‘Ubi stellas fulgebunt’ – ‘Where stars begin to shine’ – is the motto of Karoo Akademie, a small independent school in the middle of the Karoo. In this peaceful space, we open little people’s minds and eyes.
About six years ago, a group of parents came up with the idea to open a school for the children of Carnarvon in the Northern Cape Province. They wanted to keep their children close to home for as long as possible before sending them away into the world. At that time, the children were all part of a home-school system, but the parents were in search of something more, something where the children would get exposed to a proper school structure. Thus the idea of Karoo Akademie was born.
Parents wanted an Afrikaans medium school with qualified teachers, a structured day-to-day programme, school uniforms, an acting school governing body, effective and relevant school policies, extra-curricular activities, and a hostel for children from the nearby farming community. The founders of the school then made this dream a reality. Classrooms were built, teachers were appointed, and Karoo Akademie opened on 17 January 2018, with 43 learners from Grade R to Grade 7, and five qualified teachers.
Today, six out of seven classes are multigrade with Grade 1, which provides all learners with a strong foundation, being the only exception. The school’s curriculum is based on the National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement, so that after Grade 7 learners will be able to fit in easily at any mainstream high school.
Not only do we provide a safe learning environment, but we also offer a safe home away from home for six learners in the school’s hostel. The matron is a skilled and energetic mom who provides a homely atmosphere for the children.
The hostel provides lunch and after school classes for those children who remain at school for extramural activities and for those who don’t have care at home in the afternoons. The hostel is on the same premises as the school buildings and this makes it more practical for us to use the same facilities for other purposes. The well-equipped kitchen is often used for functions and fundraisers for the school.
Prolonged drought and then the pandemic: How we came through
One of the most significant problems we have had to face was the long-lasting drought of more than eight years in the Karoo. Many of our students were born or were very young during this time and only had a vague idea of what rain really was. Many adults lost their jobs, businesses closed and farms were left empty: all this was the norm.
The school’s finances were directly impacted because it became more and more difficult for our parents and guardians to pay the school fees, which was and still is our main source of income. We were unable to generate an income through fundraisers, which are a most important source of funds on which we strongly depend to keep the school fees as low as possible.
The drought also had a great impact on the wider community, which the school relies on for support and financial help. The community is very involved in school activities and supports all the functions and fundraising activities. Without this support the financial burden would have been much greater on our parents and guardians.
All our financial challenges forced us to think outside the school as a Public Benefit Organisation, which allowed us to ask companies and individuals for financial support outside the boundaries of Carnarvon. The support was overwhelming, and, because of this, Karoo Akademie was able to develop a Learner Aid fund, a significant portion of which was reserved for children from the farming community.
Individuals, companies and the Drought Relief fund initiated by various agricultural initiatives all contributed to our Learner Aid fund. Not only did Karoo Akademie receive financial support, but all the learners also received donations like stationary, school supplies, food, clothes and toiletries. The kind of gratitude we felt went as far and wide as the plains of the Karoo. We were astonished, and we hope that someday we will be able to make the same kind of difference in someone else’s life.
In the middle of the drought, the COVID-19 pandemic started and thus 2020 will probably be remembered as one of the most difficult years for many schools. We were forced to think and do things differently to ensure that teaching and learning could continue.
After a thorough assessment, each teacher was able to set up a distance learning plan that accommodated every child in her specific class. Teachers had to deal with students’ limited access to computers, data, printers and mobile networks, yet they still managed to produce creative videos, stories and worksheets that were enjoyed not only by the students, but also by parents and guardians.
Daily communication and interaction were very important to help the teachers keep track of each learner’s progress.Different assessment tools were introduced, and the teachers were able to keep track of the learner’s progress and their understanding of the curriculum. Where needed, extra attention was given.
Getting going again
Luckily, with permission from the Department of Education, we were able to re-open the school after the hard lockdown levels were adjusted. With all the strict COVID-19 regulations in place, it was great to be back at school. The personnel and learners quickly got used to the new normal, and it was very clear that the children had missed the school routine and the interactions with peers and teachers. However, some learners did not return to school after hard lockdown and this had an adverse effect on our planning and finances.
Fortunately, however, at the beginning of 2022, we suddenly received a great many enquiries about our school. New parents were asking for admission to Karoo Akademie. Their biggest concern was the standard of their children’s schoolwork and if their child was on the required level, especially those coming from other schools and those who had suffered due to a lack of teaching and learning during the hard lockdown period.
A new phase of expansion
Today we are pleased to announce that Karoo Akademie is expanding, and we are planning to start building new classrooms and to appoint new teachers. Our next goal is to buy the school premises from the current owner so that we can develop our own sport facilities, including an athletics track, tennis courts, a jukskei court, a swimming pool, a facility for all the cultural activities, and a robotics centre.
Two of our teachers have had the opportunity to attend a robotics training session held by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory in Carnarvon. This training session opened a new world of technology for us, and we are urgently seeking funding so that we can include robotics as one of our extramural activities.
We strongly believe in the holistic development of each child and the importance of extramural activities. Our focus is mainly on individual sports, such as tennis, athletics, jukskei, swimming and cycling. Parents, guardians, and members of the community help us with training and we use municipal and private facilities. Alongside the sport activities we also offer cultural activities, such as drama, art, guitar training and participation in the Eisteddfod competition.
Faith and pride go hand in hand
Although Karoo Akademie is small, and we have had to overcome many obstacles, we are very proud of our achievements. Each year we look back and feel proud. We can only hope, pray and work hard to keep on growing and to make sure all our dreams and prospects become a reality. But our focus will always be on our faith and the overall wellbeing of our learners. May all their stars shine bright now and for ever.