Top-class education for rural poor

2 August 2005

Over six years, the Winterberg School Trust has integrated 12 basic farm schools scattered across the Eastern Cape into a single organisation providing quality education for rural children.

Farmer's Weekly The vision of two farmers’ wives and a host of donors have transformed the school, nestling in a valley 25km from the town of Tarkastad, into a top facility offering skills-based development to parents, teachers and children.

For many years, farm schools were scattered throughout the 100 800 hectare district. Each school provided rudimentary education in mixed-grade classes, and then only up to grade seven.

For those children wanting to extend their education to grade eight and beyond, it meant locating to township schools in larger towns far from their homes, which for most parents was unaffordable and unsafe.

It has taken more than six years to amalgamate 12 farm schools into the Winterberg School Trust, which provides quality education to learners from grade R (reception year) to grade nine in single-grade classes.

Registered as a non-profit organisation in 1990, the trust was initiated by local farmers’ wives, Barbara Scott and Joanne King, along with some of the current trustees, notably Prof Paul Webb of the University of Port Elizabeth.

With generous financial help from both local and international corporations and individual funders, the school now has a complex of modern face-brick buildings with facilities to provide academic and skills-based development of children, parents and educators in the community.

“It has taken commitment, hard work and dedication to achieve all this,” says trust director Joanne King. “Without our financial funders none of it would have been possible.

“Our reward? The academic results we are achieving, pupils’ pride in their school, and happy parents who appreciate what we’re doing to better their lives.”

Winterberg School children in their new bus

With financial help from local and international corporations and individual funders, the school now has a complex of modern face-brick buildings, as well as transport for the children (Photo: First Rand Foundation)

An impressive education
Fifty pre-school children and 220 learners from grades one to 10 are taught by 11 permanently employed qualified teachers, accommodated at the school. The full-time teachers are helped by a full-time director, assistant director, administrator and seven part-time staff who provide specialist skills in extra-curricular tuition.

Many of these part-time teachers are local farmers’ wives with impressive academic qualifications.

Parents are also encouraged to participate in the seven community projects that have developed over time in response to the needs of families living in the Winterberg. All interconnected and interdependent, they share resources, transport facilities and the expertise of both the Winterberg School Trust staff and external service providers.

These projects range from HIV/Aids education, early childhood development, effective parenting, skills development, teacher development and youth empowerment.

The Department of Education also offers support, paying 10 of the teachers’ salaries.

Local farmers have supported the trust from its inception and have become actively involved in fund-raising projects and providing transport and farm facilities for projects.

The success of the school trust is a superb example of what South African rural communities can do to uplift the lives and futures of their people.

Derek Christopher is a correspondent for Farmer’s Weekly.

This article was originally published in Farmer’s Weekly, South Africa’s premier national agricultural magazine, and is reproduced on SouthAfrica.info with kind permission.

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