“We are”: The story of The Future Comprehensive School

| November 4, 2013 | 0 Comments

There can be no simpler expression of resilience than the tag line: “We are”.

The sentiment was chosen by Patrick Mogowe, founder and director of The Future Comprehensive School (FCS) in Veeplats, Masemola, Limpopo, in the rural Sekhukhune district. In part, this tag line is an acknowledgement of Mogowe’s own unshakeable dedication to quality schooling. Over the years, despite recognition by the provincial education department, his disillusionment with the public education system deepened until, he says, “All the honours did not lessen the negative attitude on the ground level. The only option I had was to leave the profession I loved.”

But a man with a true calling is never idle long. The queen of the village, says Mogowe, added her voice to the parents who begged Mogowe to think of the children in their under-resourced environment. “I thought of Jonah in the Bible, who was swallowed by a big whale while running away from God. I thought something negative would also happen to me if I refused to heed the call from the community to help their children in providing the kind of education they asked for.”

More and more questions

Mogowe soon found out the scope of the challenge ahead. Registering FCS happened in 2010. “But I needed classrooms. I needed money. I needed staff. I employed an administration clerk and three cleaners after securing some old dilapidated farm buildings in our village from our queen.”

Access to premises meant, in part, that Mogowe could tentatively say, “We have begun”. But his troubles continued. “I had to pay the staff out of my pocket from September to December 2010. Electricity had to be installed – but when I approached the power provider Eskom, it demanded too much money to install a meter box. Where was I to get the money from? I needed furniture – chairs and tables for teachers and learners, writing boards, stationery and textbooks. I needed money to start with reparations on the buildings.”

Mogowe’s challenges were archetypical for many other brave school founders who had gone before him, and many who will follow. He remembers other dilemmas: “Recruitment of teachers was another difficulty. How do I go and ask teachers to join me when I was not even sure of student numbers? What monthly payment could I offer?” As with any great venture, the questions were seemingly unending. “What if parents transferred their children to our school, only to find that in January we were unable to start? What about uniforms?”

Doing what you can with what you’ve got

Like all true entrepreneurs, Mogowe did what he could with what he had. “I had won a laptop at the provincial teacher awards and it stood me in good stead. I was able to type advertisements for parents to come and register their children at FCS. I had to travel to Polokwane to go and make enough copies to distribute.”

It was a bold move from which there was no turning back, recalls Mogowe. The community, comprising mainly the elderly and the very young, as everyone else had migrated to the cities in search of work, was uncertain about the idea of an independent school. Although they had begged him to educate their children, they were suspicious of the independent model. “There is no place for an independent school here, as people are very poor,” he was told, when he explained to those long-used to a no-fee school environment that parents would have to pay a monthly fee plus an additional registration amount. He knew he also had to persuade parents to choose a brand-new institution on the outskirts of the village over well-established schools where, although quality may have been poor, at least there was some free stationery and a free daily meal. His counter-promise was a school based on effective discipline – which was almost totally absent in the surrounding public schools.

Ask, and you shall be given

The laptop was put to use again, and a request for financial assistance was granted by the Solon Foundation.1 St Stithians College in Johannesburg donated whiteboards, money for the electricity installation, stationery and textbooks. More came from St Andrew’s School for Girls, also in Johannesburg, through its social responsibility programme. Adds Mogowe: “Through sheer determination, we found furniture.” The basics were in place and to Mogowe’s delight, in January 2011, 132 local learners in grades 00 to 8 were registered to be instructed by nine foreign teachers. Secure in the knowledge that Phillip Mokoko would run the school competently, Mogowe continued his mission to find the best resources for this newborn school. He continued to build relationships wherever he could to achieve his goals, although he says: “The public schools viewed us as a threat. They still believe we are stealing their children.” But Mogowe already had strong allies elsewhere. “We have a relationship with independent schools in Gauteng. They have had a great impact on our school. They have pulled us to a higher level. We aspire to be like them. St Stithians College, St Andrew’s School for Girls, Redhill College and Cornwall Hill College have exposed us to a different world of education. We hope they will continue to mother us for some few years to come.”

Reputation does not dull the challenges

FCS remains a talking point in the local community. It’s the only English-medium school, operating on a three-term system with extracurricular activities available on three Saturdays per month. Mogowe and his colleagues are determined to introduce children to opportunities at every turn, such as The President’s Award Programme.2 “We are disciplined, orderly and dutyconscious. We believe that planning means we do not need hands-on supervision.” And, over the course of two years, total pupil enrolment has grown to 315 learners, including some from Zimbabwe. Forty-one per cent of the staff are also Zimbabwean.

Mogowe can now state with pride, “We are”. But his experiences have taught him to be cautious. “Our salaries are far too low and, as such, we are often unable to attract and retain good teachers,” he laments. It is the school’s rural location that presents such challenges. For example, financially well-off prospective parents are in the cities, and trips to buy resources have to be carefully planned as the nearest town is 75 km away. Generalised poverty has also made it difficult for Mogowe to raise fees, and he faces an ongoing battle with parents who, without understanding their academic difficulties, withdraw their children from FCS if they are not placed in a grade deemed appropriate by the family.

Mogowe longs for the day when FCS can enjoy the facilities taken for granted by many other schools, such as specialist teachers, sports coaches, on-campus medical care, air conditioning and internet access. His fierce determination reassures him that these things will come, as he reflects on the school’s many triumphs – its purchase of its own resources and its commitment to pay its teachers, the establishment of two computer sites, accreditation from Umalusi3 and the security of having an 18-hectare plot on which to expand.

Determined to be part of ISASA These important achievements pale, though, he says, when it comes to the knowledge that at last the community understands what it means to have their children at an independent school. “They can see that we can sustain and improve quality teaching and learning without having any red tape imposed on us, and that we can produce students who can potentially excel anywhere in the world.”

Mogowe’s long-standing relationships with supportive Gauteng ISASA member schools were his incentive to seek membership. It’s yet another example of his ‘never say die’ attitude that a year after failing to meet the organisation’s criteria, he went through the entire process again. In May 2013, FCS was proudly welcomed as an ISASA member school.

Whilst the joy was tempered by the fact that FCS lacked the funds to attend ISASA’s latest national conference, what is key for Mogowe is: “We are able to access the ISASA website, which is rich in information.”

We will be

Learning about FCS can be likened to looking at a painting of a small ship on a stormy sea. Everyone is doing their bit. In Mogowe’s words: “We cannot change the direction of the wind, but we are aware that we can adjust our sails.”

References:

1. See http://www.solonedfound.org/.

2. See http://www.presidentsaward.co.za/.

3. See http://www.umalusi.org.za/Inveloper.asp?iP=2&iVdate= 15/09/2013&iS={55144D4B-5951-4772-B181-F13DA8C5FCC7}.

Category: Summer 2012

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