Just beneath the collective consciousness of many Kleinmond residents is the need for a high school in the town. From time to time it rises to the surface and attempts are made to engage with the Western Cape Education Department. The answer is always the same: the number of potential pupils does not justify the required capital and running costs.

At the moment the parents of high school pupils have to send their children to Hermanus, Caledon or Grabouw. All very well if you can afford the transport costs, but many parents are either unemployed or not earning enough to rise to this additional expense. The result is that some learners are forced to drop out of school at the age of 15. The other disadvantage is that learners are not able to participate in extra-mural activities at the school and are too tired after their commute to focus on their homework.

During the 2017 protests, this matter was raised once again by the participants. A community development forum under the chairmanship of Dr Braam Hanekom was formed by the citizenry to try to address some of these demands as a matter of urgency. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Recently-retired high school teacher and principal, Louis Botes, and his wife, Elize, also a high school teacher, arrived unannounced in Kleinmond in 2018 from Bethal in Mpumalanga.

No one could be better equipped to take the matter of the high school forward. When they arrived in Bethal in 1992 they became aware of the need for a good-quality, affordable English language primary school in the town (many residents did not wish to send their children to the Afrikaans-language school). Despite strong opposition from most of the deeply conservative residents and municipal town councillors, in 1995 Elize opened a pre-school class (what today would be called Grade R) in a converted house, with one pupil. Twenty-three years later, in March 2018, the Bethal Independent Primary School was formally launched, with a total of 360 children.

The story of that 23-year-long journey is an unbelievable saga of attrition, with the school being thrown out of the building it was renting, being deprived of water, being denied the right to purchase vacant land to build school premises. It took nothing short of true grit to see the project through to its conclusion, but many past pupils have justified Louis and Elize’s mammoth effort by going on to create prestigious careers for themselves.

Now Louis has taken on the Kleinmond High School project. One of the first things he discovered was that the Western Cape is the only province in the country which has developed a model called a Collaboration School, which is a partnership between the Department and a particular community. These are subsidised no-fee schools, following the same curriculum and norms and standards as any public school, in which the community takes responsibility for the provision of premises. All the parents are required to pay for are school uniforms and fees for possible extra-mural activities. A similar school has been operating with great success in Barrydale for three years.

Knowing that there are many retired teachers living in Kleinmond, Louis put out a call for teachers who might be prepared to offer their services to the school on a part-time basis, reducing the number of full-time, fully-salaried staff members. He received enthusiastic and positive feedback from 15, covering subjects like languages, mathematics and IT.

The question of premises has also been resolved. The Mthimkhulu Community Centre, a project of The Grail Centre in Kleinmond is centrally situated on the Main Road and has seven classrooms available, together with a computer centre, a fully-equipped industrial kitchen and a large shed suitable for practical workshops. These premises were originally used as a Boland College campus until they pulled out of Kleinmond some years back. The classrooms are set in spacious grounds, next to the municipal Sports Grounds, which the Overstrand Municipality has given them permission to use for school sports.

At this stage, they are considering offering a choice of three educational bands: a normal academic stream, a mix of academic and practical skills, and a purely vocational skills programme with a choice of nine types of training, from agriculture and nature conservation, to early childhood development and mechanical and electrical technology. All learners will be required to take two of three first language courses, as well as IT skills and career guidance which will be offered from Grade 8 upwards.

Very positive meetings have been held with two top WCED officials including Kubeshini Govender, head of the Collaborative Projects Department who has paid a visit to the site and is very excited. “She feels we could get the project off the ground from the beginning of 2020,” says Louis, “but I would rather take it a little more slowly and aim for the beginning of 2021 – make sure all our ducks are in a row first.

“Most important of all, though, we will soon be undertaking an in-depth survey amongst parents of Grade 6 and 7 learners at our two primary schools to gauge how many of them would consider sending their children to the school, and to gain input from them on what courses they would consider of greatest value.

Apart from providing an opportunity for high-quality, low-cost education,” he emphasises, “we would like to see this as a bridge-building project with the involvement of the whole community – something everyone in Kleinmond can be proud of.”

For more information, Louis Botes can be contacted on lbotes1951@gmail.com.

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