Lorenzo Davids

ABOUT 10 months ago I sat in a graduation ceremony in Stellenbosch where 57 after-school practitioners received the first certificate in extended education to work as professionals in afterschool education.

For those of my readers who are not aware, after-school is the period which begins when the formal school day ends, and lasts until about 5.30pm.

It is also the period of the day during which our school-going youth are most at risk. This is the time into which those 57 new graduates step in daily to provide a secure environment for learners in low-fee and no-fee schools. This is where learners can have a safe space to study, play, bond and explore.

The programme, pioneered by the Western Cape government, has reached over 80 000 learners in lowfee and no-fee schools, bolstered by impactful NGO partnerships. It is a response to the data, which shows that too many young people leave school each day and enter unsafe and violent areas, with no adult supervision.

They become exposed to destructive and anti-social behaviour which threatens their futures and often leaves them trapped in cycles of desperate poverty. According to a UN Office of Drugs and Crime survey on substance abuse, risk-taking behaviour and the mental health of Grade 8-10 learners in the province are, 44% of Grade 10 learners are sexually active, 22.4% of youth at school are daily drinkers, 10% are regular cannabis users and 2.5% are hard drug users.

It is therefore no surprise that just under half who enter the school system drop out before their matric year. The dropout rate is ascribed in part to learners falling behind academically, as well as experiencing a lack of belonging. At that graduation ceremony, five students showed an exceptional grasp of the role they must play in afterschool education.

Their dedication to after-school education earned them a Community Chest scholarship for a study tour to US schools to see how after-school programmes assist at-risk youth in communities like South Bronx in New York.

These five students, Janelle Fielies from Grassy Park, Dinah Ceza from Nyanga East, Raabia Walljee from Retreat, Melreen de Villiers from Montague Village and Tashwill May from Lavender Hill have just completed a nine-day study tour which saw them actively engage, with, among others, the American Partnership for After School Education in New York City, the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in South Bronx and the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University.

South Bronx, once regarded as the epicentre of the crack epidemic in the US, is now home to one of the best after-school programmes in the country. The principal of the school, Dr Ramon Gonzalez, lives in Harlem and was named a Champion of Change during president Obama’s term of office.

The school won the 2010 Intel Schools of Distinction Award for middle-school mathematics.

When the school bell rings to end the school day, hardly a child leaves for home. Instead they attend after-school programmes offered by the school, which continue until 5pm.

Our practitioners enthusiastically engaged with dedicated staff and learners in an enriching exchange of ideas and practice.

If we are to achieve improved learner outcomes, a reduction in school drop-out rates and risk-taking behaviour we must ensure that the resources exist for our learners to have consistent participation in after-school programmes.

To change the trajectory of our educational outcomes, all donors, corporations and government departments need to take the resourcing of the after-school education far more seriously. It is where, every day, our children make the crucial decision to return to school the next day, or to opt for a life on the streets.

Walljee, May, De Villiers, Fielies and Ceza step into that world every afternoon to give young people a reason to stay in school. They return to South Africa today with a greater sense of dedication to this life-changing work.

Lorenzo Davids is the Chief Executive Officer at Community Chest.

Originally published in The Cape Argus on Monday, 28 October 2019.

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