Charles Darwin concluded that many seeds could be carried 1,400 miles by sea and still germinate. Now, ORT SEED “ﾓ ORT South Africa’s programme to raise educational standards in under-resourced school “ﾓ looks like travelling far further thanks to Dutch television station VPRO.
To mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, the station has commissioned a replica of the Cutty Sark to sail around the world following the route of HMS Beagle, the ship which allowed Darwin to collect data for his seminal work.
Last week, some of the scientists, journalists and public figures undertaking the commemorative expedition visited Cape Town. During their shore leave they spent two hours at the Hector Peterson Secondary School in the desperately poor township of Wallacedene “ﾓ a visit organised by ORT SA’s innovative education arm, ORT-Tech, as a result of the international networking which characterises ORT. The visitors were impressed by the achievements and aspirations of the school community, just one of dozens across South Africa benefitting from ORT SEED (Sustainable Educator Empowerment and Development). The programme is implemented at Hector Peterson thanks to the financial backing of the Kaplan Kushlick Education Foundation and the marine cargo company, Trencor Ltd.
The visit was filmed for possible future broadcast but has already been mentioned in the Netherlands’ leading business newspaper, Financieele Dagblad.
“With limited resources, but with the support of the ORT foundation, this school still manages to pay special attention to science and technology education,”? the paper reported.
“The Dutch group saw this as a highlight of their visit to Cape Town,”? said ORT-Tech Director Alta Greeff. “They said it was a life-changing experience for them.”?
Ms Greeff said the ORT SEED programme was making far-reaching improvements to the school’s already extraordinary results.
“ORT SEED was created in 2005 to provide in-service training and practical classroom support to science and technology teachers because they had acquired their knowledge as adults and were having difficulties in passing it on to a new generation,”? she said.
“But we soon found out that we needed to do much more than just improve the methodology and content knowledge of teachers. That is why at Hector Peterson we are also working at the management level of the school and involving ourselves in its well-being.”?
The school manages a matriculation pass rate of 80 per cent compared with a national average of about 63 per cent but approached ORT SA to help it improve its record in maths and science.
“The school is proud of its achievements; five of its alumni are studying engineering at the University of Cape Town,”? Ms Greeff said. “The teachers work incredibly hard to bring success “ﾓ they are there every week day until after 5pm and every Saturday they offer extra classes.”?
Yet one might expect the poverty face by the school’s students to be enough to extinguish the aspirations of all but the strongest.
In order to attend Hector Peterson, many of its 1,350 teenagers have left their family homes to live without adult supervision in child-only households in the township. And some of the 400 students who are eligible for school meals either share their food or attend lunch only every other day to allow other hungry children to benefit from the limited resources.
The inspirational determination of staff and students to succeed is boosted by ORT-Tech which, through ORT SEED, identifies areas in which students can improve, provides teachers with classroom support, has instituted a Mathematics Fun Day, provides teaching material and tutorial for Grade 12 science students, has established a Science Club, has provided practical technological aids, runs an English literacy programme, and empowers teenagers with study skills.
One of the Science Club’s activities is robotics and Hector Peterson quickly joined other schools in having a team ready to enter the First Lego League: Robotics Challenge for Making Learning Fun. In last year’s regional competition, Hector Peterson won the Teamwork Award “ﾓ which is presented to the team which demonstrates confidence, energy and enthusiasm, problem-solving skills, understanding and respect for others, team interaction and group dynamics.
“It was good for the visitors to see a school that is doing so well,”? Ms Greeff said. “And what’s really nice is how their visit boosted the morale of the learners and teachers.”?
The school’s hospitality students were particularly happy with the involvement of the Platform Beta Techniek, a Dutch organisation which works with the education, business and government sectors to ensure that the demand for people with scientific and technical qualifications is met. The Platform Beta Techniek joined the Dutch at Hector Peterson and paid for the meal for 41 people.
“The meal featured traditional African foods “ﾓ biltong soup with vetkoek, and mieliepap with boerewors and spicy chakalaka “ﾓ and provided the hospitality students with a wonderful opportunity to practice for their final exams. Normally they would not have had the money to buy the ingredients necessary to prepare all this,”? said Ms Greeff.
And she paid tribute to ORT Netherlands Chairman Robbert Baruch, whose initiative set the wheels in motion resulting in the high profile guests.
Mr Baruch visited the school in April while on a cricket tour and was so impressed by what he saw that he told his friend, Alex Klusman, who arranged last week’s visit by the Platform Beta Techniek and the Darwin commemorators. Ms Greeff introduced Mr Baruch to World ORT Secretary Martin Behr, who is also an ORT SA Honorary Life President, and discussed the school’s potential further with him.
“It’s a lovely example of how brilliant the ORT network is around the world,”? Ms Greeff said.
Mr Baruch said he was delighted that the school, and its friends at ORT SA, were receiving recognition.
“These kids live in terrible circumstances but they are determined not to be as poor as their parents,”? he said. “Their ambition, the love shown by the teachers, and the motivation of the ORT crew are what really struck me; education and the way that education changes people’s lives “ﾓ this is what ORT is all about and it is exhilarating!”?
Robert Singer paid tribute to David Susman, an ORT SA Honorary Life President and member of World ORT’s elite donors’ group, The 1880 Society.
“David’s highly effective chairmanship of ORT-Tech between 1994 and 2008 is just the tip of the iceberg of his decades of commitment to ORT,”? Mr Singer said. “Without him it is debatable whether the children at Hector Peterson and so many other Jewish and non-Jewish schools in South Africa would be benefiting as much as they do from ORT programmes.”?