Refugee children are given a ray of hope

three2six---textThree2Six classes take place at Sacred Heart College and Observatory Girls Primary Schools. (Image: Sacred Heart College)

There are many young refugees who, for various reasons, cannot enter the public schooling system in South Africa. Prompted by this need, two Johannesburg schools are playing their part to make sure as many of these children as possible can get an education.

Refugees are displaced from the places of their birth for many reasons but mostly by conflict, meaning they often arrive in South Africa desperate and despairing, without the necessary paperwork and other items to join society. Three2Six Project, an afternoon educational bridging programme for refugee children who cannot go to state schools, allows the children to receive an education. Most of them come from extremely poor homes on the outskirts of inner city Johannesburg.

There are two Three2Six projects: one at Observatory Girls’ Primary School, a government establishment, and another at Sacred Heart College, an independent institution. The Three2Six School is managed by the latter, which is also located in the eastern Joburg suburb of Observatory.

Named after the hours that it takes place during the week, Three2Six serves 140 children aged between six and 13 years old whose families live in the neighbouring high-density and multicultural areas of Yeoville, Berea and Hillbrow. Part of its mission is to get their spoken and written English up to par for the day when they enrol at a conventional school.

Refugee families are often unable to pay school fees; most of the children do not speak English when they arrive in South Africa; and sometimes families arrive at odd times during the year when school registration is no longer possible. The Three2Six programme aims to address this by offering a curriculum with a strong focus on literacy, numeracy and life skills.

Esther Munonoka, the Three2Six project co-ordinator, told Independent Education: “Five years ago, the school sought to do something for the many children of refugee families who had fled conflict in their home countries. Hundreds of these children do not attend school. Their parents are unable to pay school fees and other school-related expenses. Other families have lost all their vital documentation. Still others arrive at a time when schools are unable to register them.”

Independent Education is the official magazine of the Independent Schools Association of South Africa.


Munonoka said that the biggest obstacle was that most of the children did not speak English. “A special Three2Six remedial class gives extra assistance to those whose English is almost non-existent, and a library of donated books allows children a window into other worlds once a week.”

Numeracy is also highlighted in the programme. “Numeracy is also crucial for these children from diverse backgrounds,” Munonoka said, “and the Three2Six mathematics programme is based on the national Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (Caps) designed by the national Department of Education.”


Having faced extraordinary circumstances in their lives, Three2Six aims to support and enrich these children wherever possible.

“A life skills programme allows children to explore their journeys, and on a weekly basis, they enjoy sport and iPad sessions,” Munonoka said. “Religious education sessions are available once per month and, since 2012, the National Children’s Theatre has included Saturday Three2Six workshops.

“Three2Six aims to normalise the trauma of the refugee experience wherever possible. This often means providing items that other children may take for granted. All the students at this special place of learning are supplied with school shoes, uniforms, stationery and lunch, as well as regular food parcels to take home. Wherever possible, Sacred Heart assists with fundraising initiatives.”


Three2Six not only covers the academic component of schooling, but also offers a holiday programme, sports, creative projects and outings. The after-school programme is not a full school day and does not provide for sports, arts or outings, the Three2Six project holds a holiday programme during the July/August school holidays.

During the holiday programme, the children can revise their literacy and numeracy skills and knowledge. They can also enjoy soccer, netball, tug-of-war, sack races and other games that develop important team work, negotiation, motor skills and, of course, fitness.

To develop their creativity, the youngsters take part in activities like creating juggling balls and their own puzzles, which allow them to develop different fine motor skills, hand-eye co-ordination and problem-solving skills.