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Empowering South African Youth Through Education

by SPARK/The Umkhumbane Schools Project
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Learning Resumes in our Gr 12 Friday Math Program
Learning Resumes in our Gr 12 Friday Math Program

At a time when disruption and uncertainty are the new – hopefully temporary – normal in the world of education, The Umkhumbane Schools Project ("USP") is grateful to have been able to keep moving forward during the COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa.  Change can be disconcerting but can also present opportunities for growth and innovation --  and this has certainly been true for us in these last few months.

Our last report came to you in the exciting early days of our mobile math initiative.  We are continuing to provide real-time math instruction to learners from all five of our schools on their cell phones.  This is surely one area of growth and innovation we would not have predicted pre-pandemic.

Schools have reopened in South Africa on a staggered schedule (for all but the Grade 12 learners, who attend every day) and this has presented us with another opportunity.  Because the Grade 9 learners whom we were working with in the USP Maths Centre are currently on the school schedule only one day per week, we have met with the management team at two of our schools and are now teaching math to the Grade 9’s in those schools on two additional days during the week.  The learners are already hard at work and seem so eager for the additional instruction! 

We have recently resumed our Friday Mathematics program for our Grade 12 learners and continue to navigate the challenges of providing a safe setting for in-person teaching and learning.  The wonderful community library room where we used to teach is closed, so we have moved into classrooms at one of our partner schools, dividing the learners into small groups that meet in separate rooms and hiring additional teaching assistants to cover each room.   So far this is working well, and attendance has been steady and enthusiastic.

Many of these Grade 12 learners are among those selected for this year’s AHEAD program – another Umkhumbane Schools Project initiative which has remained in full swing despite the COVID shutdown.  We are pleased to have identified a roster of 59 promising learners drawn from all five of our schools, whom we are providing with wrap-around assistance in applying to college and finding scholarships.  So far, the learners in our AHEAD group have submitted a total of 118 applications across 11 of the most well-recognized South African universities and universities of technology.  Four of these learners have already received conditional (early) offers of admission.  And we are proud to note that The Umkhumbane Schools Project has nominated five new candidates for the prestigious Moshal Scholarship for the coming academic year!

Thanks to your generous support as one of our wonderful GlobalGiving donors, The Umkhumbane Schools Project is alive and well during these uncertain and unprecedented times.  Now, more than ever, we feel the significance of being a steady presence in our learners’ lives, helping them reach towards a brighter future even as so much of what is around us has been shaken.  We are truly grateful to you for making this possible.

We hope that you and your family are safe and well.  

With heartfelt gratitude from all of us here at The Umkhumbane Schools Project,


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"Not Your Ordinary Maths Class..."  has long been a motto for the Friday and Saturday mathematics  lessons that The Umkhumbane Schools Project has been teaching since 2012.  Facing  the closing of schools and the banning of large gatherings as South Africa braced for the COVID-19 pandemic, we were determined to stay active through this time when nothing is ordinary... and to continue teaching and mentoring when our learners perhaps need us more than ever.  

How to reach them?  This became the driving question in those early days in March when we realised we could no longer gather with learners in person and could not rely on conventional online learning methods.  Our learners lack computers and WiFi at home, which effectively excludes them from the online learning tools that were quickly being adopted by well-resourced schools in South Africa and throughout the world.  

Could we teach them on their cell phones?  This was the next question, cell phones being the one device to which our learners have access.  Thanks in very large measure to GlobalGiving donors who responded to our microproject appeal, we have answered this question with a resounding “Yes!” over the past eight weeks.  Using cell phones, WhatsApp, and the seemingly inexhaustible energy, dedication, and creativity of our teaching and administrative staff, The Umkhumbane Schools Project has enrolled over 180 learners in maths tutoring and interactive classes.  Each learner has been placed on a team led by a dedicated maths tutor.  Teams receive problem sets over their cell phones and can interact with their team leaders and teammates 7 days a week to learn new maths material, stay updated with accurate information about the virus, and be part of a group that will encourage and reassure them at this difficult time.

Most exciting of all are the “classes” that happen on Wednesdays and Saturdays, with students in Grades 10-12 learning simultaneously on WhatsApp with our highly trained and experienced teachers.  They can ask questions, see demonstrations of problems, and hear their teachers’ familiar and reassuring voices.  It is an amazing experience to “attend” one of these classes and see the learners’ questions and answers pop up in quick succession, with as many as 40 learners present for a class period at one time.  

