QEF honoured by invitation to address BMF Eastern Cape

By Jacqueline Wijtenburg, QEF’s Stakeholder Relations Manager, Programme Director and Fundraiser

Last night I was invited by Mr. Mfundo Tsheketshe, the Black Management Forum Eastern Cape’s Chairman to address a special 45 year anniversary celebration of the BMF which gathered in Komani. I was among a panel that included current MTN Chairman and former Deputy Finance Minister MC Jonas, as well as Executive Mayor of the Chris Hani District Municipality Cllr Wongama Gela and BMF Board Member Yonela Mvama. Ms Minty Makapela, Vice Chair of the BMF Eastern Cape was the event’s Programme Director.

With Mr Mfundo Tsheketshe, Chairman of the BMF Eastern Cape (left).
Pic by Zintle Bobelo, the Rep newspaper.

The evening dialogue session was attended by esteemed educators, amongst other dignitaries such as Dr Bheki Mthembu and the Administrator of the Enoch Mgijima Local Municpality, Mr Monwabisi Somana. The Principals of Queen’s College Boys’ High School Mr Janse van der Ryst, Girls’ High School’s Theo Anaxagoras and Laerskool Hangklip’s Henko Serfontein, as well as Ms Nandi Zuma a teacher of GHS. The three schools form part of our 11-school network here in Komani and beyond.

Just some of the evening’s guests

Video of my address to audience

A transcript of my speech follows:

Good evening BMF Chairman, Programme Director, and Board members, as well as fellow special guest speakers Cllr Gela and Mr Jonas, and all the ladies and gentlemen in our audience. I’m deeply honoured to share this evening with you all and I’d like to begin with a poem by Hafiz titled Beautiful Creatures

There is a beautiful creature living in a hole you have dug.

So, at night,

I set fruit and grains

And little pots of wine and milk

Besides your soft earthen mounds.

And I often sing.

But still my dear,

You do not come out.

I have fallen in love with Someone who hides inside you.

We should talk about this problem….

Otherwise, I will never leave you alone.

We should talk about this problem….

Otherwise, I will never leave you alone.

Hafiz, Beautiful Creatures

Mr Tsheketshe invited me here to reflect on my leadership journey and the role of ethics within it. He suggested I also share my perspective on strides being made to resolve the local issue here in Komani of our municipality’s current struggle to deliver basic services. He also asked that I share the inspiring vision and some of the achievements of an innovative collaboration underway here, now in its 7th year, called The Queenstown Education Foundation or QEF.

What a multi-levelled and somewhat complex subject! So I hope to honour your attention by sticking to the central theme that runs through all those aspects for me. Influence, power and the need for emotional sensitivity.

My individual journey with leadership has only just begun. Unlike the BMF in its 45th year now, and which has already had such a massive impact on SA’s socio-economic and political landscape.

Being identified as a white person, I am not a member of BMF, but I wholeheartedly support its drive toward ethical leadership. How exactly South Africa’s socioeconomic transformation is achieved –  and in what time frame – is being heavily debated all around our country. Here in Komani, no less so.

Decolonised education is also being debated alongside.

Economic hardship and social hurts have created enormous suffering and there has never been a more urgent time to alleviate them. As our awareness increases, alongside technological advancements and policy changes, there are movements forward, and that surely is worth celebrating.

I’d like to take you back tonight to where my passion for self-knowledge started.

It was a mere idea at the age of 10 years old when I saw my new school’s motto embroidered onto my blazer: “Know Thyself”. It said.

Know Thyself.

Socrates

The school was SAHETI, a school for the Greek community of Johannesburg, and its motto came from the ancient Greek Philosopher Socrates, born in the Athenian City State, two and a half thousand years ago.

Interestingly, one of the primary founders of SAHETI school was Advocate George Bizos, a Greek-South African human rights lawyer who represented President Nelson Mandela during the Rivonia Trial. He also represented families of anti-apartheid activists killed by the government, throughout the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As I was almost ready to matriculate I was aware that Chris Hani’s daughter Lindiwe was being enrolled at SAHETI. According to Adv. Bizos, Chris Hani was a classics scholar and he wanted his children to receive a classical education.

In media reports, she explained how painful it was to be part of a minority at the school. Not only was she black, she was not Greek.

