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Trailblazers: Mokopane Destiny Academy forges a new future

| August 22, 2018 | 0 Comments


Two qualified teachers, 13 children, a double garage and a vision of training leaders to shape the future… these were the ingredients used to establish Mokopane Destiny Academy (MDA) in 2007

The seed, however, started germinating much earlier, when Minda Marshall chose to home school her three children at a time when home schooling was met with resistance in the conservative town of Mokopane in Limpopo. Marshall, however, saw amazing things unfold in the educational development of her children – and so did the members of Destiny Alive, the congregation she pastors alongside her husband, Thomas. “Parents in the church realised something was happening and were looking for something more than the traditional schooling system to equip their children,” says Marshall. While these parents didn’t have all the answers, they decided to take a leap of faith. They converted the Marshall’s double garage into a learning centre, since the only funding available was from them and the Destiny Alive congregation. Two parents, who happened to be qualified, working high school teachers, became the first teachers of what was then called Compass Christian Academy. The school’s name was later changed to Mokopane Destiny Academy. Over the past 10 years, it has expanded from the double garage to encompass an entire house and all its outbuildings. Two years ago, the Destiny Alive team again showed their commitment to educating the youth of their town, by building a state-of-the-art school building, which was completed in April 2017.
Today, the school boasts close to 100 learners from the greater Mogalakwena area. MDA has grown beyond the realm of the Destiny Alive congregation into an English-medium school of choice. Learners from all spheres of society are united here in learning through world-class best practices in education. More than a curriculum From the outset, MDA was firmly established as a Christian school. The Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) system was the logicalcurriculum choice. Parents were comfortable with this curriculum. ACE has since changed to Accelerated Education Enterprises (AEE).1 MDA has kept pushing the envelope, with constant change and progress being the norm for teachers, learners and parents. “The school’s core purpose is to train leaders for tomorrow, and as renowned leadership thinker John Maxwell says, ‘Leadership is about influence,’2 and we all have influence,” says Elaine Jansen van Rensburg, chairperson of the school’s management team. She explains that this influence extends beyond culture, race or even academic ability. Somewhere along the line, each learner is going to be in a position to influence someone. The underpinning principle of the school management team is to have leaders at all levels of society and to develop these learners holistically to take up their place and have a positive impact on their communities and environment. “Everyone, no matter what their challenges or needs are, is therefore a potential leader,” says Jansen van Rensburg. This approach to people and the fact that MDA stems from a church attended by people of all races and different home languages means the school never went through the challenges of becoming inclusive in a racial or social context. “For the MDA team, transformation has never been a political challenge. It has always been a process of returning to what education is supposed to be – the holistic development of a child,” explains Marshall.

A four-pronged approach

“Holistic development of a child rests on four pillars,” says Jansen van Rensburg. “We teach them to be, to do, to live with others, and to know. The school’s decision to invest equal energy to all four pillars is not based on a simple need to offer something different.” Research by the Institute of Employment Studies on Employers’ Perceptions of Key Skills3 show that the pillars many schools conventionally tend to focus on are not the highest on the priority lists of employers. Generally, companies seek balanced individuals with strong communication skills and abilities to work in a team. That is why MDA takes schooling way beyond maths, literature and science. Eight core competencies are developed in learners: curiosity, creativity, criticism, communication, collaboration, compassion, composure and citizenship. Through these competencies, students learn to ask questions and explore how the world works, to analyse information and ideas to form reasoned arguments and judgements, and to express thoughts and feelings clearly and confidently in a range of media and forms. They master the ability to work constructively with others, to have empathy with others and act accordingly, to connect with the inner life of feeling and develop a sense of personal harmony and balance, and to engage constructively with society and participate in the processes that sustain it. Jansen van Rensburg explains that “learning to know” is the impartation of knowledge and the only pillar most schools have traditionally focused on until now. The other three pillars tend to fall by the wayside. “Many schools still simply share knowledge, teach children to do maths, science and history, but neglect the rest of their development.” “Learning to be”, for instance, is the spiritual side of education, and through it a person has the power to change their reality through taking responsibility for the elements that shape it. Learners are guided to understand how their belief system determines their value systems and how their values, in turn, determine the way in which they will perceive and interpret situations in life. Pastor Thomas Marshall explains that learners who know how to evaluate their beliefs, check their values and their impact on their perceptions will be in control of their own reality. “When their reality is not what they want it to be, they have the tools to go back, evaluate and realign the underpinnings and change it.” “Learning to do” takes place through, well, doing, and Jansen van Rensburg cites one of the latest MDA projects as an example. Using the theme “War Against Plastic”, learners from each phase put to use the eight core disciplines the school teaches to research and develop ways of dealing with plastic waste material. They must use everything from maths and science to the arts to develop a functional and sustainable project. Jansen van Rensburg says that learners have identified that bricks made from recycled plastics can be sold to build homes and become a business for the learners.


