Ms Wood and two learners from Protea Primary
The Journey to date
The HeadStart Trust has been involved with constructive support at Protea Primary School in Napier for many years. Napier is a rural town in the Western Cape, with a very high percentage of disadvantaged, poor and unemployed residents. Projects have included the establishment of a vegetable garden; supplying stationery to the more senior grades; and an annual school-labelled beanie donation to the younger grades. At the beginning of 2019, the main project became the fulfillment of Bruce Jack’s dream of establishing a music academy in Napier, named in honour of his mother, Elspeth Jack, that will inspire community upliftment and become a beacon of hope in the Cape Agulhas region.
The first step in this collaborative process involved transforming an old storeroom into a music classroom. A local music performer, Ms Wood, who qualified as a teacher from Cambridge (UK) and holds music qualifications from Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town, was sourced to lead the Alfred’s Basic Piano series & Trinity College formal keyboard training programme. To account for sustainability, a community member, Mrs van der Westhuizen, was trained and mentored by Ms Wood in teaching Levels 1A and 1B of the Alfred’s Basic Piano and Trinity College and Royal Schools graded music assessments.
Keyboards were sourced as the musical instrument with which to start training, and training started in the second term with the 36 Grade 7 learners. The value of the music lessons was soon realised, and the Grade 7 teachers – who included the Headmaster, Mr Temmers, and his deputy principal, Mrs van Geems – arranged for the frequency of lessons to be increased from fortnightly to weekly, commencing in the third term.
The leadership of the school acknowledged that the end of the academic year was too short a timeframe to evaluate the benefits on academic results gained from the music lessons. What they did discover, however, exceeded even their wildest expectations, and illustrates powerfully how music can address specific needs of a specific community.
School absenteeism is a symptom of the many socio-economic challenges experienced in most rural communities. The extent of this concern has driven the Western Cape Education Department to add ‘Learner Attendance’ to the key performance indicators of headmasters under their jurisdiction. It is thus imperative that these leaders keep meticulous daily records of the learner numbers that do arrive.
At the year-end concert that was held in the school hall for the benefit of the Grade 7 parents, Mr Temmers revealed the impact that the music lessons have had.Over the years that he has kept records, the Grade 7 yearly attendance rate has hovered between 80% and 85%. In 2019, the Grade 7 attendance rate was 98%. He could only attribute this significant increase to the music lessons.
Contributing to the socio-economic barriers are environmental restrictions, like when the first big rains came at the end of October after a very dry season. When Mr Temmers did his roll call rounds in the pouring rain, he met with the expected high rate of absentees: across the entire primary school, each class had between nine and 26 learners absent, with an average of 16 learners absent per class. In the Grade 7 class, on a non- music lesson day, only two learners were absent. Again, he could only attribute this low rate to the positive impact of the music lessons.
With such good attendance rates reported, Mr Temmers showed community-initiated interest to expand the music lessons to further grades in the forthcoming year.
Advertisements for music teachers were distributed through local newspapers across the Cape Agulhas region, and Mr and Mrs Humphries were appointed to assist Mrs van der Westhuizen with music lessons.
In the first term of 2020, a total of 97 Grade 6 and 7 learners received weekly key board lessons; 20 Grade 4s received twice-weekly recorder lessons; and a Junior Choir of Grade 2s and Grade 3s was practicing on a weekly basis.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s enforced government regulations toward the end of March, all music lessons, and any extracurricular activities, were suspended at state-controlled institutions. The HeadStart Trust has stayed in contact with and in support of Protea Primary leadership.
Our vision post-COVID
The Covid lockdown began in South Africa in March 2020, upending the progress already made by the HeadStart programme since its inception in 2018 in Napier in the Western Cape. A year later, schools are working with half of the learners attending classes on alternating days. The Education Department has stopped all activities other than essential schooling until Covid is past, probably only once South Africa has gone through a third wave and achieved significant vaccination coverage, which should be towards the end of 2021.
Covid has left already disadvantaged communities further ravaged by unemployment, poverty and hunger, while children are more at risk than ever. HeadStart has been actively involved in driving a collaborative effort to provide food relief to the wider Napier community, but everyone involved is keen for the organisation to get back to delivering on its original mission.
The HeadStart Trust’s mission is to provide music education to children in rural areas and in so doing improve their performance at school and the quality of their lives. Music education is a catalyst to improve academic achievement, motivation for school, and self-confidence.
The Trust aims to use music to heal brokencommunities through providing a positive mythology alongside those provided by churches, sport and the very few jobs.
The Trust has a vision of building 20 academies across South Africa in the next 30 years. These will be stand-alone buildings known as the Elspeth Jack Academies and will function both in collaboration with the local schools and independently.
The challenge ahead
HeadStart has worked alongside the community and the initial beneficiaries, the teachers at the Protea Primary School in Napier, to develop and test the initial programme and to recruit further music teachers.
The challenge now is to raise the necessary funds to establish the first academy in its own building, to begin teaching the children at the academy, and to prepare to reinstate music lessons at the school once the Covid restrictions have been lifted. Funds are needed for teachers’ salaries, PPE protocols, appropriate musical instruments, and stationery for the staff, which includes printing costs of work- and music sheets.
HeadStart needs to raise ZAR 30 million over the next five years.
The next step in the process, in discussion with the community and the school, will be to re-evaluate the success of the extended programme once it has run for six months, tweak it where necessary, and then roll it out to the next needy community.
High Fives all round in music class