Samaritan’s money makes knowledge grow on trees

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Samaritan’s money makes knowledge grow on trees

Cape farm school is getting a massive hi-tech makeover thanks to an anonymous benefactor - and it will be fee-free

Journalist

A farm school that opened almost 100 years ago is set to undergo an extreme makeover costing millions of rand – and when it is done children will be learning under a tree.
But this is no ordinary tree: they will be sitting under “tree-of-knowledge columns” in a “discovery centre” while using multimedia equipment in an audio-visual area lined with books.
It’s all thanks to a good Samaritan who is ploughing in the money to change the lives of 120 farmworkers’ children in the Western Cape’s Breede River Valley.
He insists on remaining anonymous.
The cost of the makeover has not been made public, but the contribution to the farming community is so generous that education MEC Debbie Schäfer mentioned it in her budget speech last month.
This week, ward councillor Cornelius Lottering said work had already begun at Botha’s Halte Primary School.The department told Times Select the modest school on private farmland will get an auditorium-type multipurpose hall, three specialist classrooms with sewing machines, handwork and woodwork equipment, musical instruments and a state-of-the-art science laboratory.
Outside there will be two Astroturf play areas, spectator seating, indigenously planted roofs and vegetable gardens.
“The buildings will operate largely off the electrical grid, with solar and wind-generator capacity included as part of the project. These aspects will also be clearly demonstrated to pupils via interactive displays throughout the school,” the department said.
“Due to water scarcity and the general arid nature of this part of the valley, rainwater and stormwater is harvested and stored in a large reservoir under the school buildings, from where the school grounds are then irrigated. The reservoir is topped up by a borehole as well as the clean, treated effluent from the sewerage package plant.”
Lottering said the school was started by the Dutch Reformed Church in the 1920s. While parents were excited about the new school, they were concerned the facilities and technology might mean the introduction of fees, he said.
Because of the parents’ financial position, Botha’s Halte School is classified as a no-fee school.According to government statistics presented by Wazimap, the area has a population of close to 10,000. Only 23.9% have completed matric and about 22.7% of children between the ages of 15 and 17 are in the labour force.
Lottering said that by uplifting and nurturing the youngsters, the mystery donor will make it easier for them to compete with children from more privileged backgrounds.
“When these children leave this farm school they typically go to high school in the town of Worcester. Our children are generally not as advanced when it comes to a variety of things, including technology. So a school like this will help bridge the gap,” he said.
“Our children have to work even harder if they go to urban areas. Investing in our children will eventually improve the living standards of people living in this area.”
He said he hoped the donation would encourage others to do the same in their communities. “If you want to aim high, the people around – your community – have to aim high too.”
Schäfer said the new school would open in January. “It is true that some of the greatest things have been done by people you have never heard of, quietly dedicating their lives to improving the lives of others,” she said.In 2015, parliament heard that there were 11,252 schools in rural areas, most of which had poor infrastructure and inadequate resources.
Earlier this year, the NGO Equal Education said basic education funding had been cut. The provincial education infrastructure grant had fallen from R10.046-billion in 2017 to R9.918-billion in 2018 and the accelerated schools delivery initiative would get only R1.321-billion, this year – half of the 2017 amount.
“[President Cyril] Ramaphosa also stated during his state of the nation address: ‘If we are to break the cycle of poverty, we need to educate the children of the poor.’  A presidency committed to doing so would not preside over a decline in grants that clearly and intuitively benefit poor black learners in predominantly rural areas,” the NGO said.
Jessica Shelver, spokesperson for Schäfer, said that by the end of this financial year the department would have replaced 73 schools in the Western Cape since 2009.
“The (provincial education department) plans to replace 20 schools during the period 2018/19 to 2020/21. They include 16 primary schools, three high schools and one special school,” she said.
“Our current infrastructure budget may be compromised by the need to ensure water security at schools affected by the drought. The department will therefore adjust medium- and longer-term plans accordingly.”

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