Although I was unfairly privileged by apartheid in a way her father and many brave compatriots fought against, it was also emotionally hard for me to be non-Greek at SAHETI. The extent of the pain is not comparable, but it pained me nevertheless.

The majority of children were from Greek families. I didn’t have a drop of Greek blood in me, I didn’t speak Greek and I didn’t know their customs. I felt marginalised and isolated.

But I came to respect that Ancient Greeks made important contributions to philosophy, as well as mathematics, astronomy, and medicine at that time, including offering the concepts and names “Dimokratia/Democracy” and “Politiki/Politics”.

In other words, Socrates with his motto “Know thyself” was part of the movement that birthed the Western World’s ideal of Democracy.

After a few miserable years I realised I would need to involve myself in the school, in order to feel that I belonged.

So I volunteered for different cultural clubs at school, and eventually transformed the pain into joy. I earned myself the Headmasters Award. It became the beginning of a beautiful journey with Greece and school leadership. Today I am married to a loving South-African-born Greek husband who serves as Principal of a local school here in Komani, where he grew up.

And, in my own right I direct programmes for the Not for Profit Company, the Queenstown Education Foundation (or QEF as it is known).

I willingly left the city of Johannesburg three years ago to be in here in the countryside where the pace is slower, the roots are deeper and the opportunities to develop as a social entrepreneur are greater. Small communities come together easily in crises. I felt ready to offer whatever I could to the community.

At times, like in childhood, I again felt marginalised. The white population here is very small. I don’t speak isiXhosa, BBBEE policies reduce my work opportunities. And people are often mistrustful of “City people” or people not in their particular church.

So, like at school, I began volunteering. Together with other women, I helped the local art exhibition raise money for the elderly. Together with a committee, I formalised a volunteer movement that brought more safety, dignity and beauty into public spaces.

Together with my friends across the world, I made sure a group of 30 vulnerable girls in the Mlungisi informal settlement had Netball uniforms so they could compete in leagues. I’m happy to report that the Crusaders Netball Team is thriving. They have won just about every match they have played since and are now creating their own fundraising tools.

During the initial lockdown period, thanks to the help of many members of the audience sitting here tonight, I was able to manage a massive food parcel campaign that, through multiple parties, delivered over 5 000 parcels door-to-door in 6 weeks, within the impoverished areas of Mlungisi, Ezibeleni, Lesseyton and even some homes in Toptown.

When I was appointed to QEF two years ago I was tasked with testing if a group of school leaders had appetite to deepen their collaboration with each other, as a way to further realise QEF’s vision of transforming our town here into a universally-recognised centre of educational excellence.

It turns out, they were. They are!

Our 11 affiliated schools, include diverse primary and high schools, public and private, who offer quality education to our town’s children who come from predominantly isiXhosa-speaking homes. They embrace all cultures. They are schools of excellence.

Families from other provinces and, even, those from across our country’s borders are attracted by our affiliated schools’ well-run boarding facilities.

We are now looking for sustainable ways to extend the collaboration and co-operation within the broader schooling district.

  • We have already built and manage a highly innovative digital network for cost-efficient high speed data transfer.
  • We partner with fundraisers. Very noteworthy is that one of these, the 1965Ride Cycle for Education has distributed over 100 bursaries to date, since its inception 11 years ago.
  • We also facilitate a Community of Practice for Maths teachers that publishes a Gr 7 Common Assessment Paper.
  • Throughout the year we host interesting dialogues among school leaders.
  • We even have a systemic learner and teacher well-being intervention and Space Exploration Club planned.

Our collaboration – any collaboration –  needs very firm identities. Each collaborator needs their own vision, their own mission, their own support base. Collaboration does not mean total union.

People often form collaborations very loosely. As inevitable stresses arise they start to fall apart at the seams. Disagreements feel personal, when actually they are more the result of resistance to systemic change.

When we humans are stressed, we are tempted to coral and go back to our previous safety spots.

I see emotional sensitivity a bit like just reducing the size of my ego. It naturally happens when I actively explore and come to know myself.

Having less of an ego does not mean being a door mat, nor a push over. It simply means to hold what you feel you absolutely know to be true, in a light enough way that you can explore it. On your own, and with others.

It involves moving beyond the safety of comfort into adventurous curiosity and growth. It requires recognising the role of trauma and fear and recognising the exact triggers that give rise to disproportionate emotional reactions that derail the best of intentions.

