Keeping the faith: Faithway College joins ISASA

| March 9, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Cheryl Santini

Nestled in the foothills of the mighty Ukahlamba Drakensberg and Sani Pass in the southern Drakensberg, in KwaZulu- Natal, Faithway College is a small independent school that serves the communities of Underberg and Himeville, offering quality education from Grade 1 to Grade 12.

Since its inception in 1994, Faithway has been a unique school that has faced many challenges. It began as a tiny school offering English-medium education to those townsfolk who were financially unable – or unwilling – to send their children away to boarding school. However, as it is the only high school within a 100 km radius that offers English at a home language level, it soon began to grow to meet an urgent need.

From the outset, our students have been drawn from the less-affluent sectors of the community, and this became even more apparent when we realised that the bulk of our learners were coming from a local orphanage (most of the children’s parents had died as a result of AIDS). Our demographics have thus created a very particular set of challenges.

Sights set on ISASA

Our fees are extremely low, much lower than ex-model C government schools,1 and our parent involvement is weak and often entirely lacking, which means minimum support. For many years, we also found it hard to win support from the private sector, so we decided to join the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS)2 in 2013.

Whilst this organisation proved most helpful to us in some aspects, it did not offer us the resources and opportunities a private, independent school in our context needs to grow and
prosper, for management, teachers and students.

We always wanted to join ISASA, but for a long time, we felt our school would just not ‘make the cut’ as we are so rural, poor and under-resourced, and badly needed to upgrade our
school buildings.

In September 2015, we plucked up our courage, completed our application and sent off all the documentation required by ISASA.

To our great surprise, within a week we received a phone call from David Wilkinson, the ISASA KwaZulu-Natal regional director. Soon after that, Rob O’Dell and Wilkinson arrived at
our humble school, and were not only professional and compassionate, but surprised at our achievements.

Being an ISASA member will provide us with support through various workshops and conferences. We anticipate that we will learn how other independent schools make the best use of their resources. We also believe that ISASA will assist in promoting our school’s interests via various media and social platforms and inter school networks, whilst protecting the integrity and right of our school.

Serious challenges

We look forward to being in touch with schools that share our social challenges: our students often come from severely disadvantaged backgrounds (abuse in the home is common in this area), which has created many teaching challenges. Many of the learners who attend our school have lost both parents, are in social welfare institutions (such as orphanages), are cared for by relatives or come from single-parent homes. We strive to offer these children a sense of security and family.

Since we rely on our fees to survive and only receive basic governmental support, it means that there is little money for staff salaries, let alone growth and development. It is not easy to attract qualified teachers when you cannot pay anything close to the salaries offered by government schools. In addition, being a school in a deeply rural area, our teachers and learners are isolated and cut off from the wider world. This is exacerbated by not having any school transport system.

Recognition from the state

Despite the myriad challenges, Faithway has not only survived, but has grown and flourished. Student numbers have doubled in the last five years and, in the last 15 years, we have only had one learner fail matric. Our learners routinely qualify for university places and go on to become lawyers, accountants, teachers, anthropologists, journalists and politicians. We have even had a past pupil gain a scholarship to Cambridge University in the UK. In 2015, our matric class achieved 14 distinctions in their final exit examinations and one learner was ranked 43rd out of over 7 500 matriculants in the district. Faithway is proving that anything is possible with the right foundation, ambition and support.

All of this has been achieved despite having extremely limited resources – a factor often cited as an excuse for underperformance.4 Our teachers are forced to rotate and share classroom time and space. In 2010, the hall was sacrificed to create four new classrooms, but teachers still have to teach in wooden cabins.

In 2010, the government recognised our regular outstanding results and a Faithway representative was flown to Cape Town to address Parliament on how we were able to achieve so much with so little, and to give input into the development of the [then] new Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) curriculum.5 Over the years, we have received trophies from the government for the best school in the district, have been honoured at banquets with the Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Education in KwaZulu- Natal, and our teachers have received awards for being the top subject teachers in the district.

