We pay tribute to Teach with Africa


*Brief Report on Teach With Africa 2009 Visit to Cape Town and Johannesburg *

The last two months has seen significant change in the LEAP Science and Maths Schools as the Teach With Africa Fellows have left a lasting impact on the schools and the communities that we serve. The impact of the involvement of the Teach With Africa Fellows has been widely felt and is the beginning of further growth and development in the LEAP Science and Maths Schools framework as well as in the partnership between LEAP and Teach With Africa.

The Fellows were encouraged to come to South Africa and to simply share what they have, this in line with the Code of Conduct of the LEAP Science and Maths School. The encouragement has been to focus attention on the challenges of active personal engagement rather than aiming to achieve preset outcomes. Despite the difficulty of such a commission, the Fellows stepped up and achieved these goals and more.

The context within which the Teach With Africa Fellows have worked range from the classrooms of the LEAP Science and Maths Schools, the classrooms of our feeder schools and into the community projects within the communities that LEAP serves.

For the first time Teach With Africa brought an opportunity for LEAP to reach out to the neighbouring schools and to invite teachers and leaders into workshop contexts with a focus on best practice and real issues of understanding and facilitating the learning process. These workshops not only in themselves had value but lead to the establishment of new relationships between schools and created the opportunity to build on existing partnerships and to open the door to further collaboration in the future. This was achieved by intensive collaborative efforts between the teachers of LEAP and the Teach With Africa Fellows. The joy of this collaboration and the pain that is involved in such a give and take relationship, has taught us much about ourselves and each other. This learning forms part of a real foundation for building into the future.

The Teach With Africa Fellows reached out to the past students of LEAP who have been busy developing and consolidating the first Black Alumni association in South Africa called LEAPSA. This fledgling organisation is a vital part of the LEAP model and requires focus and flexibility that allows for the graduate students of LEAP to capture and own their vision within the LEAP context and to develop frameworks and strategies that will take the organisation of LEAPSA to become a beacon of hope in the South African education context. The Teach With Africa Fellows engaged directly in shared workshops as well as in training and development sessions that enabled the LEAPSA committee to begin to frame its own future and to own the processes that need to unfold in order to ensure the autonomy and strength of a growing LEAPSA. Huge strides have been made as a result of this collaborative effort. The relationships developed between the Teach With Africa Fellows and the past students of LEAP reached levels that could not have been targeted or engineered ahead of time.

The friendships and exchanges resulted from people across huge educational, economic and continental divides reaching out to each other and being willing to do the “deep hanging out” that is necessary to lay the foundation for real friendship. These friendships have been cemented – the pain of the goodbyes serves as an indication of the extent to which this partnership has grown.

A larger group of teachers made up a significant part of the Teach With Africa Fellows group in 2009 and this brought the opportunity for collaboration in the classrooms in all three of the LEAP schools. The extent of this collaboration and the specific focus points within the collaborative exercise, again, went beyond what we could have dreamt of. Many of the Fellows discovered their real joy of teaching and, many of the teachers at LEAP, who may well initially have found the shared space difficult, were able to let go and enjoy the mirroring opportunity created by team-teaching.

The introduction of Alice as a programming tool in the LEAP computer laboratories; a focus on integrated learning in the classrooms in Johannesburg; the tight, structured focus given to our Life Science, Maths and language classes in Cape Town; and the willingness to risk and share in the process of values development and within the programmes of Life Orientation – have all enabled us to push harder and to clarify best practice within the LEAP classroom context and by extension within the greater South African context.

A focus on the sporting and leadership frameworks of LEAP have been extremely useful and have enabled us to think through some of the areas of student involvement that have often become low priorities and, as a result, areas where mediocrity of delivery have crept in. We were challenged to rethink this and to focus on new strategies and new structures to ensure the optimal engagement of our students in the pursuit of healthy athleticism as well as in creating appropriate leadership frameworks to ensure that the voices of students are given additional forums in which to be heard and have their ideas and voices tested.

The impact of Teach With Africa Fellows reach into the communities served by the LEAP Science and Maths Schools, again, has reached new levels.