We are in the process of rolling out content in areas other than maths, to make even fuller use of this unique and effective way of keeping our learners connected, encouraged and learning during these very challenging days.  Our college admissions advising is also continuing, with 70 learners having been tapped to participate in our AHEAD university access programme for 2020.  And this coming week we hope to start providing grocery vouchers to those of our maths learners who are facing significant food insecurity.  We look forward to keeping you posted as these efforts continue to unfold!

Not your ordinary anything. A good motto for these times.  We send extraordinary gratitude and our best wishes for health and safety to each of you.  



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Among other things, Luthando is an artist.  As the photo above (taken at our 2019 Youth Day History and Arts Festival) suggests, Luthando has been a well-known presence among the group of learners attending  after-school art classes with The Umkhumbane Schools Project.  But Luthando has long had another passion in addition to art  --  a vision for his future that has driven him to work hard and excel academically

Just a few hours before this GlobalGiving report was written, Luthando got a lot closer to realising that vision when the call came from the admissions office at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.  Luthando has been accepted to medical school!

For all of us at the Umkhumbane Schools Project, this news is cause for special celebration  --   as well as special gratitude to you, our GlobalGiving donors.  Luthando is part of our AHEAD program, the initiative through which we identify, mentor, advise, and assist learners in their quest for college admission.  These are learners who have been part of our Friday and Saturday math classes, our science enrichment programming, our environmental education programs, our art lessons...all aspects of our learner programming...and some of them since 8th grade.

In the 2019 school year that just ended in December, we poured more time, effort, and financial resources into our AHEAD program than ever before  --  thanks to funds that came in through our GlobalGiving campaigns.  And the results have been so exciting!

Here are some of the numbers:

  • 45 AHEAD learners for the 2019-2020 admissions cycle (roughly double last year’s number)
  • 27 have received firm offers of admission to universities and colleges throughout South Africa
  • 9 have received or are shortlisted for scholarships
  • 43 have received National Student Financial Aid Scheme funding

The remaining learners who have not yet received firm admission offers are still waitlisted or are busy putting in change-of-mind applications.  Which means we are quite busy, too! 

Thanks to your generosity, The Umkhumbane Schools Project was able to offer twelve AHEAD learners free admission and transport to preparation courses for the NBT exam (similar to the SAT or ACT, but only required for certain courses at certain universities).  For the group as a whole, our staff was able to help with all aspects of the admissions process, from assisting with online applications, to providing guidance as to where to apply and in what fields, to transporting learners to and from campuses for interviews, to helping with all aspects of applying for National Student Financial Aid funding, to providing wrap-around assistance and recommendation letters in support of learners’ search for scholarships.  

Truly, we could never have extended this much guidance and support to these inspiring young people had our GlobalGiving support not been as generous as it was in the past 12 months.   College guidance, in general, is not commonly available in South Africa, even in far more affluent schools than ours.  The potential impact of this work is especially great in the Umkhumbane community, where poverty and a lack of exposure to opportunities puts even the most talented of learners at a deep disadvantage.

A few weeks from now, in early February, you can think of Luthando and all of his AHEAD peers from our five partner schools as they set off on their exciting next chapter as university students.  And you can know that it was your GlobalGiving donation that enabled us to help them get there. 

Their futures are bright, and we are so grateful for your support!  



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Our ISF Scientists at King Shaka Airport, Durban
Our ISF Scientists at King Shaka Airport, Durban

Best One Yet!

This is the time of year when we get to update our GlobalGiving donors on the outcome of one of our biggest annual undertakings…our teaching and mentoring program for the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists and Engineers. Thanks to you, our science Expo resources have remained strong this year, and the outcome was better than ever. Here are some highlights:

At the Regional Competition: 16 Learners, 16 Medals

That’s right, after months of hard work in our Expo mentoring program, all sixteen of our young scientists and engineers earned medals at the regional competition held in August -- four Golds, ten Silvers, and two Bronzes, to be precise! In addition to their medals, our learners collected three Best-in-Category prizes, as well as a number of other special accolades for themselves and cash prizes for their schools. While we cannot pretend not to love these successes, it is not the medals that matter. What matters is the tremendous growth in learning and self-confidence experienced by the learners through this initiative. We can see it in their faces and in the way they stand a little taller. We can hear it in their voices, as they gain in knowledge and understanding of their individual project areas. Best of all, we can see it in the friendships that develop over the weeks of their time together as a group. They help one another with their research, cheer each other on when the going gets challenging, and end up with bonds that will last long after the competition is over. We wish each of you could be here to see all of this, too.

