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A hunger for learning in Howick: Tembelihle Primary School joins ISASA

| June 24, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Carolyn Hancock

In 1993, a number of members of the Howick Methodist Church (HMC) had the vision to provide an early childhood development programme to learners from poor communities in the greater Howick district in KwaZulu-Natal.

Over the following 15 years, the preschool grew and flourished at the ‘Old Parsonage’ on the HMC property. In 2008, the school increased in size dramatically when Brentwood United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, generously purchased a property consisting of three classrooms, restrooms, offices and a hall for the development of a primary school at 90 Main Street in Howick. To meet the requirements for registration with the Department of Education, a suitable ablution block was then added to the school. In late 2010, the HMC was asked to accommodate 120 learners from Merit Christian School, run singlehandedly by Joyce Ntuli out of a derelict shed in Howick. Luckily, further funding was attained and three more classrooms were built.

Tembelihle takes off

Having incorporated Merit Christian School, Tembelihle Primary School was now able to offer grades 1 to 4. Space was a key challenge at this time: a large class of children from grades 3 and 4 learnt together in a single classroom. At the end of 2010, further funding from local and international donors enabled the school to build an additional classroom and library. At this time, the school governing body (SGB) decided to have one class in each grade from Grade RRR to Grade 7. This meant that children could remain at the school until the end of primary school. It also meant there would be sufficient classroom space for our 300 learners and 11 qualified teachers.

Wacky Wednesdays enliven the working week

The day at Tembelihle always starts with a prayer at ‘line up’. As a Methodist church school, we believe Christian standards should be upheld, but support all learners of other faiths. The day is busy, with subject teaching interspersed with remedial assistance and our volunteer reading programme. Our more senior learners enjoy interactive teaching and the popular ‘Wacky Wednesday’ – a concept based on the Sugata Mitra1 philosophy of self-learning. On Wednesdays, our learners are given the opportunity to discover knowledge by means of investigation and experimentation. They learn all sorts of things, from how baby nappies work to Newtonian fluids!

Our day ends with our 14:00–15:00 time slot, during which each learner gets to play a sport and participate in a club of their choice, including chess, sewing, newspaper literacy, puzzles, exercise dancing and an environmental club. We strive to enhance the learning experience by giving our learners a chance to participate in activities that they may not be able to do in their homes, many of which are located in informal settlements in and around Howick such as Shiabizali, above the Howick Falls.

Sponsoring as many as possible

The people from these communities are largely unemployed and our learners sometimes do not have access to running water, electricity or sanitation in their homes. Some of our children are orphans whose parents died of Aids-related illnesses, and they now live with aged grandparents who survive on a small old-age pension. The SGB tries to find sponsorship for as many of these disadvantaged children as possible, who are among the thousands who cannot find placement in public schools in the Howick area. This ongoing action is part of our relationship-building with other public and independent schools in our area.

Creating strong ties in our community enables us to fulfil our mission to make a positive difference in the lives of underprivileged children in the Howick community. The school works with the Department of Social Welfare to provide a nutritious lunch for all of the pre-primary school children. Due to a very generous donation from a company in the USA, from the start of the second term this year, all primary school children will be receiving a nutritional supplement, a sandwich and fruit every day.

Various successes

Music also provides sustenance. Indeed, it is for us ‘the food of love’.2 The Tembelihle Choir was started in 2011 by John Tungay, the founder of the Drakensberg Boys’ School choir, with a group of 24 talented children between the ages of eight and 12 years. Some of the choir’s notable performances include singing a challenging programme of classical music with combined adult choirs from Durban, Pietermaritzburg and the Midlands under the baton of well-known Johannesburg conductor, Richard Cock. Following these performances, some of the children were invited to attend the Royal School of Church Music Summer Schools3 in 2013 and 2014. The Tembelihle children shone among choirboys and girls from all parts of South Africa, and one of the children – a young boy from an extremely poor family in Howick – received the prestigious award of top chorister. Tembelihle is proud to have joined the Eco-Schools Programme4 and is currently receiving assistance with our projects through the Midlands Meander Education Project,5 as well as from the local branch of the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA).6 In 2013, we decided to enhance the standard of education offered at the school through the introduction of technology, in the form of laptops for teachers and data projectors. Teacher training has been provided by SchoolNet,7 a not-for-profit organisation that provides information technology integration for teachers and education managers. We are delighted to soon be partnering with SchoolNet in an initiative supported by Microsoft, to explore the use of tablets and Xbox Kinect to further enhance the academic performance of our younger learners, thereby making learning more interactive and fun!

Money matters

Other teacher training is encouraged. Two of our preschool teachers initially began as cleaners at the school and have subsequently qualified as proficient and dedicated teachers.

Whilst the school is currently well structured and resourced we face numerous challenges.

Funding for capital improvements at the school and the development and implementation of teaching and learning programmes is limited. We also cannot pay our teachers what they would receive from better-resourced schools in our surrounds. Thus, sadly, often our younger teachers use the school as a stepping stone to a better-salaried position elsewhere. Our aim is to minimise staff turnover and weld together a team that has one vision and mission. The first step is to ‘add value’ to the experience of teaching at Tembelihle. This means making the experience of teaching a pleasurable one by meeting individual needs where possible. Often, also, committed teachers here tell tales of the inherent joy they discover on a daily basis.

For example, it was noticed that a young Grade 2 boy turned his head away each time his teacher was speaking, and she realised he was hard of hearing, turning to catch some sound with his better ear. An audiologist supplied the child with a hearing aid free of charge and later that day during the singing lesson, his teacher caught a look of pure delight and amazement on his face as he heard the sound of music for the first time in his life!

Another challenge is that of space. We have very little communal teaching space and a tiny playground that needs to be shared by all. The local municipality has recently granted us access to a large piece of land which thanks to a local earth moving company, we have levelled and grassed for use as a sports field. We celebrated a few weeks ago with an action packed sports day which was thoroughly enjoyed by the children, parents and staff.

Independent status a driving force

As we confront our challenges every day, we are reminded of the value of independence. We decide which learners to enrol at the school, which teachers to appoint and we control the governance and the financial status of the school. We are able to implement our philosophy of education, while still working closely with the Department of Education to provide a solid foundation for our learners.

It was, in fact, when we registered with the Department of Education that we became aware of ISASA and the benefits we could derive from being a member school. One of these was an Early Childhood Development Conference held at Cowan House which our teachers were delighted to be able to attend. Membership of ISASA will help us remain committed to ‘the pursuit of excellence’.8

1. See, for example:
2. Shakespeare, W. (1997) Twelfth Night, or, What You Will. New York: Dover Publications.
3. The Eco-Schools Programme is an international programme of the Foundation of Environmental Education (FEE) and is active in 51 countries around the world. (Source: eco-schools.htm.)
4. See:
5. See:
6. See:
7. See:
8. This commitment is part of the school’s mission statement.

Category: Featured Articles, Winter 2014

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