The Centre for Creative Education

| September 5, 2013 | 5 Comments

1. The Centre

There are many ‘pockets of hope’ across the education system in South Africa.

Tucked away in Plumstead, Cape Town, is one of them – the Centre for Creative Education (CfCE). This ISASA member, located in a gracious peach-coloured Victorian house, began in 1993, at the cusp of the dawn of democracy, when a small group of Waldorf-trained teachers put their passion into action. “They felt that healing and transformation in education could only come through holistic and developmental teacher support and training, and that this need was most deeply felt in the impoverished townships,” explains Beulah Reeler, senior lecturer and course leader for the BEd degree facilitator at the centre. “They also believed strongly in Rudolf Steiner’s understanding of the human being, child development and his advice to teachers to ‘receive the child in reverence, educate in love and send forth in freedom’.”1 By 1997, two groups of students hailing from townships in Cape Town and Johannesburg had completed their Waldorfbased training, but gaining accreditation was a challenge.

From small acorns…

However, like the proud oak trees that surround the centre, says Reeler, “part-time, evening classes flourished, attracting a diverse group of students. The centre started to become a bustling little community of learning, with students studying at night – often with babes in arms or their little children tucked in under desks or cosy corners to sleep while their mothers listened to lectures, presented their mock lessons, painted, worked with clay, discussed the works of Steiner, education and the world.” In 1998, the Kairos Eurythmy Training Programme was born,2 offering a diploma in dance. “At the same time,” says Reeler, “realising the tremendous importance of early childhood development (ECD), the centre embarked on training women in township communities – who learned to care for and educate children in Educare3 centres, using these integrative and holistic approaches.”

In 2000, the CfCE was finally recognised as a higher education institution, and granted accreditation for its diplomas and certificates. In 2003, it was granted degree-awarding status and has three main departments: eurythmy, ECD and primary school teacher training. At present, 36 ECD and 78 BEd and BA student teachers (of whom 65 are full time) and 10 eurythmy students are on campus on a regular basis.

Early childhood development

The ECD training provided by the CfCE comprises teacher training programmes and mentoring of those practitioners/ students working at various ECD centres and at primary schools during their practical teacher training sessions. The rich, carefully structured programme allows students the opportunity for self-development as individuals and teachers, through artistic and creative work, through theory given in lectures, and through interactive group discussion and experiential learning, says Reeler.

“Our students learn the importance of working with families and the community, to support early childhood development. Their openness to diversity is reflected in the material they create as trainee teachers to use with the children in their classes, acknowledging other cultures through stories, songs, games and festivals.” Reeler is proud: “Our holistic approach is uncompromisingly all-inclusive and our principal goal is to protect childhood, which is under great threat in our modern times. We have found that we haven’t had to advertise our training courses, as students are constantly applying through word-of-mouth, or after having visited a class.”

The centre has also instituted other projects aimed at improving the experiences and conditions of very young children in disadvantaged communities. One of these, describes Reeler, is the Birth to Three Years Project.

“Educational practitioners/carers, volunteers and interested parents are taught massage skills. Children who experience extreme physical and emotional abuse or neglect have ‘numbed out’ and cannot respond to external stimulation. They therefore cannot learn efficiently or function well in society. The purpose of the project is to nurture them so they have the ability to learn well at primary and high school and become confident, caring, responsible adults and so grow their own communities in the future.”

It’s this kind of course that sets the CfCE apart. It’s intent on reaching every child in need that it can, says Reeler. “Many of the students doing the ECD training come from township areas where there is a great need for childcare, with limited access to training and resources. They have the opportunity here to benefit from a diverse range of experienced of trainers and fieldworkers, some of whom hailed from those same areas.”

Like these colleagues, students studying for their BEd and BA degrees must all satisfy rigorous admissions requirements, says Reeler firmly, adding: “Our students represent a good mix of races and religions – however, more women than men are drawn to these studies. The ages of the students range from 18 to the late forties. Their lecturers have all been teachers and have upgraded to Master’s level, or are in the process of doing so.”

The CfCE is immensely proud of its growing number of graduates, who are really ‘making a difference’. Fifty-year-old Josephine Gopie, an ex-domestic worker, is one such graduate. She is teaching in the foundation phase of a developing independent school in Kommetjie in the Western Cape, having begun her CfCE training in 2009. Her lecturers delighted in her insights, recalls Reeler. “She compared studying early childhood development to putting the child in an x-ray machine, where you learn to see deeper than what is initially visible on the surface.”

Such feedback enables the centre to refine its own research. Having participated in the ECD training, says Reeler, Gopie reported back that it became easier to see why certain children behave in particular ways, and how to handle that behaviour. In her culture, she said, to hit a child is considered normal. Now, like other CfCE graduates and those whose lives they touch, she’s able to use the Rudolph Steiner method to preserve a child’s dignity and ability to learn.

