Jabulile School’s Journey

In 2019, the Jabulile School board of directors in Eswatini, perceived the need for an academic institution of relevance in the greater Mbabane district.

While ISASA is well-represented in our close-knit community of schools in the Mbabane district, in 2019, few institutions offered the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) Grade 12 final examination. We wanted to be one of them.

At the time, the IEB had concluded its close consideration of assessment reform, including in the following ways: As Anne Oberholzer, CEO at the IEB has said,

In 2014, education authorities in South Africa signalled that the National Senior Certificate (NSC) qualification would no longer be offered to learners outside the borders of the country. In response to this change in policy, the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) was motivated to develop a qualification to accommodate schools in Eswati, Mozambique and Namibia that have been registered with the IEB and writing the NSC since its inception. That was the trigger for the birth of the IEB International Secondary Certificate (IEB ISC) for students outside of South Africa. This is a qualification that certifies achievement at the conclusion of 12 years of schooling and serves as an indicator of preparedness for further study at the tertiary level.

Our first year

Thus brimming with enthusiasm, the three founding educators had planned the curricula for Grades 1, 2 and 3 We decided to implement project-based learning and teaching. While English home language would be the medium of instruction, both English and siSwati would be taught as home languages along with some conversational French.

We wanted each student to participate in the IEB Primary School Initiatives, Grades 3 and 6 Core Skills and Grade 7 MATCH. The Primary School Initiatives aim to broaden the awareness of the importance of good teaching and assessment practices at the primary school level.

Pupils at Jabulile School in Eswatini

Ready, steady, go?

So it was that in January 2020, 23 little people and three motivated and innovative educators, a receptionist, parents, and the chairperson of the board and his directors, began the countdown to the opening of Jabulile School.

Six weeks later COVID-19 gripped our world and along with the rest of the world we came to a standstill. We spent the first two weeks of hard lockdown in a dazed state wondering ‘What now?’

Our renewed plan was to reopen our doors in May 2020, as per our original calendar. But none of us had anticipated the unyielding and prolonged lockdown. How were we to communicate? Surrounded by mighty granite outcrops, internet connectivity was sketchy at the very best, and SMART interactive whiteboards were scheduled for implementation only in 2021. Parents in different outlying areas had even greater access challenges.

Comfortable camping chairs, prepacked readers and the pavement outside our children’s homes became the classrooms for each day. Initial medical advice was that the virus was active for seven days, so we left the children’s readers untouched for seven days, then picked them up, sanitised them and swapped.

Our virtual learning was bitty. Most of our children were given the ‘old home cellphones’ and lessons had to happen via these small screens. Where we could we loaned out tablets. Work packs, Google Classroom and Zoom were the watch words. Work-from-home parents initially enjoyed the experience. The cost of data was a parental challenge – yet each family met their fee obligations.

Slow but steady

As more information became available globally, we slowly began to offer ‘home schooling at school’. This was not an original Jabulile plan, but, with end-of-school assessments looming, it was a system set up within the homes of dedicated high school teachers in our region. Our learners were divided into three daily groups and attended lessons either on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. On Thursdays and Fridays we continued with the online learning.

Our educators remained positive, energetic and enthusiastic! Our plans were evolving and our enrolment had increased because our ‘home schooling at school’ was working.

The game changer

Then along came 2021. By then our enrolment had increased to 100. New parents arrived bringing stories how their children had been deprived of any learning during hard lockdown. Out of approximately 34 independent schools in one town, four had closed down. Many parents were literally tearful and several had travelled great distances to plead with us while anticipating the same daily travel time for their children.

Our Jabulile community could not stand by and allow these additional learners to spend another year without learning. We met with those who had internet issues or childcare concerns, or who had lost grandparents who had been carers and felt that the landscape was barren and dreadfully sad.

The challenges for our board of directors included unanticipated financial expectations for extra teaching staff, and additional furniture and fittings such as hand basins. Despite all the challenges, none of us was prepared to give up on our vision, our work ethic, or our dreams. We liaised with colleagues globally – in Australasia, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, the United States and, above all, with our colleagues in southern Africa. Our isolation here in the beautiful Nkoyoyo mountains was alleviated by this global community.

Now our obligation to participate in the IEB Primary School Initiatives assessments loomed. Teachers and interns were appointed to cope with the extra classes and learners shifted to appropriate spaces.

Jabulile School always innovative

Always innovative

Teaching and learning continued apace; those who had missed eight months of learning joined extra tuition sessions on three afternoons per week. During the interminable and irritating lockdowns, we reverted to group learning on specific days, but always backed up by the catch-up classes. Parents were not expected to pay for the extra tuition and the passion of the educators was incredible.

Once again we re-imagined and redevised a programme that focussed on intentional interactive teaching and learning, but which now included learners who came from schools where the medium of teaching and learning was English as a second language. Our cross-curricular approach focussed on teaching and learning in both English and siSwati at home language level and in mathematics and natural sciences classes. Social studies in Grades 4 and 5 became project-based and research-oriented.

Our daily devotions were extended for an extra few minutes to include the religious education syllabus of the Eswatini Ministry of Education’s national curriculum. And, as intermittent and persistent lockdowns continued with the added dimension of pro-democratic and politically motivated interruption, our parents still continued to meet their financial commitments.

The here and now

Now we are in 2022 and our staff complement has increased to seven educators. STEM now incorporates the arts (STEAM), and natural and physical science is a key focus from Grade 1 to Grade 7. English is taught solely as a Home Language.

Entrepreneurial skills will continue to play a pivotal role in the economics and management sciences programme. As information technology exercises, our most senior students are running their own businesses, presenting business plans, budgets, and expenditure and profit margins on Excel spread sheets. We are a low-fee paying school, so our IT expectations depend on the willingness of the Foundation Phase parents to allow their children to bring tablets to class (those belonging to the parents). The acquisition of SMART boards is in progress.

Watch this space

While it is clearly evident that, despite the interventions, the effect of the pandemic will be with us for years to come, our constant re-evaluation of individual lessons within the individual topics of individual subjects is our daily modus operandi.

By the end of this year, we hope to have installed a multipurpose court for sporting activities. Next year will see us begin building our Grades 8 and 9 classrooms and introducing teacher in-service training.

Our responsibility is to actively continue taking note of global developments in teaching and learning to ensure that when our learners reach Grade 12 they will be ready for the start of their journey to destinations as yet unknown. At Jabulile we have begun with the end in mind.