One of my colleagues here observed, "When Africans are mournful they sing, and when they are joyful they also sing." I'd say that's seems to be true. My first clip here is of Sandisulwazi students entering school on a Monday. Not sure if that counts as mournful or joyful, but the students spontaneously burst into song as they entered the school compound.
This second clip is from the equivalent of a student of the quarter presentation this last Wednesday. Not a lot of teaching was accomplished this day. It started with a song, then some of the students started dancing, then some of the parents (several of whom are wearing traditional Xhosa dress) got into it. My camera unfortunately ran out of gas just as the whole ceremony devolved into a dance party. The principal was trying to restore order, but eventually he gave up and joined in. Okay, not enough furniture, teachers, books or calculators, but a lot of spirit. That counts for something.
So in the middle of nowhere in the Free State is the small rural school of Unicom. Of all the schools I've visited, Unicom is the especially well suited to partner with Ithaca High School. Their grounds and buildings are over a hundred years old, but because of their excellent exam results they have been given a lot of attention by the province and the University of the Free State. Consequently they have a very modern computer lab, and a very knowledgeable leader in my host and fellow math teacher, Victor Fekefeke. A lot of the students actually live on campus in dorms because they come from distant farms. The school has beautiful grounds and they raise their own cattle and chickens. It's a nice break from the townships: quiet, crime-free and peaceful.
Here are some final pictures from Soweto and Moletsane High School. I should mention that the students at Moletsane are very eager to establish contact with the students at Ithaca.
Some video appearances from the students at Moletsane High School in Soweto.
Botlhabelo is the high school serving the youth of Oukasie township. It is the school I taught at in 2003, and my first stop on my tour of South African schools. It has about 1300 students in grades 8-12, roughly the same size as Ithaca High School, although only about 30 teachers, which is about a third of the IHS faculty. Class sizes range from 40 to 50. There is a chronic shortage of text books and other materials. I will never forget my first day teaching there. All I wanted was for my students to do some problems from the text book so I could gauge their level. But none of them had books, many did not even have pencils, and when I went to write on the chalk board there was no chalk.
You might think that a school like this would be targeted for extra funding, but in fact schools in South Africa receive a flat rate from the provincial government, the rest is made up through local fees. Of course this has the effect of maintaining the economic status quo. White schools generally have access to a richer tax base. In Oukasie, where the majority of parents are unemployed, the school receives virtually no additional funding. If this seems crazy, keep in mind that it's pretty much the same system in the U.S., with much the same effect.
Not surprisingly, the drop-out rate is about 70% by grade 12. There is constant finger pointing between the district, the teachers, the community and the students, but the truth is the situation is simply unworkable. That being said, there is a surprising and inspiring degree of commitment on all sides. I visited during their week-long Easter break, and teachers were showing up on their own time, to work with students who came in for extra lessons.