The Valley of a Thousand Hills, about 60 km west of Durban, is famed for its rustic scenic beauty. Its posh suburbs such as Hillcrest and Botha’s Hill attest to affluence; but its less privileged villages KwaNyuswa, KwaNqetho and KwaNgcolosi, although endowed with nature’s beauty, are a by-word for disadvantage.
However, in that state of neediness, there exists a beautiful story of a special class – the local inaugural University of Cape Town Online High School (UCTOHS) Grade 8’s. The four learners from KwaNyuswa, were enrolled at UCTOHS courtesy of the NPO, Imbeleko, Dr Seni Myeni Foundation.
Zamangema Nene (14), Sandile Zwane (14), Sbongimpilo Ndlovu (13) and Asanda Mlaba (14), were funded by the South African Human Rights Council (SAHRC) through the SAHRC UCT Online High School for Rural Girl child Initiative.
The KwaNyuswa-based Imbeleko runs two core academic programmes: a digital afterschool academy and a scholarship programme for high-quality boarding school education. The academy of about 130 high school and 120 primary school learners is sponsored by the Bank of America and the iStore Education.
“We are thankful that UCTOHS graciously admitted our learners, which confirmed that the new online school was not meant for the privileged few only.”
Having the four learners enrolled at UCTOHS was fate. Imbeleko chief executive officer, Sbusisiwe Myeni, said: “It was purely by chance that our kids got to be part of UCTOHS when it opened this year. The [SA] Human Rights Commission said, ‘Hang on, but UCTOHS can’t offer online education only for privileged children, in effect excluding rural children’. Thus, our kids got a chance to enroll.”
It was an opportunity the UCT BCom Statistics graduate would not pass up for the learners she affectionately calls “my kids”. “We are thankful that UCTOHS graciously admitted our learners, which confirmed that the new online school was not meant for the privileged few only,” she said.
Imbeleko has made it its business to produce learners who go on to graduate as medical doctors, accountants, engineers; all hitherto scarce professionals in this largely impoverished community.
Adjusting to the new online reality
Desiring high-equality education for their children, parents were excited about the idea of enrolling them. Lesley Ndlovu, Sbongimpilo’s father, said: “From the time my daughter was selected, it was a special moment. We [her parents] were excited that she would be part of a select group that would get a quality education through UCTOHS.
“Initially, it was not an easy journey for the children and the parents, but in the end, it worked out well. We had to adjust to the new reality of online learning to be able to support our children. The academy was supportive; we even had a WhatsApp group, where we shared tips on how best to support our children and one another.”
Adventure, the novelty of online learning, scholarships, being part of change and forging new friendships were some of the attractions that appealed to the learners.
Zamangema said: “I was interested because I wanted to do something new because they had said it was online.”
She added that taking notes and submitting assignments online, however, was a challenge.
Sandile added: “Mine was to just study in a different environment. The previous year [because of COVID-19], online schools were the thing … everyone was starting to learn online. I wanted to be a part of the brand-new thing that was happening across the world. Also, I just wanted to have a laptop.”
Sbongimpilo said: “My reason is different. I thought if I didn’t get the initiative’s scholarship, I would be in a public school. I knew that the new school was a private school and I thought that it would come with many opportunities.”
Their schooling journey was not without bumps. They mentioned having to adjust to a new environment, learning how to use virtual tools, dealing with loadshedding, losing old friends and making new ones as some of the things they had to contend with.
“It was a roller coaster of a year. Some parts were really great and others challenging. At times, it was scary, but it was mostly great,” said Sandile.
“We had support coaches. That really a helped a lot.”
Sbongimpilo said: “Luckily, we had support coaches. That really helped a lot.”
Asanda added: “In addition to having a support coach, they give you a second chance to resubmit.”
The four are grateful for the all-round support they received throughout the year. “The teachers were amazing. The support coaches were amazing and so were the learners,” said Asanda.
On top of adjusting to the new reality and the added school workload, the learners had to make adjustments on the home front too. At first, some of their parents battled to support them. Zamangema said: “I had to do schoolwork, [but I also] had to do my bit at home such as cleaning the house, washing the clothes, etc.
“When my mom saw my marks dropping, she understood and started helping me with domestic chores.”
Once the learners adapted to their new normal, they saw a huge improvement in their marks.
Happy to have made history by being part of the first cohort of Grade 8s, the A+ learners are readying themselves to return in the new academic year.
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