Such growth is a lifetime journey. We all started it in the safety of our mother’s lap when we felt a desire to climb off and explore the environment around us, bit by bit.

As adults we need to listen deeply and be open to hear each other – all across the community. We need to be curious and accommodating. Sometimes, that is a hard ask.

At a personal level and a communal level.

Our town’s history with apartheid, like all those around the country, was harsh. Emotional wounds take time to heal. They cannot simply bend to the Will that very confidently says: “That was the past, let’s just move on and get on with it”. Hearts are involved and natural loyalties exist to past generations who suffered. Not mildly, but severely.

I have suffered personal injury from some members of the white-led business community and I have to say, it triggered past wounds from my childhood. Unconscious fear – mine and theirs – was most likely the root cause of the discord.

At the same time, I have benefitted and am grateful from what the same community members have built. I sit on both sides of the coin.

Party politics is not my path in life.

I am interested in walking in the forest of the unknown and serving my community by building bridges across racial and cultural divides to serve  education. To link interested parties to each other. I am just one of many with this heartfelt wish and am committed to the path.

Let’s find ways for people to meet each other and have extraordinarily meaningful conversations together.

To return to where I started:

Hafiz said:

There is a beautiful creature living in a hole you have dug.

We should talk about this problem….

Otherwise, I will never leave you alone.

Our community is in a hole that, in one way or another, at one time or another, we have all dug together.

But a beautiful creature lives inside it.

It is my deep wish to convene a conversation amongst all stakeholders who feel inspired by QEF’s vision for enhancing educational excellence in this town. It needs Basic Services.

Mr Tsheketshe has graciously volunteered to facilitate this QEF conversation with me.

I hope that everyone in this room might consider joining it when the time comes. Please let me know if you are.

Thank you.

Videos

QEF launches pilot project for SGB voting

It is School Governing Body (SGB) election season in public schools all around South Africa until the end of March 2021 and two schools in the rural Eastern Cape town of Komani are the first in their province to have employed a comprehensive online voting system, making it easier for parents to influence that their children’s schools are well governed.

SGB members are volunteers who sit for a period of three years, together with the Principal (by virtue of his or her official capacity) and, at times, co-opted members, to promote the best interest of the school. Parents, staff, teachers as well as learners form part of the SGB elections.

Queen’s College Boys’ High School and Balmoral Girls’ Primary School elected to pilot VotingCrowd (cloud based voting software), acclaimed by the Eastern Cape Department of Basic Education, as well as FEDSAS and the GBE as being the only such SGB-compliant system currently available.

Users voted by means of an app or by using internet browsers and their votes are stored forever in case an audit is ever necessary. For those parents without access to data, an electronic voting booth at the school was also available. The process also catered for the possibility of a duly entitled parent who did not appear on the schools’ voters roll.

Quorums were quickly reached in the innovative online process and both participating schools enjoyed a higher rate of voting than in previous years. They are also contemplating using such software for RCL elections in future.

Queenstown Education Foundation (QEF) Director Andrew Alt spearheaded the project of piloting the new online platform in two of its member schools who form part of a 11-school network in Komani and beyond. Together, the schools are invested in transforming the town into a universally-recognised centre of educational excellence. Says Alt, “We hope next year more of our schools will embrace this technology. The legitimacy and quality of SGBs is directly driven by the level of participation, anything that improves the ease with which parents can vote is a very good thing.”

SGB members are volunteers who sit for a period of three years, together with the Principal (by virtue of his or her official capacity) and, at times, co-opted members, to promote the best interest of the school by adopting a constitution , a mission statement and a code of conduct which sets out disciplinary procedures for learners at the school. It also decides on school policy including, amongst others, admissions, language and finance.

QEF-affiliated Komani schools up their ante with 2020 results

Among the network of collaborating public and private schools in Komani, affiliated to the Queenstown Education Foundation (QEF), situated in the rural Eastern Cape Chris Hani West District, are educational leaders who have just upped their ante in the National Senior Certificate exams of 2020, despite last year’s Covid chaos.

All five of QEF’s affiliated high schools who wrote the National Senior Certificate, with the exception of one, surpassed the national and provincial average pass rate.  They all scored 90% or higher, against the District’s average of 70.5% and the national average of 76.2%.

