Caring and supporting learners and educators at Sophungane Secondary School
Positive results for teacher sand learners
MPUMALANGA, South Africa - Located in Nkomazi district outside Nelspruit, Sophungane School is a sanctuary of learning for 1332 learners from Grade R right through to Grade 12. The visiting UNICEF team receive a warm welcome as the school choir sings “Sanbonani” meaning “hello” in Zulu, the most-spoken language in South Africa.
In this community, like so many in the country, a quality education is a ticket out of poverty and a chance to enter the job market. It is for this reason that the Care and Support for Teaching and Learning initiative (CSTL) is both necessary and life-changing.
To help make CSTL a reality in communities in which it is most needed, UNICEF works with the Department of Basic Education as well as the non-governmental organization, MIET. Through the training of Learner Support Agents (LSAs), educators, school principals and education authorities are provided guidance and assistance to assist with providing a quality education for children. Through regular visits and dialogues with both educators and children, the LSAs help ensure that the principles of CSTL are adhered to and are implemented. Zinhle Ngenya is the LSA tasked with promoting CSTL at Sophungane School and explains that she finds her work both “rewarding and fulfilling when you see such positive results.”
And at Sophungane, the results are indeed positive. From a reduction in the number of teenage pregnancies to improved punctuality, from less absenteeism to increased learner participation in class, it is evident that the implementation of CSTL has considerably improved the learning and teaching environment at this school. Lydia Mtiyane, the Head of Department of the Intermediate Phase explains that the CSTL programme has allowed for better planning and management. “We have an annual teaching plan thanks to CSTL and we make sure we adhere to it,” explains Lydia.
For Victoria Ngobeni, one of the schools two Deputy Principals, the CSTL training and the support of the LSA has fostered an understanding of the diversity of the circumstances of individual learners and how they can be assisted. In addition to seeing to the physical needs of children (ensuring a well-resourced Sick Room and signage to warn of potential injuries), the psychosocial support to learners is also an aspect of the CSTL framework. Educators are trained on issues of confidentiality, care and security and the school has partnered with an NGO that provides psychosocial support. The compassion of Victoria and her team of dedicated educators is palpable as she describes the difficult circumstances of some of, as she calls them, “our children.”
“See how we wash our hands,” says 9-year old Myeni SInokuhle proudly as he demonstrates the proper hand-washing technique that he and his fellow learners have been taught by Zinhle. Handwashing is an important and tangible element of the CSTL and is made possible thanks to the construction of a hand-washing station at the school. This relatively affordable (costing not more than $250), highly beneficial station allows for up to 17 learners at a time to wash their hands using soap provided through the UNICEF’s corporate partners. Piloted in Zambia by UNICEF, the hand-washing stations have been very well-received by learners and educators alike and it was encouraging to see the nearly completed construction of a second handwashing station on the school premises.
A related component of the CSTL is dental hygiene and in this regard, UNICEF has facilitated the provision of individual toothbrushes and toothpaste. In orderly lines, the young learners wait patiently to brush their teeth in an exercise that is made both practical and fun by the educators.
The provision of healthy meals at school is another key aspect of the CSTL programme. As in many schools in the country, a vegetable garden has been planted and the produce thereof is used to provide meals for the children – for some it is their only meal of the day. While the Government Feeding Scheme of the Department of Basic Education has ensured that far fewer children are hungry in South Africa than in the past, there remain gaps and CSTL seeks to address some of these. The focus is on the provision of healthy food and guidance on this is given by the LSAs who, School Principal Thandi Sono explains, also share these guidelines with nearby vendors who sell food to the community. In this regard, LSA Zinhle credits the CSTL Manual with providing her and other LSA’s with the necessary tools to undertake their work.
Giving children the best chance possible to lead healthy and happy lives is a key driving force behind the work of UNICEF, both in South Africa and globally. Seeing the positive benefits of the Care and Support for Teaching and Learning is an important reminder that a positive difference is being made.