Eurythmy

The Kairos Eurythmy Training programme is offered at the CfCE as a four-year BA degree in dance, although students in both the BEd and ECD programmes at the centre will experience a certain amount of eurythmy, which benefits their overall teaching skills. Reeler describes its essence: “Through movement and gesture performance, eurythmy reveals the heart and structure of poems, prose and musical compositions performed live. The qualities unique to ‘P’ or an ‘Ah’, for instance, the musical tone of an E flat, or the interval of a 7th – these the eurythmist visibly ‘sculpts’ and ‘sings’ in space to reveal the flow of audible sound in time.”

In Waldorf schools worldwide (and now in some state schools), educational eurythmy is a weekly activity for three- to 18-year-olds. According to Reeler: “It is a vital and supportive lesson for both academic and social learning in coordination, cooperation and balance. The children grow to recognise and value harmony and beauty. They also develop a finely tuned ear for subtle difference and become able to respond quickly and confidently to change. In the broadest sense, eurythmy supports their health.”

Primary school training

Reeler and her colleagues are firm believers in the need for education to evolve to meet the needs of the 21st century. “Our society needs creative and inspiring teachers to guide and develop a new generation of children. Teachers must be equipped with new ways of involving children in the process of learning. Our teacher training degree aims to develop students into well-integrated educators, skilled in designing effective learning programmes using movement, music, drawing, painting, sculpture, drama, poetry and a wide range of other skills. Throughout the four-year course, the student is challenged to develop not only the thinking realm but also the spiritual aspects of their being, according to the Waldorf way.” The BEd degree offered at the CfCE is a combined foundation and intermediate phase qualification, allowing qualifying students to teach from Grade R to Grade 6.

The BEd programme has been fully accredited by the Council on Higher Education’s Higher Education Quality Committee (CHE/HEQC) and is registered with the Department of Education (certificate 2000/HE08/003), and recognised by the South African Council for Educators (SACE). This accreditation allows graduates to teach in mainstream schools (public or independent/private), as well as Waldorf schools throughout South Africa.

The Certificate in Waldorf-Enriched Education qualification is integrated into the centre’s BEd programme. This is a South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA)- registered qualification, enabling BEd graduates to teach in Waldorf schools. The Southern Africa Federation of Waldorf Schools recognises the certificate as a professional basis for Waldorf educators.

Looking ahead

The peach-coloured house in Plumstead is packed with future plans. According to Reeler, the CfCE is working on getting an ECD degree accredited. “We’re also developing our relationship with the Western Cape Department of Education through supportive short courses and refresher courses for teachers. Our outreach work in the communities we serve remains a core pillar of what we do, and we want to take eurythmy into state schools as a therapeutic service.”

2. The school: Zenzeleni

In 1993, one of the Centre for Creative Education’s (CfCE) graduates, Maria Msebenzi, was asked to start a kindergarten class within an existing Educare centre – called Noluthando – in Khayelitsha, outside Cape Town, relates Beulah Reeler, senior lecturer and course leader for the BEd degree at the CfCE.

“We wanted this class to serve as a showcase for students who were training to become ECD teachers. Increasingly, parents expressed an appreciation for the quality, value and depth of connection that their children experienced in the class, and asked that it be expanded. In 1999, Zenzeleni School (which means ‘do it yourself ’), named by the parents, was opened and staffed by CfCE graduates.”

Experiencing joy at school

The school grew by one class yearly and now offers Grade R to Grade 7 to 255 young learners, most of whom are boys. Initially, says Reeler, enrolment soared because parents in the community were impressed by the quality of English spoken by Zenzeleni graduates. “Now, though, parents are aware that the Waldorf method of teaching is different to mainstream schooling and that their children enjoy coming to school and learning – that they experience a richness in their education. More and more parents want that for their children.”

It’s easy to understand this simple desire by listening to Reeler’s description of the community in which Zenzeleni is situated. “The school is situated in an ever-expanding township of government-built block houses and tin or wood shacks about 35 km east of Cape Town on the Cape Flats, where wind and sand dominate daily life. Across the road, men prepare sheep’s heads for sale and, other than a few spazas4 close by, the nearest shopping area is a 25-minute walk away. There is little to occupy the youngsters after school and, given the fear of gangs, drugs and related violence, parents tend to keep children at home in front of the television. The community striving to create a good life for all suffers greatly. As best we know the public schools are struggling. Many teachers in public schools send their children to Zenzeleni.”

A mother-tongue approach

Another reason that children and their parents appreciate Zenzeleni so much, says Reeler, is that “very consciously and with the support of documented studies, crucial respect and acknowledgement is given to the importance of a child’s mother tongue. The children – including the Shona, Sotho and Somalian students – are taught in isiXhosa from Grade R to Grade 3, receiving supplementary lessons in spoken English of song, verse and games. In Grade 4, teachers conduct some lessons in which the children begin to read and write in English. By Grade 7 all lessons are in English. This approach is a compromise, as our research shows children do best learning in their mother tongue till Grade 6. However, as we do not have a high school, the children need to be proficient in English when they leave after Grade 7.”