High schools affiliated to the foundation include Queenstown Girls’ High School, Queen’s College Boys’ High School, Get Ahead College, Hoerskool Hangklip and Hexagon High. Stanford Lake College, QEF’s remote member, meanwhile wrote the IEB.

QEF AFFILIATED
HIGH SCHOOLS

The highest academically-achieving school amongst them, Queenstown Girls High School is its province’s only school to enjoy 29 successive years of a 100% pass rate. Its Class of 2020 also ranked third in the province for a Batchelor’s Pass rate of 92% and nine A aggregates. GHS matriculant Sharon Jomon received the accolade of the Premier’s 2020 Top Achiever award.

Mr Nicky De Bruyn, Director of the Eastern Cape Department of Education’s Chris Hani West District, hands over Premier’s 2020 Top Achiever award to Queenstown GHS matriculant Sharon Jomon,, standing next to GHS Principal Mr Theo Anaxagoras. GHS is the only school in the province with a 29 year successive 100% pass rate.

Other noteworthy achievements among the group were year on year increases. Queen’s College increased its number of Batchelor Passes and number of distinctions, Hoerskool Hangklip increased its Batchelor Pass rate, Get Ahead College’s increased its overall pass rate as well as its number of Batchelor Passes and distinctions and Hexagon High increased its overall pass rate as well as its number of Batchelor Passes. Both GAP College and Hexagon also scored a greater percentage of distinctions per learner than the EC provincial average. Stanford Lake College in Limpopo, which subscribes to QEF’s overarching digital network meanwhile celebrates a 100% pass rate and 87% Batchelor Pass rate, with 2.05 distinctions per matriculant.

During the 2020 academic year, QEF convened a number of Zoom meetings among the leadership of its affiliated collaborating schools, assisting them to consult with one another and devise innovative strategies on how to survive and thrive within the chaos of Covid.

Chairman of QEF Roddy Sutton contextualises the role of collaboration in performance. “The ability to work collaboratively with others is becoming an essential component of improving school performance during the 4th Industrial Revolution. We’ve created a model that anchors the school improvement process around 4IR skills of communication, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. We extend heartfelt thanks to all of educators, SGB members, the parent community and extended partners for the role you play in realising our exciting vision.”

At its award ceremony last night Mr Nicky De Bruyn, Director of the Eastern Cape Department of Education’s Chris Hani West District, remarked that his department is now intent on defending their 2020 position as Top 3 in the province, either by maintaining it or, at best, improving it.

QEF congratulates NASA on the landing of Perseverance

Congratulations NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration on your successful landing of the #Perseverance Rover on Mars.

You are inspiring school students here in South Africa’s Eastern Cape town of #Komani with blatant and secret aspirations for a career in engineering and/or space exploration. With our multiple member schools, and international partners, soon to be announced, we are in the process of helping them. Our new #QEFSpaceExplorationClub is forming.

Watch this space, as we continue watching humanity’s entire galactical space, in all its glory!

Oh,and thank you too for this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9spAjJ5-hEA

QEF’s 2021 Network of Member Schools

Meet 11 visionary Eastern Cape schools whose formal collaboration is setting the stage for transforming our town Komani (formerly known as Queenstown) into a universally-recognisable centre of educational excellence.

Collaborating at different levels, these schools are excited to be part of:
~ An Overarching Digital Network (ODN),
~ Multi-School Fundraising,
~ A Space Exploration Club~ A Mathematics Community of Practice
~ A Systemic Learner and Well-being Intervention
~ A School Leader Dialogue Series

QEF directs and facilitates these programmes.

See the facebook pages of our ODN subscriber schools: Queen’s College Boys’ High SchoolQueen’s College Boys’ Primary SchoolQueenstown Girls’ High SchoolBalmoral Girls’ Primary SchoolGet Ahead ProjectGet Ahead Project WhittleseaGet Ahead CollegeStanford Lake College (situated in Limpopo).

Schools that are not yet in a position to subscribe to our ODN, but which are full QEF members include:

Schools that are not yet able to subscribe to our ODN, but which are full QEF members include:

Laerskool Hangklip Primary

Southbourne Primary School

Stepping Stone Primary School

Launch of QEF’s first Gr 7 Maths Common Assessment Paper

We proudly announce the Queenstown Education Foundation’s first ever Grade 7 Mathematics Common Assessment Paper which has just been written by learners of seven primary schools affiliated to our Foundation, situated within the Eastern Cape town of Komani/Queenstown, and surrounds.

