Text: David Fu/Streetlight Schools
Photo credits: Heidi Augestad/Streetlight Schools
South African society still reflects many of the scars of apartheid, including one of the worst education systems on the continent or of any middle-income country in the world. Most education stakeholders lack a vision for high quality education and schooling, especially for the country’s most disadvantaged learners.
Poverty and unemployment
“It is easy to drive around cities like Johannesburg and think you are in Oslo. But, turn one street off the beaten track and suddenly a completely different world emerges. Only 20% of the country is in formal, skilled employment –– which perhaps is not surprising when 70% of our children leave school functionally illiterate and innumerate. These statistics play out in the all-too-human effects of poverty, unemployment, violence, and insecurity which learners bring into our school daily, with behavior ranging from silent and protective to sometimes confused or aggressive, but we also see a major potensial in our students for academic and social development.”, says Melanie Smuts.
“This is why we started Streetlight Schools, and in 2016 launched our first community school Streetlight Schools:Jeppe Park: an innovative, low-cost primary school in one of the most difficult areas of inner-city Johannesburg.”
The school now has 120 learners Grades R-2, and will grow until it reaches Grade 7 in 2022.
The Streetlight model takes a holistic approach to students and understanding their challenges and meeting their needs; uses student-centered teaching and learning approaches in the classroom; and makes space for learners to unlock their potential in many different ways.
“We have built a collaborative teaching team that loves working together and is incredibly sophisticated and skilled in providing a safe and inclusive learning environment. Finally, we have developed an approach to building beautiful, low-cost school facilities”, says Melanie Smuts.
“Our results demonstrate that a Streetlight learner, after 12 months, develops academic, social-emotional, and 21st century skills on par with their international peers. Despite starting with almost no school-readiness and literally being unable to hold a pencil, our learners are able to reclaim their lost childhoods. We take children from broken environments and turn them into future leaders and problem-solvers”, says Melanie Smuts.
The school leader from Norway
The school model was developed in large part thanks to school leader Heidi Augestad, herself a lifelong educator from Norway who found herself in South Africa in 2014. She met Melanie in 2015 and joined the organization to forge a vision for quality education, or what Nelson Mandela called the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.
“Students’ social and emotional well-being is the foundation for their ability to learn. Their cognitive growth depends on their ability to focus, concentrate, and enjoy learning activities. That is why we have a strong focus on our social learning environment, emphasizing inclusivity and positive relations,” says Heidi Augestad.
Grant from the Kavli Trust
Thanks to Heidi’s roots in Norway, Streetlight connected with the Kavli Trust which had already started investing in education in South Africa via Leap Schools. Ultimately, the Kavli Trust agreed to make a grant that will enable Streetlight Schools: Jeppe Park to grow to serve 190 learners Grades R-3 in 2018.
“We are pleased to announce our new partnership with Streetlight Schools. Access to quality education is the right and essential for all humans in order to reach their full potential and live independent lives, as well as the foundation for the success of all Sustainable Development Goals. We look forward to supporting Streetlight Schools vision and innovative work to ensure quality education for children and youth in South Africa”, says General Manager of the Kavli Trust, Inger Elise Iversen.