Disable Preloader


Notes From the Field

"Community of Schools" --  though not particularly elegant or memorable  -- is the name we give to The Umkhumbane Schools Project’s model of NGO-schools partnership.  What started simply from a desire to include neighboring schools in our work when we were first starting out at Wiggins Secondary has developed into a core aspect of what the USP is about.  Essentially, our model begins with the establishment of a small, lean, and nimble NPO on-site among a cluster of disadvantaged schools.  From this strategic stance, we are poised to offer what small education NPO’s can do best:  create innovative programming outside of the contraints of school curricula, raise money to spend in ways that can both complement and balance against the mandates of the public and private sectors; and serve as conduit for volunteer involvement.  But it is our Community of Schools idea which seems to be somewhat unique among actors in the education NPO space.  As our work continues to evolve, we are continually interested in understanding and articulating the contours and value of community as enabled through the USP’s programs.  

Perhaps most obvious is the value to be found in Community and Resource Sharing.  By creating programs for learners in all five of our partner schools, we can share curricula, materials, and teachers among learners in five separate schools.  Though we have not yet pursued a systematic impact measurement of this feature of our model, our resource-sharing capabilities do intuitively seem to expand the reach of each donor rand or dollar we spend.  Practical examples include the sharing of communal sets of English language materials, science equipment, and maths materials through an interschool schedule managed by the USP.  In addition, the spill-over effect of teaching learners in groups drawn from all five schools already seems a real, though not-yet-measured benefit.  When 75 learners from our five schools come together each week to study maths, when the 12 learners from each of the five schools return to their respective classrooms, they bring with them new insights, methods, and materials that can benefit a wider range of their peers in school.

Community and Competition is another aspect which we find compelling, with some of its benefits on display in our Interschool Chess League.  Before this program came on the scene, there were informal groups of chess players at each of our fives schools, mentored to varying degrees by a staff member at the school, who met during breaks to play matches using a cobbled-together array of chess boards and chess pieces.   Opportunities to play outside of this setting were few and far-between and provided little room for skills development or the camraderie of actually being on a team.  By creating a small, manageable community of schools to play weekly matches among themselves we have created opportunities for meaningful skills development, social interaction around healthy activities,  and team spirit that did not exist before.

A third dimension could perhaps best be called Community and Identity.  Though perhaps the least easy to measure, we believe that this aspect of our model brings meaningful benefits to our learners in terms of their self-perception and their evolving aspirations.  By bringing together groups of learners and teachers among our fives school to pursue educational excellence together, one goal is to instill a sense of pride and purpose in learning in the greater Cato Manor community.  Rather than being only a group of separate schools and learners struggling against the shared obstacles of poverty and low-expectations these schools and learners can now also be part of a collective effort to enable bright futures.  And for learners with high aspirations, it is empowering to be among a group of like-minded peers from across your community.   Each time we begin a science workshop that brings together learners from the five schools, we ask them to pause and look around.  “These are your future colleagues,” we tell them.  “All of you will have come from this very special community as you move forward into your adult lives.  Take pride in knowing that good things are happening here!”  

In future months we hope to undertake some real impact evaluation of our Community-of-Schools approach.   Our hope is that this can be a model for other under-resourced communities to come together and grow through shared teaching and learning experiences and friendly competition.  

In the words of a beloved African proverb,   “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together!”   Our vision for the USP is to be a creator of community among these schools and their learners, a bridge between this community and the wider world,  and a catalyst for efforts to bring us all forward and far, together.


Martha Fitzpatrick Bishai

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna et sed aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.