Making a difference

Isibongo Lower Primary … a school for little people with big heart

smile-learners-writingFor the past 24 years S.M.I.L.E. (St Mary’s Interactive Learning Experience) has operated as an NGO and PBO. We assist teachers teaching English as a First Additional Language in community schools, providing support with daily planning and teaching.


This year, with funding from the N3TC we have been able to run our S.M.I.L.E. Programme of Teacher Training and Support at Isibongo Lower Primary. The Principal sought our assistance so that, in her words, “our learners can be better, and our teachers be empowered.” This Lower Primary School of 956 learners in the heart of Mpophomeni is an example of daily commitment by teachers to the lives of their learners. As you approach the school you can see the South African flag proudly flying from the flag pole at the gate. This gate is locked and remote controlled by a security guard. Thus the children are kept safe for the duration of their school day.


The two Grade 4 teachers, Mrs Zandile Shelembe and Mr Bongani Ndlovu, are experienced teachers who chose our Learners Books for their Grade 4 learners off the Department of Basic Education’s National Catalogue of approved Learning and Teaching Support Material in 2013. I have spent time with these teachers over the course of this year, demonstrating various teaching skills and discussing their daily planning in order to complete the CAPS syllabus with their learners. More importantly, I have encouraged them to make every lesson count. They are dedicated teachers who have taught at the school for many years. Happy to improve their teaching in any way, they have participated enthusiastically in the S.M.I.L.E. Programme.


When I arrived at Isibongo one hot morning in March, new desks were being moved into the classrooms. They had been delivered by the Department late the previous afternoon. There was a carnival atmosphere at the school. Without too much delay, I was able to give a Demonstration Lesson to Bongani and Zandile. With the help of the Grade 4 class, we all moved the desks into groups and I demonstrated our S.M.I.L.E. method of group teaching using different roles for each member of a group of six learners. The learners were delightful; enthusiastic and responsive. They were excited about the new system of classroom management and worked well in their groups. Wearing name tags that I had prepared for them, learners were addressed by name when I interacted with them. To be known by name always produces such a positive response.


Over the course of the year, I have returned to Isibongo and given several more Demonstration Lessons. On one occasion I arrived just after the government sponsored meal had been served to the learners. Those on duty were happily cleaning up in their ‘open air scullery’. It was heartwarming to witness and a good setting for my lesson to follow on how to be helpful! With bellies full, the Grade 4 learners were extremely productive in this lesson. They each wrote a story based on the English fable, The Little Red Hen. I was impressed and somewhat surprised by the work that most of the learners produced. As in every community school, there are tremendous variances in ability. This makes for challenging teaching; teaching at the correct level, whilst at the same time endeavouring to pull the weaker learners up to this level.


Bongani and Zandile are a good team. They have embraced any input with enthusiasm. They demonstrated initiative by asking their learners to bring beer boxes to school to cut up and use as flash cards when the cardboard I had given them had run out. It has been a pleasure to work with them this year. The school is a happy learning environment for their learners and there is a strong sense of community. Thank you to the Touching Lives team at N3TC for making it possible for us to work there and make a positive difference in the lives of these teachers and learners.