Education in the Greater Hermanus area has come a long way. In her Hermanus Stories I, S J du Toit records that in 1945 the Hermanus High School had only one learner in the matric class, while in 1952 there were only five registered schools in the area. Today, Hermanus is well-known for the quality and range of educational institutions available for residents, with more than 35 schools in various categories, ranging from pre-schools to high schools. In this extract from a new book currently being written by DR ROBIN LEE of the Hermanus History Society, we take a closer look at the development of education in Hermanus over the course of more than a century.
Formal education or schooling began in Hermanus some 13 years after the first families from Herries Bay settled at Rietfontein and started fishing out of Visbaai, known to us as the Old Harbour. In 1868 a school offering basic education was launched by the congregation of St. Peter’s Anglican Church and a man destined to play a major part in Hermanus life was appointed Principal. He was William Hugh Paterson, later known as ‘Meester’ for his educational standing.
Sixteen years later, in 1884, members of the Dutch Reformed Church established a second school, which met in the Church Hall. In 1897 the two schools amalgamated into what was known as the ‘public school’. Classes were held in the DRC Hall and the instruction was given in Dutch and English.
After the conclusion of the South African War in 1902, parents and teachers started asking the colonial government for a formal school building, but construction did not begin until 1907. The chosen site was adjacent to Klipkop, as Hoy’s Koppie was known then. The building was constructed from stone found on the site. Because of this and because it was near the koppie the school was known as the ‘Klipskool’. It was completed in 1911 and opened in 1912. Among the first teachers was Magdalena Neethling, known as ‘Swallow’ and of course, Meester Paterson.
An additional teacher, the newly-qualified Johanna van Rhyn, arrived in 1914. She had intended to stay for one term, but spent most of the rest of her life in Hermanus. Initially, she did not like Hermanus, but her attitude changed:
By the end of the term, however, I had become interested in the school and was no longer eager to leave. I would not stay forever, of course, but just for a little while, until I got things organised. There was so much that needed doing. The school was poor, primitive and sadly lacking in every possible amenity. I was kept very busy; apart from my classes, I gave drawing and music lessons… There was no school library; at the end of the term I gave a concert with my pupils in order to raise money to buy some books.
The other teachers were friendly and helpful. Swallow Neethling was a small, lively woman, a keen gardener, and we found a mutual interest in flowers… Meester Paterson, too, was an authority on wild flowers. He roamed the mountainsides bringing back specimens for classification…
Joey van Rhyn was not a teacher for long. Within a year she had married P J Luyt, owner of The Marine Hotel and taken over management of the hotel, where she would remain for the next 32 years.
The ‘Klipskool’ became a formal government school in 1918 and, as the Hermanus Primary School, has created an admirable history since that date. In 1941 secondary clas- The second school in Hermanus was established by the Dutch Reformed Church, which amalgamated with the earlier St Peter’s School in 1897. ses were established on the same site, as part of the existing school. This situation lasted until 1977 when the present high school was inaugurated. In 1995 the Klipskool building was renovated and is now an integral part of the primary school.
Another reference to the Klipskool is provided by Sydney Oblowitz (1915 – 2010), the only child of Jacob and Rachel Oblowitz. This family ran a general dealer’s store at what we now call Lemm’s Corner from 1904 to 1923. Sydney was sent to the Klipskool from an early age, but was a regular truant, preferring to hang out with the fishermen down at the harbour. In a television interview in 2010, when he was 95 years of age, he remembered that one of the teachers advised his parents that their son seldom attended school and was in real danger from an accident or falling into bad company at the harbour.
The Oblowitzes took this very seriously, sold their business to the Lipschitz family and moved to Cape Town. Sydney probably would have escaped unharmed anyway. Later, he had a charmed life, serving for four years with the South African forces in North Africa in WW II, and then with the Israeli army for the duration of the War of Independence, without incurring the slightest injury in either war.
Since 1977 Hermanus High School has grown steadily to its present enrolment of about 1 000 learners and has an enviable reputation for academic and sporting achievement.
It is interesting to analyse the social and economic reasons why Hermanus has built up and sustains such a varied and vigorous schooling provision. The growth of the education sector may be explained as part of the growth of the service sector in the town.
As Hermanus became more popular, capital started to enter the local economic system from conventional tourism, holiday home owners and retirees. None of these groups was specifically in need of schools, but they had economic needs of different kinds: garden services, banking, medical, home maintenance, computer repairs, vehicle servicing and many other areas. Younger people began to settle in Hermanus to provide these services. And they had children who needed to go to school. The demand for schools grew rapidly.
There is another dimension as well. Members of the new service sector differed in the age of children, religion, the location of schools, type of education wanted, and other ways. As a result the providers of education began to specialise as well as expand.
The lifestyle in Hermanus also attracted better teachers and the quality of education results began to rise. It is not overstating the case to say that in the 21st century many young families decide that they want their children to get a quality education and they come to Hermanus primarily for that reason. Once they have taken that decision they look for a job or become self-employed in our town.
These developments support the central thesis of this book. Tourism of several kinds is at the base of everything in the town – even the education system. If development threatens the attraction of our environment to tourists, they will go elsewhere and the gains in the economy, in health care and education will be lost. It may sound strange, but the development we must avoid is over-development.