Productivity in progress: understanding Unity College

| August 19, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Bruce Lindsay

Unity College is an independent special needs school in Witkoppen, Johannesburg, Gauteng, which enhances the inherent potential of learners through the provision of high-quality, pertinent education, culminating in school-leavers with the skills to become productive, integrated members of society.

Unity College is ideal for the learner who struggles in the average South African government remedial school. Our annual results (students write examinations in ABET Literacy and Numeracy,1 Knowledge Network’s2 computer examinations and the International Accredited Examinations, written through the Royal Society for Public Health and Edexcell3) will attest to this.

We cater for learners between the ages of six and 20 years, providing small class sizes to focus on individual needs. Twice a year, an individual development plan (IDP) is updated for each child to promote each child’s unique development of academic, social and emotional skills. Further, the IDP process is a vehicle to establish communication between parents and school personnel as equal partners, so that they can together make joint, informed decisions regarding the child’s needs and appropriate goals, and the support services needed to achieve the targets as set out in the IDP.

The school has three distinct phases:

1. Junior phase

The key focus in this phase is the improvement of perceptual skills, literacy, numeracy and life orientation.4 The ‘every child counts’ philosophy aims at empowering every child to achieve functional reading and numeracy skills and an awareness of ancillary subjects such as natural and social science. Therapeutic support comprises individual occupational, speech, remedial reading and educational psychology services, and an integrated approach to assess whether skills learned in therapy are transferred to other environments. Within this phase, there are up to four classes, varying from six to 12 learners.

2. Intermediate phase

There are two streams available within the intermediate phase:

  • a life orientation stream for those learners who require additional time to acquire literacy and numeracy skills and the skills needed to function independently
  • an academic/vocational stream: the main focus of this more traditional stream remains numeracy and literacy, with other Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS)5 subjects adapted to suit our learners’ needs. The teachers offer a differentiated approach, thus catering for each child’s unique profile. There are up to five classes in this phase.

3. Senior phase

At Unity College, we strive to strike a balance between promoting the child’s education and satisfying the requirements of work or further education, knowing that our learners need to acquire and apply knowledge and skills in ways that are meaningful to their own lives.

The two intermediate streams continue in this phase:

  • A life orientation stream: the curriculum promotes skills from which the learners will benefit throughout their lives. The aim of this stream is the promotion of independence and supported work placement:
  • compulsory core subjects: literacy, mathematical literacy, cookery for independent living, computer studies, social etiquette, career preparation and work experience
  • optional choice subjects: the learner chooses three – home management, basic horticulture, merchandiser, essential food hygiene, childcare, carer (small animals) or crafter.
  • A vocational training stream: the aim of this stream is for leavers to be integrated into and become productive members within society. In addition to compulsory subjects, seniors are offered a choice of vocational courses (some accredited and others pending accreditation). Pupils choose two subjects from Group A and one subject from Group B. The compulsory core subjects are: ABET communication in English, ABET mathematical literacy and life orientation, computer studies, cookery for independent living, design and technology, career preparation and work experience.

From Group A, pupils may choose either maintenance, educare (crèche assistant), chef ’s assistant (an accredited course) or office skills (for this course, it is recommended to choose computers from Group B).

From Group B, pupils may choose either computers or carpentry.

All senior learners (in both streams) participate in our Work Experience programme, which takes place once a week. The programme starts with an introductory work skills development component within a sheltered work environment and, when ready, learners progress onto more independent work experience placements in the open labour market. Being part of the school curriculum, the learners work on a voluntary basis with no remuneration. Work placements allow the learners to apply and practise skills related to work ethics and effective communication. Work experience also provides learners with opportunities to develop work profiles and to gain a practical sense of reality in terms of goals and expectations of the job market.

Our senior Work Experience programme actively looks at the integration aspects of where the student might ‘fit’ into society when they are ready to leave school. Our Life Orientation programme clearly sets out examples of what we feel our children should be able to achieve competently regarding independence.

At Unity College, ‘productive’ is our favourite word. It implies that our children not only integrate into society, but find a sense of purpose and add value by bringing their unique contribution to society.

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Category: Featured Articles, Spring 2014

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