By Sarah Kingon
When confronted by the inequity in the South African schooling system, Grahamstown resident, Kelly Long, decided to get involved.
“Since I became a parent, I have realised that everyone wants to see their children succeed. Our children are growing up in a country that lets them down. I can at least do my bit, in my corner, to see change happen,” said Long.
Long has been involved with Grahamstown Area Distress Relief Association (GADRA) Education for eight years. She heads up the three-tiered Primary Education Programme (PEP) with the help of Zinzi Kellen and a “very part-time” field worker.
Long fell into this sort of work by accident after working alongside her mother, Rhona Duncan, as part of the Mobile Science Lab. Long gave up her work in Public Relations and Marketing to look after her children and wanted to find a niche where she could be involved. But the science lab wasn’t it.
“I was first confronted by the inequalities when I worked at the mobile science lab. I had no idea about the poor resources at non-fee paying schools. I felt passionate about this type of work and wanted to get more involved, but my science skills were limited.”
She soon heard about GADRA Education and took up the post on a part-time basis for the first year, before she decided to take over their Primary Schools programme.
The PEP team analyses teachers’ skills gaps to develop and coordinate a workshop programme to fill the gaps. All public primary schools in Grahamstown participate in this multi-faceted programme.
“I want to help teachers feel supported. Teaching can be a very lonely job and teachers are constantly being vilified in the media,” said Long.
Long is a sceptic when it comes to workshops. “Generally workshops perpetuate waste-of-time stuff. It ends up being a whole lot of talking and nothing useful comes out of it,” she said.
To combat this problem, Long and her team have set intensely practical workshops. Questionnaires, interviews and classroom observations are used to follow up on workshops to ensure that their work is not done in vain and is being fed back into the classroom. Over the years, the PEP team has rethought and refined the programme to ensure its effectiveness.
GADRA Education is working towards making this workshop series count towards Continued Professional Teacher Development Points (CPTD), now required for any teacher applying for a job.
The base tier also consists of the Grahamstown primary principals’ forum, which brings together public school principals to provide support through discussion and advice.
The second, advocacy tier involves school governing bodies and parents. “I believe there will be no change until parents understand their children’s rights and advocate for those rights,” said Long. The Parent Engagement Programme assists parents in understanding their responsibilities towards their children, what can be expected from schools and government, and how parents can fight for their child’s rights to be realised.
“We want to help parents understand that just because they aren’t paying fees, doesn’t mean they should accept poor quality,” said Long.
The third tier is a “whole school development” project, in which one school participates. Samuel Ntsiko School was selected for 2014. The PEP team helped establish a computer room for the first time, train staff in computer skills, ensure that the library was being used regularly, and assist staff with workshops to build a sense of community among staff members.
“I’m spurred on by small wins. When you see a young child suddenly realise they can read it’s the most incredible thing in the world,” said Long.
PEP is one of four programmes facilitated by GADRA Education. Other projects include: the GADRA Matric School, where those who have already written the NSC exam have the opportunity to redo some subjects to get cumulative matric pass; the Bursary Programme, for local Grahamstown students studying at Rhodes University; the Commercial Centre, which runs along similar lines to Cape Midlands College; and the Adult Education Programme, which provides training in basic computer skills.