After over a decade of work with school in the rural Eastern Cape province of South Africa, Axium’s vision - that “every rural student leaves school with purpose, agency and options” - is increasingly being realised through our interventions and partnerships, where each year more rural children are reading for meaning by the end of Grade 3 and more Grade 12s are accessing tertiary opportunities after school.
Over the years we’ve had success with exceptional learners, teachers and school leaders who excel and overcome the legacy of their location; however, persistent systemic issues remain a massive stumbling block to more widespread improvement. These experiences have confirmed our belief in the latent potential of rural communities, while pushing us to think systemically. As we look ahead to the next five years, we are seeing exciting opportunities to deepen our impact and expand our footprint mainly through three targeted streams of work:
1. Systematic strengthening of schools
In 2018, Axium embarked on a four year Public School Partnerships (PSP) pilot which was designed with the goal of addressing the constraints of the public system through increasing the accountability, flexibility and capability available to schools. We believe this unique partnership model - where schools remain government schools, but have the additional support of a non-profit “school operating partner” - offers us the best chance to demonstrate what is possible in rural schools. While this initial pilot is coming to a close at the end of 2021, there is a window of opportunity to renew, expand and build off early successes.
We are hopeful that we will be able to renew this partnership with most of the current 8 schools at Amajingqi and start to add schools each year in Zithulele so that by the end of 2025 we have between ten and twelve PSP schools in our network. Our first three-and-a-half years as a School Operator have given us a strong start: lessons have been well learned, we have been able to build a strong team on the ground, and there are now clear pockets of excellence. Taking this work from early promise to attractive, established success is the challenge that awaits.
2. Nobalisa Community Readers
Increasing basic literacy levels* is perhaps South Africa’s number one educational priority and features prominently on the National Development Plan. After more than five years of development, our Nobalisa programme, which draws on community youth to run targeted isiXhosa literacy interventions using the Teaching at the Right Level approach, is showing huge promise of being able to close the literacy gap - and is ready for careful scale. The next big step is to see how we can grow this into new schools and communities by exploring already established government programmes that we can partner with to expand this work.
3. Research and Advocacy
Driving both of these two above initiatives within the public system will require strong Research & Advocacy. The challenge here is to share our learning, develop strong partnerships and build momentum around innovations and systemic unblocking that will open the doors of learning to many more rural children.
Through these streams of work, our growth plan lays out an ambitious, but feasible path to reaching 10 000 learners over the course of the next five years. We have been adamant that growth needs to be both “healthy” and warranted and that we do not want to grow for the sake of growth. We believe that there are some very strong motivations for expanding this work and we have careful plans in place to ensure that future growth is sustainable. While we anticipate tripling the number of learners we support, we commit to remaining learner-centered in our day-to-day work, in our schools, classrooms, clubs, and communities. With sights set on the future, our teams are committed to finishing this year strong and setting ourselves and our students up for success next year.
* The best known measure of this is from the 2016 PIRLS study that found 78% of South African Grade 4 children could not read for meaning in any language.