It was a fitting end to a busy year for the Schools Development Unit (SDU) when they descended on the hot Paarl valley to award certificates to teachers on their Mbekweni Professional Development Programme.
The celebration, put together by one of the unit's science education specialists, Nomvuyo Mgoqi, marked the end of the third year of a successful intervention in the Mbekweni community, a far-flung and fairly substantial Xhosa-speaking "island" in the Paarl/Wellington valley, one that supports five schools.
A relatively poor area, the community misses out on much of the development in the region. Assisting on the education front, the SDU runs teachers support programmes in the community's two high schools (Desmond Tutu High School and Ihlumelo Junior High School) and three primary schools (Imboniselo, Mbekweni and Langabuya).
Essentially, it gives teachers a leg up; providing important teaching resources, management skills and support in three pivotal subjects, maths, science and literacy, as well as life orientation, in all phases. It's an important intervention, given that the schools reach 1 800 pupils.
Teachers are supported both in the classroom, through co-teaching and lesson observation, and through organised workshops and meetings. While the latter focuses on planning, lesson content and teaching styles and methods, help in the classroom is designed to enhance learning and teaching practices.
One of the project's main strategies has been to develop key teachers and explore the constructive role they play in a school cluster. To this end, Mbekweni has worked with the West Coast Winelands Mathematics, Science and Technology (TWW) short courses and Cape Teaching Institute (CTI) courses.
There are other initiatives running in the community, research projects like Count One Count All (COCA), and resource initiatives like Old Mutual's Out of the Box education programme; educational goodie boxes with equipment like gyroscopes, maths sets, educational games, compasses, prisms, charts, everything needed to ignite interest and curiosity among school children.
"We have seen dramatic changes in teachers' practice and learner performance in the schools," SDU director Dr Lydia Abel.
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