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Premier Independent Primary School joins ISASA just before lockdown

| November 5, 2020 | 0 Comments

BY MARGARET CHIFAMBA

Premier Independent Primary School is located in the upmarket suburb of Thembelihle, in Eswatini’s capital city, Mbabane.

By virtue of the school being located on the outskirts of the central business district, it is surrounded by an urban community where all parents are abreast with the value of education. It first opened its doors on 12 September 2011 – at the start of the third and final term of the school calendar in Eswatini. For a school to start operating in the final term of the school calendar sends the signal and message that there was need for such an emergency.

The pressure to establish a new school arose after the nearby school, St Gabriel’s Independent School, had closed down in the middle of 2011, following the departure of its owners to the United Kingdom (UK). There was a need to provide continuity in terms of education for the learners. Premier Independent Primary School was then established as an independent school with no links whatsoever to St Gabriel’s – although that is from where the majority of the learners and teachers came. The directors of Premier were passionate about the education of learners who were previously at St Gabriel’s. The future of these learners was a top priority, evidenced in the resources that their parents had invested in their schooling.

Premier is physically located on the premises of the National Baptist Mission. The founding board and directors entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention in the United States (US). The MOU stated that land was legally leased on the National Baptist Mission grounds for the purpose of building and operating a school.

The enrolment when Premier opened its doors that year (2011) was 13. Among these learners were also Grade 7 pupils, who were supposed to sit for the Primary School Certificate external examinations that same year in November. The school administrators quickly had to look for an examination centre for these learners. They found one in Manzini, a town about 37 km away from Mbabane, where Premier is situated. Transportation was put in place to shuttle the learners to sit for their examinations. The school recorded a 100% pass rate that year.

The Premier ‘brand’

Every school is unique. Every school has a character, a history and a culture. For Premier, excellent results are the ‘brand’ of our school, and one of the major reasons why parents recognise it as a school to which to send their children. It sets us apart from other schools in our region, and in the country as a whole. Ever since the school started, we have boasted a 100% pass rate in the local Eswatini Primary Certificate Examinations every year. Since opening, the school has been rated one of the top 10 best schools in the country. In 2014, we were in first position! Our results vouch for our excellence.

Premier was able to secure sound, solid and committed teaching staff. The first head teacher was originally from the UK and had exposure to the structure and system of education in Eswatini. The teachers are from different countries, Eswatini included. For the school to maintain its international and crosscultural perspective and flavour, there is a need to keep such a mix of teachers. Subsequently, the learners attracted to the school have always been a solid multicultural mix, with English as the medium of communication. The teachers have a basic sociocultural awareness of the need to accept other people’s cultural identities.

Who we are

The prevailing situation at Premier is that there are 25 teachers, a school manager, a head teacher, a deputy head teacher, a bursar and a school administrative assistant and receptionist. We also have a handful of support staff. We have a team of dedicated teachers who are passionate about their work, and the team spirit that exists among the staff enhances the attainment of the school’s objectives and good results. The teachers work to improve their ability to teach, and are always keen to read and explore the techniques used by others in a never-ending effort to better themselves and their skills. Our main goal is to experience learning in a positive and balanced way, so that we get the best out of our learners.

Our students come from a variety of socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds and can vary greatly in cognitive ability and the ability to acquire learning skills effectively. The school is premised on an international perspective, aimed at serving the multicultural community that is fast growing in the small kingdom of Eswatini. The school advocates for the equitable treatment of both learners and staff members, despite differences in nationality, any form of disability or family background. The warm reception experienced by visitors and tourists who end up deciding to settle in the area has created an environment for the school to thrive. Therefore, the curriculum adopted by the school, after consultation with the parents, was the Enhanced Eswatini Primary School Curriculum. This year, it was envisaged that the introduction of the South African Independent Examinations Board (IEB)1 and the International Benchmark Tests (IBT)2 examinations, which are headquartered in Victoria, Australia, would benefit the learners who want to enrol in international schools for their high school education.

Premier has added computers, music and English literature as additional subjects. We have one of the best and fully equipped music classes in the country. We want to catch them young, help them develop their music skills and the knowledge and understanding needed to make music and to follow musicrelated careers, should they wish to do so. These subjects also encourage creativity, the ability to concentrate and work in a group, and study in these areas also builds self-confidence in children.

