Culture Unlocked at Bishops Diocesan College

One of the biggest challenges of the first ‘hard-lockdown’ was to keep our Bishops Diocesan College community in Cape Town connected.

Bishops started to address this challenge by developing an online cultural programme for our school community that would be varied and sustainable. We also wanted it to last beyond lockdown.

A positive spin-off of the lockdown was the increased amount of time families were spending together. Bishops tapped into this by providing regular one-hour, Wednesday evening, online broadcasts that families could watch together.

We spent some time investigating various technical solutions and ended up using a combination of Microsoft Teams and YouTube to present our weekly broadcast from a small local studio in Cape Town. Each show had a theme, usually linked to one of the societies at Bishops, and it was hosted or introduced by a boy or staff member from that society.

Guests typically joined us on the show, either live in the studio or via a Zoom call inserted into the picture. One of the challenges was to keep the productions COVID-19 compliant, while still interactive. We often ‘zoomed’ in pupils and teachers who interacted with the various guest speakers, while the broader audience was able to ask questions via a moderated chat feature on Teams. We branded the production as ‘Culture Unlocked’ and included an opening ‘jingle’ with a Bishops-based video and music.

Something for everyone

The spectrum of programmes was designed to cater to a wide range of interests and featured amongst others: the comedian/ventriloquist Conrad Koch who explored ‘Racism in our society’; our Gourmet Society, which featured Dish Food and Social, with a lockdown cooking show; and the Entrepreneurship and Investment Society, which looked at the post-COVID-19 economy with Martin Kingston of Business South Africa.

We also examined sport and training with a talk by Dr Ross Tucker that explored ‘Talent versus Training’; and we had a Rugby World Cup retrospective with a conversation hosted by our 1st XV coach, Wesley Chetty, together with World Cup winner Francois Louw (streamed in from Bath, England) and broadcaster Matt Pearce.

Plus, we launched a new society at Bishops: the Law Society, with guest law expert, Professor Bradley Slade. The Accelerated Art Programme interviewed renowned South African photographic artists Hasan and Husain Essop; local comedian Alan Committee provided a side-splitting show; we featured multiple music concerts including staff concerts, the Bishops Composers’ Concert (featuring boys’ compositions) and pupil concerts; and we even ran the final of our Inter-House Debating competition live from the studio.

Societies online

Towards the end of 2020, the Political Society arranged for a group conversation with Joe Hansen, past director of the US Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who was streamed in from Washington. It was wonderful to see the levels of engagement and the open conversation that developed between the boys and a senior figure in the US election arena.

The evening was a watershed moment in moving our school societies into the online space, where boys can engage with anyone around the world. As a result, the societies are starting to meet online more frequently, with a permanent ‘Societies Online’ platform enabling them to talk to speakers anywhere in the world.

Many strategists have discussed the way in which some companies have used the COVID-19 pandemic to create new markets that will continue to enhance their value beyond the pandemic. We hope Bishops has taken on this challenge to develop a broader, more diverse, and interesting experience through which boys can explore culture and the world.

Vusa Academy

Twenty years ago, a visionary Bishops teacher and a Bishops alumnus began a programme for primary school children in Langa township in Cape Town. They called the programme VUSA – the isiXhosa word for ‘awaken’. While the programme initially addressed the lack of structured sport in the Langa community, as it developed, greater needs were identified.

The root cause of the challenges that some of South Africa’s youth face – such as poor mental and physical health, addiction, homelessness, crime, and family breakdown – is often attributed to deficiencies in early childhood.

If one fast forwards to today, VUSA Rugby and Learning Academy (a registered NPO/PBO) now offers a structured after school programme with academic support, rugby as the primary sport, recreational outings, and a daily meal for 200 primary school children in the community. VUSA also employs 12 men and women from the Langa community, who act as teachers, coaches and most importantly, role models for the children.

As early intervention is key, VUSA staff support four registered early childhood development centres in Langa. Sessions aid numeracy and literacy development through play. This year will also see the launch of the VUSA Mobile Library (a generous donation from a Bishops family), which will visit Langa creches each day with books and puzzles to ignite a love of books and stimulate young minds.

What makes the VUSA programme so special and unique, is its partnership with Bishops. The school offers both financial and administrative support to the programme. Furthermore, it opens up channels of engagement for children from two vastly different backgrounds. Peer learning programmes between Bishops and VUSA children offer opportunities for engagement, breaking down both perceived and real barriers.

Not only does this programme benefit our children in Langa, but the Bishops pupils are also equipped with a better understanding of South Africa, themselves, and their role in society as conscious, caring active citizens.