Then…Up, Up and Away to the International Science Fair!

Following the excitement of the regional competition, five of our learners were selected to advance to the International Science Fair (the “ISF”), held in Johannesburg in October. While that in itself was wonderful news, those selected could hardly believe it when they learned that this year -- for the first time ever -- the ISF participants would travel to Johannesburg  by plane, instead of by bus. For all five of our ISF learners, this was not only their first time on a plane, but their first time seeing the airport. What a memorable experience, and before the competition even began! Back on the ground for the ISF, our learners had a great time and earned two Gold Medals, one Bronze Medal, and two Highly-Commended certificates, in addition to special awards for Best Development Project and Best Environmental Monitoring Project in their age-group. Once again, it was wonderful to see them come home with these prizes, but the true reward is in the knowledge they gained, the new experiences they have had, and the expanded horizons that they can now envision.

To our GlobalGiving community -- thank you from the bottom of our hearts for making our work possible. We are so grateful for your ongoing support, and we look forward to bringing you news of our learners’ continued successes.

With our gratitude,

Martha Fitzpatrick Bishai

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USP Career Bridge Students in the Chemistry Lab
USP Career Bridge Students in the Chemistry Lab

Courage.  Determination.  And smarts.  These are three attributes common to a very special group of Umkhumbane Schools Project students – our Career Bridge scholars, whose continuing study of maths and science is being made possible through the generosity of our Global Giving donors.  With our gratitude, let me introduce you to this great group of young people supported by your generous donations:

Who are the Career Bridge scholars?

They are ten aspiring university students who finished high school last year with strong enough results to earn a Diploma Pass or Bachelor Pass, meaning they qualified for entry into higher education.  That’s the first sign of their smarts!  Yet these scholars did not gain admission to the higher education fields that are their passion.  They are a future architect, a future environmental scientist, a future nurse --  to name but three.   All came from disadvantaged backgrounds and under-resourced schools, some from our USP schools and some from as far away as Eastern Cape Province.  And all had a common weakness in their college applications: their marks in mathematics and physical sciences.

Here’s where courage and determination come in.  Instead of settling for a less-challenging course of study for which they feel no real interest, or giving up altogether on their dreams of pursuing higher education, these students are spending the current academic year studying maths and physical sciences with the Umkhumbane Schools Project’s Career Bridge Program.  This coming November, they will rewrite their National Senior Certificate exams in these two subjects and apply again for admission to the fields that they really want to pursue.  That takes courage...especially when the pressure of poverty could easily push them to settle for a low-wage job, if one could be found.  And it takes determination to embrace the task of relearning subjects that have never been personally rewarding.

What does the program provide?

The USP’s Career Bridge provides 90-minutes of classroom teaching three afternoons per week in both math and physical sciences.  Our teachers are two seasoned and energetic educators who are enjoying the challenge of helping this group get to where they want to go.  And through a fantastic local partnership, Career Bridge classes are held in classroom and lab facilities at a nearby independent school.  So these students are getting --  for the first time ever  --  focused instruction by top-notch teachers in a well-equipped, small-class setting.  We also provide individual career and applications guidance to help them navigate the process of gaining admission the second time around.

And how are they doing?

Though there is no guarantee of success with this round of college applications, we are so encouraged by the transformative change in the students' performance on tests (three of the group are consistently attaining A’s on internal tests, and all are passing!)  Best of all is what they say – “I love physics now!”  “I can’t believe how much stronger I feel in maths!” and “Our teachers are awesome!”


None of this could have happened this year without the help of our GlobalGiving donors.   While our other programs are continue to thrive, we are so pleased to have added this project --  it fills a real void in what is available to disadvantaged learners in their quest for educational opportunity.

From all of us at The Umkhumbane Schools Project….Thank You!!!

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Organization Information

SPARK/The Umkhumbane Schools Project

Location: Durban - South Africa
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @umkhumbane
Project Leader:
Martha Bishai
Durban, South Africa
$25,345 raised of $30,000 goal
217 donations
$4,655 to go
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