The school and the community

There is good rapport between the school and the community. Some parents come in handy in assisting the school to achieve its goals, maintaining a healthy lifestyle for the learners and enhancing acceptable values. There is an active involvement of parents in relation to the provision of information, consultation and training, depending on the prevailing situations. This enhances the much-needed support the school desires. The active involvement of parents enhances quality standards and addresses all elements that influence the well-being and the rights of the child as a learner.

Service to the community is a strong component of the curriculum and is also strongly supported by the parents. Learners experience the value of contributing annually to those who are generally less fortunate in the community. We teach the value of empathy by encouraging our learners to take action against poverty through the charitable giving of old toys, clothes, shoes, books, blankets and other things they no longer need. Recently, we donated to Mpaka Refugee Camp in Eswatini.

Our challenges

The biggest challenge the school faces currently is space for extracurricular facilities. The school has continued to grow and now has an enrolment of 416 learners. From the time it started up to this year, the school constructs two new classrooms every year, and this has taken up most of the space. The school needs a swimming pool and tennis court. We are still trying to find a parent or club that we can negotiate with to allow our learners to have their swimming lessons at a fee. The other challenge is school transport. We still don’t have our own school transport. This makes it difficult to transport learners to competitions and friendly matches, and on field trips. We have to depend on hiring – which, in turn, becomes quite expensive for the school.

We also have a challenge of late payment of school fees by some parents, while other parents do not pay fees at all, and then they end up withdrawing their children without consulting with the school. We constantly send fee payment reminders or call parents owing fees. At times, we withhold the end-of-term report until the final payment is made. Those who secretly withdraw their children are handed over to the school attorney.

Premier is expanding, due to a constant request from parents and other stakeholders to build a high school. We envisage Premier with a high school in the future for the continuity of the values that we instil in our learners. Premier also needs to acquire its own land, where we will have all the infrastructure and sporting facilities that we need, because we currently have such a shortage of space. Furthermore, in this larger space, we will be able to construct accommodation for our staff members, as lodging in our area is expensive and accommodation is scarce.

ISASA is important to us

We felt isolated and very lonely by not belonging to any association. We had only two schools in the area to compete with in ball games. We felt we were depriving our talented learners in the area of sport. We chose ISASA, because there were other advantages to such an affiliation, apart from sports. We felt the need to broaden our knowledge in terms of running a private school, and developing new relationships was one way of achieving this.

ISASA offers seminars and advice to keep member schools up to date on the latest innovations. ISASA also enables you to keep abreast of other independent schools. It opens up the opportunity to network professionally, which encourages the growth of a school – something we really needed at Premier. ISASA member schools support and help one another in reaching their professional goals through the development of skills in leadership. The access to an established support system of experienced people, who are motivated to get things done, was also something we really needed. At the moment, we feel the battle we have been fighting is already half won, although we have been a member for only three months! We now have access to a unique community of like-minded individuals where we share challenges and triumphs. Networking with professionals outside your place of employment gives one a broader perspective of the market.

Apart from unlocking all benefits that ISASA offers – updates, newsletters, informative resources, etc. – we also wanted to support the mission of ISASA. Adhering to its principles and expectations is a necessity for the survival of an independent school. The provision of a forum to exchange ideas is crucial for Premier, as we are still a developing school.

We joined at just the right time, only a few days before the abrupt closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Zoom discussion forums on a weekly basis have been of tremendous help. I don’t even want to imagine how we could have managed without support and guidance from ISASA.

The founding chairperson of the school board has continued to be the chairperson of the existing board at Premier. It is this board, working together with the current school administrators and teachers, that has been able to transition the school into an ISASA Introductory Member. We hasten to say that being part of ISASA family has always been the vision and desire of Premier.

We love being an independent school

Being an independent school comes with many advantages. The school has its own unique mission and selects learners through its own self-defined admission process. We also have the privilege to recruit expert teachers in various fields. We have the right to have a unique set of core values and approach to education, which makes us unique. Our independent status challenges us to provide exceptional and stimulating educational experiences.

References:

  1. See: https://www.ieb.co.za/
  2. See: https://ibt.acer.org/

Category: Spring 2020

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