Bulungula College pupils

Bulungula College: Impacting Generational Change

Sakh’ iinkhokheli zesizwe ngobuntu’ (‘Building the nation’s leaders through humanity’) is the stated ethos of Bulungula College.

The spirit of ubuntu – humanity, togetherness – motivates people to tackle the most intractable challenges in the world today. These are challenges that we have to address in order to build a society in which we all want to live. This vision is not worth aspiring to if our young people cannot take their place alongside us. Without a decent shot at a good education, and the support needed to ensure a productive vocation, we know that our youth will be lost. This is the challenge that Bulungula College is addressing head on.

Bulungula College is a project run by the Bulungula Incubator, a non-profit organisation that was established in 2007, in a remote rural region of the former Transkei on the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape. When the Bulungula Incubator was established, there was no road, no access to healthcare, no functioning school, no electricity, no sanitation of any kind, and no access to safe drinking water. Only a handful of people had ever succeeded in achieving their matric certificate; almost all adults in the village were illiterate.

For their livelihoods, the people of the area were reliant on subsistence farming, government grants, and wage remittances from migrant workers. The health of the population was compromised not only by the inaccessibility to health care, but also by insufficient health knowledge, poor nutrition, poor water quality, HIV and neuro-cysticercosis, the last a direct result of the lack of access to effective sanitation.

From its launch in 2007, the Bulungula Incubator steadily built an integrated rural development strategy to address these challenges and now implements projects ranging from education, to healthcare, to sustainable livelihoods and youth development. There was one glaring void for the youth in our area: nowhere to obtain a matric certificate and complete one’s schooling.

Bulungula College classroom

Disturbing data drove a dream

Using data from the surrounding schools in 2015, it was found that approximately 95% of the learners from Xhora Mouth Administrative Area, in which the Bulungula Incubator is located, do not ever complete Grade 12. There is no functioning scholar transport from the area to any high school or college. Learners who wanted to continue beyond Grade 9 would have to rent accommodation away from their families and care for themselves, while still being young and vulnerable teenagers.

In response, the Bulungula Incubator established our most ambitious project yet: Bulungula College High School in 2019 as a no-fee independent school. An inclusive Job Skills and Entrepreneurial Programme followed in 2020. We cater for learners in Grades 10-12, and have an intake of approximately 30 learners in the Job Skills Programme.

In 2021, Bulungula College graduated its first class and 28 learners gained their matric certificates (a 64% pass rate). To put this in context: since 2005, an average of six people from our community had graduated from high school each year. Therefore 2021 represents by far the most learners to ever graduate in a single year in the area.

Half of our learners are 20 years or older and have failed multiple years during primary school. Many had given up on education altogether until the opening of Bulungula College. Of the parents of the 28 matriculants, only one had ever completed high school; the vast majority never completed primary school. It is our sense that this might be the highest level of parental body illiteracy of any school class cohort in the country.

Parental levels of education and literacy are correlated with the academic achievement of their children; it follows that our learners are burdened with a surfeit of challenges, yet they have persevered and overcome many challenges to get to this point, including those of a fledgling school finding its wings during COVID-19. One of Bulungula College’s markers is to measure its achievement based on the community and our unique circumstances: graduating 28 matrics is a profound accomplishment for the area.

Bulungula College rural unvironment

The Job Skills and Entrepreneurial Programme

But this is just the start. The team at Bulungula College, with the support of the Bulungula Incubator, worked hard these past three years to be able to offer quality schooling for learners in Grades 10-12. ISASA regional director Mariette Visser facilitated an intensive strategic planning workshop in January 2022. The school’s vision, mission, values, and ethos were revamped and an actionable plan was put in place to provide the best possible quality education for our young people. A cornerstone of this plan is to improve access to productive vocational paths through the Job Skills and Entrepreneurial Programme (JSEP).

Launched in 2020, the JSEP is a model for grooming young people to be workplace ready. Learners have opportunities to earn a driver’s licence, gain computer skills and receive formal and practical training in a chosen vocation. The JSEP also focusses on soft skills, aiming to develop well-rounded employees who are confident, reliable and committed to excellence.

Bulungula College has licencing agreements with three accredited service providers through which learners can access remote learning on campus. The JSEP has been equipped with televisions and connectivity, using solar energy only, through which trainers can be streamed into the classroom and course material delivered to the standards of the relevant Sector Education and Training Authority.

The course trainer/facilitator does not need to be physically present, and the live streamed sessions are sufficient, because Bulungula College employs a content specialist to be in the classroom and to guide learners through the learning materials. Course materials, with the permission of the accredited course provider, are translated into isiXhosa, the local vernacular. This allows for access to learning and teaching of a wide range of accredited courses in the most remote locations.

We hope this is a model that can be replicated in other remote communities to the benefit of more rural youth.

To enhance their employability, funded internships are then hosted by appropriate Bulungula Incubator programmes in office administration, agriculture, early childhood development, community health work, and communications, or for artisanal skills like electrical work, welding, carpentry, and plumbing. The internships are funded by YES4YOUTH.

With its academic stream at the Bulungula College and the vocational training and support at the JSEP, a model has been developed for inclusion of the most remotely located rural communities. Motivated by our common humanity, we are giving rural youth a true chance of becoming our nation’s leaders.