Gr 7 Learners at Stepping Stone write QEF’s Common Assessment Paper

Although Common Assessment Papers already exist (for example IEB’s Core Competencies exam and the Conquesta Exams), the QEF Gr 7 Common Assessment is unique in that it is the result of a development process that fostered inter-school dialogue and cross-learnings between Gr 7 and Gr 8 Maths teachers teaching at various schools within the same town.

The subject of their discussions was centered around the guiding question: How do we create exceptional confidence around matric Maths?

We started in June this year, included 20 Maths teachers in a Community of Practice and discussed what Maths textbooks, topics, skills, competencies and attitudes would empower learners to most confidently enter Gr 8 Maths and go on to succeed in their Matric Maths.

These topics will deepen next year with (we hope) more opportunity to meet face-to-face.

The QEF paper covers the total year’s syllabus and each Gr 7 teacher chose for themselves whether to use it only, or in conjunction with their own year-end paper. Each school remains autonomous in this. Much of the Gr 8 intake of QEF-affiliated high schools comes from local QEF-affiliated primary schools. The paper is however not intended as a tool to assess promotion to Gr 8.

The scripts are now in the process of being marked and moderated by Gr 7 teachers Mathews Koshy (Queen’s College Boys’ Primary School), Roche de Villiers (Laerskool Hangklip Primary), Karen Coetzer (Balmoral Girls’ Primary School), Cheroldine Morrison (Q GAP), Ryan Nel (Southbourne Primary), Sandra Prinsloo (Stepping Stone Primary) and Patrick Aadejei (Whit GAP).

Words of Thanks
Thanks go to all the participants in our Maths Common Assessment Task Team who contributed their perspective and time to lift this project off the ground in order to move a step closer in realising QEF’s vision of transforming Queenstown into a centre of universally-recognised educational excellence.

Thanks also especially go to Mathews Koshy for volunteering to set this year’s first paper (The team deliberated on his marking memo with him). Thanks also go to Roche De Villiers for translating it into Afrikaans and to Charwin Knoetze for her assistance in typesetting both papers.

Besides the Gr 7 teachers mentioned above, the Task Team also included these Maths boff teachers from our various affiliated school: Les Vincent (Queen’s College Boys’ High School), Colin Hartley (Queen’s College Boys’ Primary School), Grant Knoetze (Queen’s College Boys’ Primary School), Shelly Goldschmidt (QTN Girls’ High School), Angelique van Wyk (Hoerskool Hangklip), Chanelle Bredenkamp (QTN Girls’ High School), Nicholas Zata (Get Ahead College), Surprise Mdlala (Get Ahead College); Arno Swart (Southbourne Primary), John Duncan (Laerskool Hangklip), Megan Jackson (Hexagon High School) and Wandisile Maseko (Hexagon High School) 

New 4iR Classroom launched by one of our ODN subscribers

This morning we attended Get Ahead College‘s launch of its #4iR Classroom and felt the buzz of excitement as the ribbon was cut, making way for the reveal of its innovative hardware. GAP is a subscriber of QEF’s Overarching Digital Network (ODN) and we are thrilled to see how GAP is pushing the boundaries in high school education within our town, Komani.

According to the World Economic Forum, Technological Intelligence is one of the building blocks of the new “smart” leadership, spurred on by the chaos created by global Covid19 lockdowns. Read more here: World Economic Forum Releases Framework to Help Investors Address Six Global Risks

QEF promotes that we count on our educational leaders to embrace technology, to generate solutions and drive the kind of transformation that offers magnificent opportunities to school learners studying in Komani.

Congratulations to Executive Director Vicki Du Preez and Principal Pieter Steyn on your new space, and to all those who collaborated to make it happen: Get Ahead Board member, pilot and Founder of Sakhikamva Foundation Fatima Jakoet and sponsor SoftwareAG.

Happy Teachers Day

We join the worldwide community in celebrating and thanking all the educators in our affiliated schools here in the Eastern Cape, who teach, inspire and care for the youth of our town. Our country’s future leaders are nurtured and shaped by you!