“While all this is taking place, our focus is not entirely on what they are doing here now, it’s about the development in the brain,” says Marshall. “We’re busy building a system into these children that will equip them for a future we cannot quite envision yet.” She quotes a report by Dell Technologies, which predicts that 85% of the jobs of the future have not been “invented” yet.4 “We don’t know what the future holds, so we’ll have to teach children problem-solving skills, critical thinking patterns and help them develop an analytical- and solutions-driven mindset. These are the things they will need to be successful citizens that positively contribute to their environment, no matter what it looks like,” she says, adding that MDA’s vision is to empower children to be leaders of the future, not mere survivors. “We want to be catalysts for a revolution in education in South Africa.” The key to making a difference in a child’s future lies in doing the right things in the present, and getting the present development of children right in an holistic context. It is about more than just a well-balanced curriculum. MDA believes the successful resourcing, equipping and training of children is a partnership between parents and educators. While this is easily achieved with children whose parents are part of the Destiny Alive congregation, the majority of learners and their families do not belong to the church. Parents are invited to participate in various planned activities throughout the year. These include family picnics, father-and-son camps, mother-and-daughter days and quarterly parent evenings. “By working with the school, parents ensure that accurate value systems are built into the lives of their children,” says Marshall. “By putting into effect at home what is taught at school, our students really become strong and confident leaders. “We always have a meeting with parents before they enrol their children to explain that they are not simply enrolling their child, but forming a partnership.”

“For the MDA team, transformation has never been a political challenge. It has always been a process of returning to what education is supposed to be – the holistic development of a child.”

This is why the school prefers to enrol children at a young age. “We want to go the distance with the learner and his parents, preferably from younger than 13 years old. The school’s management team does, however, make exceptions where an older learner with potential to influence his or her community is willing to come in and honour the school’s ethos.” The younger the learners are, the more they benefit from MDA’s teaching modes. It is easier for them to adjust to a modern learner-driven system wherein children, to a large degree, take responsibility for their own education by active participation. “Unlike the traditional system, we don’t work with school bells or with traditional lessons for specific subjects,” explains Jansen van Rensburg. “When we are busy with a concept, we don’t have to stop after 30 to 45 minutes because the bell has rung. We can carry on and make sure that concept is properly embedded in the learner’s understanding.”


Some of the disciplines developed at MDA don’t exist in any other school or curriculum, at least not in the same way. Elsabé Brits, the MDA senior phase principal, started developing a module called visual literacy more than 10 years ago as an English teacher at a local high school. “I realised people are exposed to an ever-widening stream of information. Without proper guidance, they have no idea how to process and store this information in a way that will contribute meaningfully to their decision-making.” Brits explains that what children see on television and smartphone screens ends up in their memory banks, and without proper context, they may draw distorted conclusions from the information. “A child sees one man punch another in a conflict situation for the first time and files it in his or her mind. That image may influence the child’s reference for conflict resolution.” She teaches her learners to evaluate what they see and hear, and to question the intention of the sender of the message. One example of her work is dissecting a television advert. The learners will then participate in a class discussion where they look at everything, from the way photographers use focus and composition, to the way graphic designers pick colours, to the angles film-makers choose. Now learners have the power to filter what they accept and what they reject as irrelevant, untrue or simply bad for them, and what they keep and the context they keep it in. All learners are also automatically enrolled with LectorSA,5 an online system developed to empower learners to improve visual processing and cognitive skills and strategies so that they can unlock the information in their curriculum. “In the end, they must not only remember what is in the curriculum, they must use what they have learnt to develop new knowledge,” says Marshall.

The bigger picture

From the state-of-the art school building to the cutting-edge teaching strategies, the MDA team believes its purpose extends beyond the interests of its own learners. “There is an urgent need for education and training in Limpopo. One of the reasons we are pursuing all these things is because we want to show schools and teachers in our region what is possible – we don’t have to keep doing the same old thing and expect different results,” says Marshall. “People need to realise we shouldn’t only think out of the box. We should get rid of the box altogether!”

Jasper Raats is an independent journalist

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Category: Winter 2018

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