Dedication despite demands

Despite the myriad challenges, Faithway has not only survived, but has grown and flourished. Student numbers have doubled in the last five years and, in the last 15 years, we have only had one learner fail matric. Our learners routinely qualify for university places and go on to become lawyers, accountants, teachers, anthropologists, journalists and politicians. We have even had a past pupil gain a scholarship to Cambridge University in the UK. In 2015, our matric class achieved 14 distinctions in their final exit examinations and one learner was ranked 43rd out of over 7 500 matriculants in the district. Faithway is proving that anything is possible with the right foundation, ambition and support.

All of this has been achieved despite having extremely limited resources – a factor often cited as an excuse for underperformance.4 Our teachers are forced to rotate and share classroom time and space. In 2010, the hall was sacrificed to create four new classrooms, but teachers still have to teach in wooden cabins.

In 2010, the government recognised our regular outstanding results and a Faithway representative was flown to Cape Town to address Parliament on how we were able to achieve so much with so little, and to give input into the development of the [then] new Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) curriculum. Over the years, we have received trophies from the government for the best school in the district, have been honoured at banquets with the Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Education in KwaZulu- Natal, and our teachers have received awards for being the top subject teachers in the district.

Dedication despite demands

In recent years, we have moved from offering simply an academic programme to providing a more holistic education. We now offer all sporting codes except swimming, successfully competing against other schools as far afield as Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Kokstad, Howick and Ixopo. Our learners participate in district trials, tournaments and a sevens rugby league, with several learners having been selected to represent the district.

We have also introduced cultural activities such as chess, debating and choir, and last year saw the school putting on its first dramatic production, Grease, which was enthusiastically
received by the community.

Much of our success can be attributed to our dedicated staff. Because there are so few teachers, they have to carry many more duties and teach a much wider spread of learners than at most schools, all at a much lower salary than their colleagues elsewhere. They embody the true spirit of teaching as a vocation and not just a job.

Of great advantage to our learners is the fact that our classes are small, and this helps us to know each child and be aware of difficulties they may be experiencing away from the classroom environment. Faithway embraces inclusive education, accommodating learners on the autism disorder spectrum and with spina bifida in our classes.

Perseverance pays off

Due to our low fees, our staff, learners and parents work very hard at various fundraisers throughout the year. Through these fundraisers we have been able to update laboratory equipment, purchase computer equipment and even start building a new administration block.

In 2015, we entered the Vodacom Millionaires competition and were fortunate enough to win two fully stocked computer laboratories – one for the primary school and one for the high school. These not only came with projectors and interactive whiteboards but also extensive staff training. We now know we can fully equip our learners for the technological challenges of the future.

The biggest challenge facing the school at present is that of infrastructure. We would love to offer more members of our local community the excellent education we provide, but we lack classrooms. A further lack of ablution blocks make this dream challenging. However, we are undaunted. Faithway College is making a difference, and we plan to continue growing and to assist learners to achieve so much more than just schooling for many years to come. Through our ISASA membership, we want to grow our school, aiming for greater success and sustainability, for future generations of graduates who call Faithway College ‘home’.

References:

1. See, for example: http://www.my-cape-town-south-africa.com/south-africanschools-
and-education-system.html.
2. See: http://www.fedsas.org.za/Home/.
3. See, for example: http://www.isasa.org/subsidies-for-independent-schools/.
4. See, for example: http://educationnext.org/whystudentsinsomecountries
dobetter/.
5. See, for example: http://www.education.gov.za/Curriculum/NCSGradesR12/
CAPS/tabid/420/Default.aspx.
6. In South Africa, the Executive Council of a province is the cabinet of the
provincial government. The Executive Council consists of the premier and
five to 10 other members, who have the title ‘Member of the Executive
Council’, commonly abbreviated to MEC. (Source:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_Council_%28South_Africa%29.)
7. See: http://www.vodacom.co.za/vodacom/vodacom-millionaires.

Category: Autumn 2016

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