In September last year, we shared about our exciting five-year growth plan. This blog provides an update on how Year 1 has gone and paints a vision for where we are going from here. Earlier in the year, we highlighted how well things were going at our new Nobalisa site and how a slow and steady start at Sea View Primary School was providing us with a solid foundation for growing our Public School Partnerships work at a new site. Possibly the most exciting aspect of this growth has been seeing many new leaders flourish with the additional responsibilities that pioneering brings.
To put this growth in context: rural children in South Africa face overwhelming odds. Only 15% will be reading in their home language by the time they leave Grade 3. One in four will make it to Grade 12. Of these, only a handful will enter tertiary study. Unemployment is rife – as high as 80% in some rural communities. Against this backdrop, Axium Education is developing an ever-expanding pathway to opportunity for rural students. We started 13 years ago as an unknown organisation in an obscure, hard-to-reach village in the Eastern Cape. Over the next five years, we have the opportunity to take what we’ve learnt and what we have demonstrated is possible with relatively small groups of students and schools, and create a footprint across the province that brings hope and opportunity to rural communities. Growth in itself is not the aim; opportunities for more learners to be supported and to flourish is!
For the Nobalisa programme, our goal is to position the programme as a national, rural literacy initiative that effectively closes the reading gap, while providing an entry point to the teaching profession for unemployed youth. To reach this long-term goal, over the next three years we plan to grow the programme to 50 schools, reaching 7000 learners and providing an entry workplace experience for more than 300 community-based staff through the Social Employment Fund. We aim to be able to show that at least 50% of Grade 3 children can read for meaning after three years in the programme (three times current levels nationally).
In order for our schools work to have an impact across the province we need to do three things: operate at a sufficient scale that success is not linked to a particular community or school; demonstrate that the work is effective at improving student learning, and be diligent about codifying and sharing innovation. We plan to grow our network of Public School Partnership schools to 15 over the next five years, serving a total of 5000 students, at three sites across two districts. We will need to demonstrate that students at these schools outperform rural students in comparable schools when it comes to key language and maths metrics in the early grades and on important school exit measures. At the same time, we need to open the door for other School Operating Partners to play a role in the Province by codifying the model, addressing the systemic issues that hamstring all rural schools, and looking for opportunities to scale innovations.
Internally, we will need to continue to demonstrate that we can plan and manage “healthy” growth, including a transition process as the founders move off site next year. This will require an ongoing focus on our culture and values. Also critical is a Central Education engine that effectively plans and monitors work, and develops the talent that will enable us to grow better as well as bigger. Finally, our current growth plan runs to 2025, at which point we may need to re-evaluate how we are structured. Being village-based has brought tremendous strengths to our work, but as our footprint grows, we need to attract city-based talent and easily access more of the province may prompt a rethink.
With all of the above as background, 2023 provides us with an opportunity to take the next concrete steps towards this vision, by adding eight Nobalisa schools and one PSP school - extending our reach by another 2000 learners. This feels both ambitious and yet (strangely?) manageable, given how well this year has gone. We’ve identified most of these schools already and the relationship-building process is well underway. Our strong partnerships with the Eastern Cape Department of Education, schools, communities and our supporters all over the world make these exciting plans possible - as we enter into the final weeks of 2022, we want to send our appreciation to you all.