Shea O’Connor – a good story of school upliftment

The Shea O’Connor Combined School Story – a good one for Madiba’s 100th!

I have been involved with Columba Leadership programme, very much on the periphery, for many years. Today it has a considerable track record of success. Essentially their business model is to capacitate schools to effectively engage their learner population in social action to tackle school and community challenges. Youth and adults work in partnership to bring about positive change. Young leaders develop the character, purpose and 21st century competence for success in life, further study and work. Last year 84% of their graduates achieved degree or diploma matric passes and 75% of the graduates assumed formal leadership positions in their schools. Columba has produced over 6000 graduates since inception. Columba works in well over 100 schools in seven provinces. Last year I asked Tracy Hackland, CEO, if she would visit Nottingham Road to assess whether any of our schools could make use of the program. Earlier this year they did an intervention in Shea O’Connor Combined School. Below is the report written by the learners who participated. Steuart Pennington

Report by School Stakeholders and Learners (In their own words)

We are very happy to have the programme in our school. The programme instilled values of UBUNTU such as integrity, service, creativity, focus, perseverance and awareness as highlighted by Columba Leadership Academy.

Innocent Muyanga Provincial Manager and Lucky Mchunu School Engagement Officer’s regular support visits assist us a lot in terms of leadership and management skills.

We value their support also in learners’ personal challenges that impact their academic performances and life skills positively. The school has the following projects that are used to support teaching, learning and practising 21 Century skills:

  1. Maths and Physical Sciences e-learning projects
  2. World Environmental Day 5 June 2018 (Plastic and litter free campaign
  3. Edu-Plant project, it teaches learners about permaculture gardening skills.
  4. Eco-School project
  5. Midlands Meander Education project 5. School Environmental Education project.

The school’s performance on the Columba programme has been outstanding and as a result they have been granted a second leadership academy to run at their school in August 2018.


Rural schools face many challenges, so it is always good to hear about those who overcome them to provide quality learning. Shea O’Connor Combined School on the outskirts of Nottingham Road in KwaZulu Natal is a great example of achieving more with less.

Although, some classrooms have over 60 learners squeezed into them, this school is well respected, and has achieved 100% pass in the matric results, in all subjects, for the past two years. Good leadership, efficient administration, a supportive community and committed teachers are the key. Teachers take advantage of all offers to improve their skills and knowledge, and through their networks, grasp learning opportunities for their students – visits to the Herbarium, hikes in the mountains, chances to learn about cranes, river health or tidal zone biodiversity.

The environmental ethic at this school is strong. A wetland in the school grounds that was once considered a problem, has been rehabilitated and is now a great teaching resource. Vegetable gardens surround the school buildings and there is little litter in the grounds. The school is a plastic free zone – tuck shop vendors are banned from providing snacks in non-degradable packaging. Many students participate in the Annual Trashion Show – taking action around waste challenges in positive way to create stunning designs from rubbish. Each year learners participate in the Eskom Expo for young scientists, doing research to identify and solve problems innovatively and creatively.

Vice-Principal, Antonia Mkhabela, is proud of their environmental awareness, but laments the fact that they do not have space for a library. “Nothing can replace a book in building a nation” she says, “if we could get a few prefab classrooms, we would be able to set one up for our students.” Without doubt, it is worth supporting schools that are already working well to excel as functional places of learning.

Photo: Siphesihle Mchunu, Ayanda Shabalala, Nzwakazi Mabaso doing a wetland study

Having participated in Columba leadership academy, programme since its inception at our school in 2017, there is a lot to be admired having achieved the following:

  • At school it has developed mutual understanding in all stakeholders (SMT, teachers. parents and learners and Department of Education through the Circuit manager Mr Mpethwane).
  • The impact to the school: we all had the same vision where everyone knows their roles. It has developed a team spirit.

Moreover, it has developed respect and commitment towards the school vision. In fact, the programme assisted us to develop the school vision and the mission, of which in the past we used DOE general vision which was not specific to our school situation. Constructive decisions are taken together with the learners to reduce vandalism at school for example a sense of ownership has been instilled to the learners. Now the learners have started to respect the school property as well as the school grounds in terms of littering.

Currently our school is a plastic free school, which was a decision agreed by all stakeholders mentioned above.