Learners tested by hardship

If there’s one thing the students at Sommersle Combined will know by the time they’ve left school, it’s the many hardships and obstacles that are thrown their way on a daily basis.

This farm school, outside Harrismith in the Free State, is one of those that seems to have been left behind. Started in 1949, it was not until 1981 that its classrooms grew from two to four.
But the number of learners attending Sommersle has continued to increase, with 105 students at various levels from Grade 1 to 9.

So teachers at Sommersle have the tricky job of teaching a range of grades at the same time in the same classroom. Says principal David Maduna, ‘Grades 1,2 and 3 are taught together. Grades 4, 5 and 6 are taught together in one class. Grade 7, 8 and 9 are taught separately.”

Although the school receives photocopying paper from the provincial education department, it has no photocopying machine. ‘The students just use the paper to take down notes instead. It’s hard enough teaching three different grades in one class, but now we also have to deal with not being able to make photocopies for them,” says Maduna.

Given the already cumbersome process of multigrade teaching, this is another obstacle to effective teaching and learning. As Maduna points out, having photocopied handouts would give the one grade work to do while the other received the teacher’s attention. More time is spent on taking down notes, which adds to the teacher’s burden of teaching three different grades at once.

Another daily struggle the students face is getting to school. There is no public transport in the area. ‘We have some students here that have to travel 12kms just to get to school. That’s 24kms on a daily basis. They have to leave home at 5am to get to school by 9am,” says Maduna. ‘When there is bad weather, we have very poor attendance. Sometimes we don’t even have school at all because the kids don’t come.” The kids have to walk to a distant neighbour to get drinking water.

There are glimmers of improvements. For one thing, the school has had electricity for the last two years. Two computers were donated to them, but they can’t keep them at the school because of poor security.

Meantime, the teachers go the extra mile to liven up the learner’s school life. ‘Sometimes I bring my television to school for the kids to watch movies. The kids play soccer and netball on every other Friday,” Maduna says.

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