There is much to celebrate within the context of the REALISTIC project as for the first time the project has a website that is now operational and reflects the strength and vitality of this particular intervention project in the lives of young parolees emerging from South African prisons as they seek to integrate into a society that is judgmental and resistant. The stories of the Realists have been captured and told. The Fellows were able to work at an emotional level with individual Realists to enable them to develop the capacity to reflect and review and make good decisions in their lives. The leadership of REALISTIC and the staff component had the benefit of input from the Fellows as they grappled with their own struggles and emergent realities. The fully functional ten computer skills unit has been installed at REALISTIC. This long awaited opportunity leaves REALISTIC with infrastructure and opportunity previously dreamt about.

In the Kalkfontein community, where pain and suffering are right at the surface of everyday living, great strides have been made to develop and grow a body of caregivers in the community that will be able to provide a human face to so many who are suffering and dying in the community. The brightly painted clinic building symbolizes the impact of Teach With Africa in Kalkfontein. While the Fellows inevitably leave with a sense of having done too little, the community is left with a sense of having been given so much, not in terms of material gifts but rather in terms of the hope that comes when people care enough to get dust on their shoes, tears on their faces and paint on their clothes. The focus on various entrepreneurial initiatives and the challenges that young entrepreneurs in the community of Kalkfontein have to face, has also been an empowering trigger and agency for creating vision and plans for the future. The connecting of Joyce to enable her to receive and send e-mails and the opening up of communication channels around projects ranging from the roll out of biofuel agriculture in rural communities and connecting with some high level projects in this regard have also been taken forward significantly in the last two months.

In Alexander township real contact has been established with schools and educators from within the community and, while the numbers are small, these contacts provide the beginning of significant partnership in the future.

Teach With Africa Fellows have not only thrown themselves into the initiatives created within the LEAP framework but also within the focus on innovation in education at a national level. The engagement of the Fellows in meetings, in the research process and the in the setting up of possible templates for the Bridge portal have all helped to create momentum for an exciting element of educational development in South Africa.

Teach With Africa Fellows were involved in community events. On Women’s Day and on a day focusing on HIV awareness in the community of Langa and the participation and involvement in these events served symbolically to bring hope to communities that often see themselves ostracized and marginalized within the global village.

Having listed many of the structured frameworks within Teach With Africa Fellows have lived and engaged, it is appropriate to celebrate, above all, the relationships that have begun, the foundations for friendships that have been laid. The simple conversations that have involved people from different parts of the world reaching out to each other and meeting each other and listening to each other probably represent the most significant successes of the past two months.

That there has been reciprocal value in all of these engagements is clear but from the point of view of the LEAP Schools and the communities, these opportunities are rare in a society that is still locked into the geographical and psychological frameworks of apartheid. The physical stepping across thresholds that divide communities in our country and the risk of stepping into the emotional space that feels so dangerous because of the otherness of the racial, cultural and language divide, is generally avoided by most South Africans, particularly white South Africans. The Teach With Africa Fellows stepped into this space, sometimes clumsily, sometimes nervously but always with an intent that is understood and accepted and this ‘stepping’ has been an empowering part of growth and development of young and old people within the greater LEAP community.

So, we pay tribute to Teach With Africa.

We thank you for the effort expended in raising the funds to ensure that the fellowship could continue.

We thank you for the energy and effort expended in thinking through the detail and in trusting us all enough to accept our structures, our frameworks, our philosophies as a starting point.

We thank the Fellows for challenging, for reflecting, for beginning to express their feelings about the difficulties of engagement and for enabling us to be more reflective in a process that can often become very driven.

We thank you for getting the dust on your shoes, for allowing the tears to flow and for getting your hands dirty in a part of the world where this is so much needed and where despair battles with hope in so many micro-contexts on a daily basis. You have helped to tip the scales and to enable hope to grow, to dominate, and specifically the hope that LEAP provides, in the lives of young children and their families, to become more real and to expand in its scope.

Thank you to the founders, the administrators and the board members of Teach With Africa for nurturing an idea and for allowing it to grow. Our encouragement to Teach with Africa, as we move forward together, is to grow strong and to do this quickly because the opportunities created in such engagement have shown themselves to be hugely significant in the lives of all involved. The model that we are building through this informal collaboration needs to be taken to a scale where the model itself can serve as an example to others within the global village. The values embedded within the model will be evident in terms of the visibility of the intent, the trust, the sharing, the real engagement and the openness and honesty within the process.

Thank you to all concerned and to quote an African proverb “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together”. There is no doubt that Teach With Africa and LEAP have a long journey to walk together. We are well on the way on this journey. The road ahead is going to be tough but we can walk it together.

John Gilmour
LEAP Science and Maths School

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