Proficiency and hope

Evidence abounds that Zenzeleni children are proficient in more than English when they move on to secondary school, thanks to the dedication of a kindergarten teacher, an assistant kindergarten teacher, seven class teachers, a pedagogical mentor and three part-time teachers – one who teaches English, music and games; another, a eurythmy teacher for the lower school; and a newly appointed eurythmy teacher for the older children. Proficiency is frequently the consequence of hope, says Reeler, to which the Zenzeleni school community has clung during tough times. When funding was even scarcer, 36 of the very youngest students learned every day in a tiny storage room. A generous foreign donor made the construction of the Grade 7 classroom possible, often described as “warm and lovely”.

Fund-raising ensures Zenzeleni’s survival. “Fees are set at an amount far lower than what it actually costs to educate a child here and are calculated according to what most people in the community can afford. The government subsidy is not sufficient to cover the difference. The shortfall is met through fundraising fundraising initiatives, largely through the CfCE – such as the sponsoring of children or classes by individual donors and/or organisations based both locally and overseas.”

Pressing issues

A further daily challenge common to schools in similar areas is that most Zenzeleni parents must endure a long commute into the city of Cape Town for work. Little ones must therefore arrive at school very early and return home very late. An aftercare programme is a future priority, affirms Reeler. Right now, there are more pressing issues. “Our perimeter fence is easy to cut open and, as a result, we have suffered numerous break-ins – to the point where the insurance company will no longer insure us. Late last year, we were able to employ three older community members to care for the school at night. We presently need to raise R210 000 to erect a stronger fence.

“Our front gate also proved quite useless in keeping out unwanted visitors. In a meeting with the parents it was agreed each family would contribute to buying an electric sliding gate, which was installed last December. Sand, an equally unwelcome invader that the fierce Khayelitsha wind whips into eyes, food and classrooms, was partially quelled by a most valued, partially grassed, funded play area.”

Treasured triumphs

Proficiency, hope and finally, joy. For some schools, says Reeler, Zenzeleni’s triumphs may be everyday occurrences. “Ten classes have graduated from Grade 7, our children are happy, seldom absent and work with the teachers in an atmosphere of respect and eagerness to assist. Our classroom spaces are beautiful and cared for and we are blessed to have a full-time pedagogical mentor.

“We were thrilled to participate in a successful Independent Quality Assurance Agency (IQAA) assessment.”5 Being independent and therefore able to teach the Waldorf way is the greatest joy of all. “Our pedagogy has been created to meet the children at their particular developmental stages in an age-appropriate way, while still fulfilling the requirements of the national curriculum. This guarantees that when children complete Grade 7, they are eligible to continue their schooling at any other school, and that Zenzeleni qualifies for the government subsidy that the school is fortunate to receive,” confirms Reeler.

Independence also has an additional significance at Zenzeleni. Because it is a true Waldorf school, there is no principal and all the teachers are equally responsible for the wellbeing and growth of the school. “The teachers at Zenzeleni are intent on growing all aspects of the school, particularly pedagogically and administratively,” confirms Reeler. They know that ‘fortune favours the brave’.

References:

1. See, for example, http://www. whywaldorfworks.org/02_W_Education/.

2. Eurythmy is the dynamic art of movement that seeks to make the sounds of speech and the elements of music visible. See, for example, http://www.cfce.org.za/eurythmy/99999.

3. See, for example, http://www.educare.co.za/.

4. A spaza shop is an informal convenience shop business in South Africa, usually run from home. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaza_shop http://iqaa.co.za/.

5. IQAA is an independent agency available to provide quality assurance of any school through the process it has developed. See, for example, http://iqaa.co.za/.

Category: Featured Articles, Spring 2013

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Comments (5)

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  1. Rashida Harris says:

    I am interested in becoming a teacher,my only downfall is I do not have Matric
    I love working with children and this has always been my passion
    as a single mother myself,my children always joke and tell me,Mommy you had to be a teacher
    I am a mature,middle age woman but I know I can do this as God has given me a gift and I would love to share this gift in helping children
    Please advise how I can go about achieving my dream

  2. Ntenvo Jose Bento says:

    Dear Sir, would you send me price and prospectus on teacher training please. thank you!

  3. Yumna says:

    Hi my name is Yumna Meyer i am very passionate about children and would love to be a foundation phase teacher.I have my n4 in educare. I am a single mother and feel I can make a difference by making my self useful to the community by being a teacher i just need the necessary academics and finance to put me on my path

  4. Pumza Mlahlwa says:

    Hello mu name is Pumza Mlahlwa.I have a strong feeling and a strong bond when im with children and I am an ECD pratitioner of 3_4 years old but I want to study feather ,I have N5 educare certificate but im interested to continue my studies in the.above school …so which level can be good for me for further education ….thank you

  5. marochelle says:

    hi my name is Marochelle Conradie and i was a learner at a waldorf school and am now working at the office of the school. I am very interested in becoming a foundation phase teacher. i am currently applying at universities but feel that i want to journey more into the waldorf training as i grew up as a waldorf child i loved every moment of it.

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