The Constructivist Approach at Broadacres Academy

Broadacres Academy in Johannesburg, Gauteng, was born out of a desire to create a place of learning where children can continue to learn safely in a natural environment.

In 2016, progressive educators André de Coning and Dylan Cavanagh acquired the well-known Broadacres Farm Nursery School, which had originally been established in 1981. With a strong vision for a fresh educational approach De Coning and Cavanagh constructed new premises adjacent to the wooden hut that had housed the original school. They renamed the school Broadacres Academy.

The school has moved rapidly to accommodate higher grades – currently it goes up to Grade 6 and is in the process of constructing facilities to go up to Grade 9 by 2022 and Grade 12 by 2025.

The rebranding is important as it signals the more contemporary constructivist approach to learning that Broadacres Academy has adopted. This approach assumes that learning is natural and that children are born with an innate desire and ability to learn. It recognises that each child learns differently and develops differently. It challenges the typical traditional education tendency to constantly compare learners to each other in ways that create anxiety and fear.

Repositioning purpose alongside passion

Many teachers in outdated, standardised schooling systems are faced with the daily frustration of seeing how schooling as we know it stifles children’s love of learning.

In so many schools, the Intermediate Phase of schooling – subjects, bells, homework projects, tests and examinations – turns learning into a managerial convenience, and the joy of learning often fades, as children are faced with marks and averages; and being pitted against fellow learners in a battle for the best prize at valediction.

By the time children reach the Senior Phase, they have developed a dislike for school, and they believe learning is a stagnant process of regurgitating information the teacher pushes at you to determine the value of your knowledge as compared to the next child.

In our post-modern world, there is a definitive need to move schooling and learning away from the industrialised model of behaviourist teaching to the constructivist model of learning that allows children to be engaged contributors in their daily learning.

At Broadacres Academy teachers always remind children: ‘You may not be able to do it yet, but you will in time!’ They will all eventually understand and become proficient in the necessary skills. They just need to maintain their love of learning and their confidence in themselves.

Broadacres Academy playschool

Exponential growth and a strong partnership with Skye Education

Currently the school is 600 children strong and goes up to Grade 6. The exponential growth since 2016 has been due to four main contributing factors:

  • the steadfast belief in the learning philosophy of the school and being able to deliver the curriculum in a constructivist way,
  • unique facilities, with purpose-built, flexible learning spaces,
  • the quality of the teaching staff and their determination to ensure that the learning environment is conducive to engaging children in their natural love of learning, and
  • an affordable pricing structure, which aims to deliver quality education and also serve the needs of a large group of South African parents.

In 2017, De Coning and Cavanagh, partnered with Skye Education. This move, together with Skye Education’s enthusiasm for Broadacres Academy’s educational vision, secured the financial support required to fully develop the Broadacres vision.

What followed over the next three years was the development of a unique school and learning environment. The original ‘Vision 2020’, which was to have a fully developed preparatory school by the end of 2020, has now been achieved. With the development of the high school campus now underway Skye Education is excited expanding the Broadacres Academy brand.

Communal learning area at Broadacres Academy

Developing the high school

Broadacres Academy High School is situated within three kilometres of the pre-school and preparatory school campus. The plan is to have the current preparatory school campus as a dedicated junior preparatory school up to Grade 3, with a bridging class in each grade.

The new junior high school buildings (due for completion in 2022) will be situated directly across the road from the senior preparatory school (Grades 4 – 6). The close proximity of the senior prep to the junior high school (Grade 7– 9) will create a unique Intermediate Phase learning environment. This will give the older preparatory school children access to bigger and better sporting facilities, as they become more specialised in their chosen sporting disciplines.

The senior phase (Grades 7 – 9) and the Further Education and Training Phase (FET) (Grades 10 – 12) will be on the same campus, creating pods of learning that are focused on the needs of each phase. The focus in the Senior and FET phases moves strategically towards more specialised learning, allowing students to focus on their strengths and to discover what drives their interests and passion.

By the time they reach the FET phase, students need to have a good understanding of how they learn and know what subjects they want to take to matric to complete the National Senior Certificate under the auspices of the Independent Examinations Board. Colleen Traviss-Lea has been tasked with driving the Broadacres Academy vision in the high school, which opens its doors to its first Grades 7, 8 and 9 students in January 2022.

The constructivist educational philosophy that Broadacres Academy applies from pre-school to high school enables children to become lifelong learners and to be better equipped to face the challenges of post school life, be it in university or in whatever vocation they may choose to follow.