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The state of education in South Africa has been the focus of sustained protest and political debate over the past 18 months. With the rise of the student-led Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall campaigns in early 2015, debates have raged over the escalating price of university education, the content of curriculums and broader problems of social inequality.

But there are massive problems in the primary and secondary sectors too. Access to quality education remains deeply unequal and divided along social lines. Critics say the government has done far too little to improve education in the 22 years since the end of apartheid, and in many areas the situation seems to be getting worse, with overcrowding, and inadequate resources and staff. About 80 per cent of South Africa’s 25,000 schools are officially classified as struggling.

Pupils throughout Kannemeyer have classes in information and communication technologies. Younger children focus on perception skills to prepare them for reading and mathematics. Later on they do online maths courses, and learn how to use programmes like Excel and Powerpoint, to provide a solid basis for secondary school and beyond

Imogen Mathers

Older pupils do online maths courses like the one these children are using: Green Shoots is a curriculum-based course that combines digital and classroom teaching to improve maths skills. Auntie Denise, the IT teacher, tells me the programme will rephrase a maths question until the child understands the concept

Imogen Mathers

The schools science lab. With support from Partnerships for Possibility, AusAID, the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the Garden Cities Archway Foundation, the school built and opened a new science lab on 18 July 2012, Nelson Mandelas birthday. UWC has trained teachers at Kannemeyer and other nearby schools

Imogen Mathers

English, maths, and science are very important, given the needs of our country, says principal Ridwan Samodien. We need scientists, engineers, doctors. The school strives to develop a love for these subjects in our children and give them the necessary skills so they may continue to university and beyond

Imogen Mathers

The school librarian. The new library has a diverse range of books, from science to drama, and a network of local libraries lends books to the school

Imogen Mathers

The library operates like a public library: children are able to borrow books and read them in their own time

Imogen Mathers

The learning through language classroom. Younger children attend extra English classes if they need support. These classes also support children for whom English is a second language children from Afrikaans families and those recently moved to South Africa, for example. They start with the alphabet and the formation of sounds

Imogen Mathers

The principal and vice principal of Kannemeyer

Imogen Mathers

Principal Ridwan Samodien stands at the site of the future school hall. Because of our difficult past not many schools have halls, says Samodien. A partnership between private and public organisations and Kannymeyer, is funding the hall. As well as providing a new space for the kids, the local community will be able to use it

Imogen Mathers

Children play cricket in the playground. Kids can attend after-school clubs and holiday programmes, which get them off the street and learning sport, the deputy principal tells me

Imogen Mathers

The school playground. There are almost 600 pupils at the school. Many come from deprived backgrounds, and some are exposed to violence and other traumas. The school has a part-time learning support educator, but say they really need an on-site psychologist and social worker to provide professional support to those children who need it

Imogen Mathers

These pupils are in the top classes, about to move on to secondary school. An alumni programme enables school and pupils to stay in touch

Imogen Mathers

Speaking to the pupils after school, they told me they had been learning about tornadoes in a geography lesson, as well as South African history. This boy told me he wants to be a scientist when he grows up

Imogen Mathers

Many of the children said they wanted to work in law, medicine or the police. This little girl says she wants to be a singer, a lawyer and a nurse

Imogen Mathers

A mural of Nelson Mandela on the school walls. Kannemeyer imbues with hope Mandelas famous words: Education is the most powerful tool which you can use to change the world

Imogen Mathers
In this audio feature, recorded in Cape Town in May, I speak to primary teachers and students as well as education experts from the Partners for Possibility programme, which is working to overhaul government primary schools. It is building partnerships between school principals and local business leaders to bring the innovation and creative skills of South Africa’s flourishing business sector into state education. Together, principals and their business partners assess what the problems facing schools are and come up with solutions. Funding and training collaborations between businesses, universities and local civil society then work to put these in place.

Central to this is the idea of schools as the hub of communities, connecting parents, families, teachers and local organisations. I visited Kannemeyer Primary School in a neighbourhood in the Cape Flats, a series of townships lying on the south-east fringes of Cape Town. There I spoke to the principal, staff and students of the school about the challenges facing South African education, and what they have been doing to tackle these head on. “We need to get every school to develop and restore full citizenship to all our children,” the principal, Ridwan Samodien, told me. “All the adults, all the citizens need to hold the hands of our children, so that together we can get our children on the correct path to success and to make a meaningful difference in this country.”  
 
With thanks to the staff and pupils of Kannemeyer Primary School, Cape Town.