A township school operating from mobile classrooms on a rented piece of land is administering one of the world’s most prestigious and rigorous academic qualifications – the Cambridge International Examinations curriculum.
Costing them just R200 a month, the African School of Excellence (ASE) in Tsakane, on Johannesburg’s East Rand, offers township pupils A Levels qualifications that will enable them to get into prestigious universities around the world.
Although the school’s fees are R200 a month, it costs R8 000 a year to teach each pupil; the balance of the funds subsidised by corporate donors. The school will apply for government funding once its new premises are built.
The school is the brainchild of social entrepreneurs Nonhlanhla Masina, Jay Kloppenberg and Melusi Radebe. Masina and Radebe are former schoolmates from Tsakane who attended the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) together. They conceived the idea after they matriculated in 2006 and went to Wits.
Masina told City Press: “When I arrived at Wits, I realised that I was hopelessly unprepared for the demands of academic life. Academically, I was weak and unprepared. And it suddenly dawned on me that this was what most people with a similar background [as me] had to go through.”
The ASE model is all about taking the very best teachers, instilling students with confidence and a passion for learning, and then using technology to amplify that effect. The school was launched in January 2013 after running successful pilot programmes in Ghana and South Africa.
This followed classes run by Masina and Radebe during winter and summer school holidays. They realised that for the pupils were to walk into any university in the world and succeed, their efforts were woefully inadequate.
According to an internal study from October 2013, ASE found that its students had reached comparable levels in mathematics, reading, and writing to their British peers, despite beginning the year well below these levels. Kloppenberg and ASE believe that children should not be deprived of quality education because of their backgrounds.
IMPROVING AT AN AMAZING PACE
ASE Tsakane currently enrols pupils in grades 7 and 8. It has four lead teachers, eight academic advisers, and three curriculum writers.
Kloppenberg told City Press: “What the kids don’t have when they come to us is a lot of money and good foundational skills. What they do have is an incredible passion for learning. And we wanted to use the passion to give them an education as good as the very best schools in the country.
“We want our scholars to be able to step into any university in the world and expect to succeed.”
Last year, ASE put 87 Grade 7 pupils through a numeracy and literacy programme too intense for them as none of them could read above Grade 3 level. Kloppenberg said: “By the end of the year, we gave them the Cambridge assessment to see how many of them had caught up to UK levels. Our ambitious goal was that it would take them two years to catch up to UK levels of literacy and mathematics. We found that after one year, 99% of them had caught up.
“Earlier this year, they wrote the Maths Olympiad and between 25% and 30% made the semi-finals. And we made them write the Annual National Assessment for ninth graders, not Grade 8. The class achieved about 95%, and that was ahead of the wealthiest quintile in the whole country.”
BUILDING A WELCOMING SCHOOL
According to ASE, the environment in which pupils learn affects their capacity for learning in numerous ways. The school wants every aspect of attending it to be a positive experience for its pupils. It is also important that the feeling of being welcomed extends to the communities they serve, the school emphasises.
Through innovative building methods and creative architectural work, ASE says, it provides a world-class learning facility at 50% of the building cost per square meter compared to a traditionally constructed school building, making it more affordable. This building system is fast, inexpensive, compact, and easy to replicate in urban and rural settings throughout South Africa, making it a perfectly scalable model.