A child’s neighbourhood can significantly impact their school experience. In South Africa, it’s not unheard of that children would skip school because of crime, gangsterism or street protests in their neighbourhoods. Connecting with supportive community members can help build a sense of safety and stability for learners living in dangerous neighbourhoods, while also giving them a range of role models and mentors.
Siphamandla Ngwenya, a teacher in Kraaifontein in the Western Cape, knows first-hand how crime and neighbourhood safety affects school attendance. Learners in his school come from challenging households where they often don’t have the presence of a reliable and caring adult.
“Many of these children don’t stay with their parents,” Ngwenya explains.
Often teachers play this supportive role, but they simply cannot attend to the needs of all their learners because of their heavy workloads and the realities of the schooling system. Getting the community involved to build systems of support for learners can help take the burden off individual teachers.
Ngwenya is among the first cohort of Champion Teachers joining Yethu Network of Schools. To date, he has recruited 32 members to join his school’s Yethu Club. Together, members of the club find ways to improve their school’s culture and reduce dropout.
Ngwenya is responsible for leading the charge against dropout and coordinating the activities of his school’s Yethu Club. To this end, he asked each member of the club to complete a short questionnaire to reflect on the factors driving disengagement and dropout in their community.
“I could sense that they wanted to share their views so I told them to reflect on the challenges that learners are facing,” explains Ngwenya.
Ngwenya believes that this type of grassroot insight can stir meaningful change in his community.
Some learners stay in and do well at school, despite challenging circumstances. Researchers have found that these young people often succeed because they have stable, positive relationships with at least one caring adult.
Ngwenya personally benefited from such a relationship while at school. Although he wasn’t confident in his talents and capabilities as a young man, his confidence grew with the help of a teacher who showed interest and recognised his potential.
His teacher’s support and praise instilled a sense of pride and self-confidence. “That’s when I decided to become a teacher so that someday I could give someone the hope and encouragement that I received,” says Ngwenya.