 minutes just to get to school.

Tuition to public school is free, but Madondo says students must pay from R 50 - 700 ($5-70 USD) in order to receive their grades. Students must also purchase their own books and the mandatory uniforms. KYP estimates this can cost over R1,000 each year.

If students cannot afford these items, often they will stop showing up to school.

The government has some programs to waive the fees, but not for purchasing supplies. Some settlement dwellers are refugees or immigrants who are not citizens and therefore cannot access the program. KYP looks to fill this void by offering financial assistance to students who commit to going to school.

KYP also provides daily lunch for settlement children to bring to school.

Twenty-three percent of South Africa's federal budget goes to education, says Blake Chrystal of the U.S. embassy in Pretoria.

However, places like the Kliptown settlement see little of that.

"We all build a better society," says Madondo. It is time for the community to stop looking at the government and start looking at what they have.

Here, they do not have much, but they have hope.


Posted by South Africa Group on May 17, 2014 11:23 AM
Category: South Africa 2014


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