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Wednesday, January 20, 2021
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Teaching academy in the backyard of a four-room house

Mary-Anne Gontsana    

For Neliswa Dludla from Khayelitsha,a township of Cape Town, teaching in the public school system was a bad experience.

However, Dludla did not want to give up teaching and so she started her own education centre – The Early Birds Lifestyle Academy.

“The well-being of a teacher is non-existent in the public schooling sector. I have experienced patriarchy, ageism and racism,” says Dludla.

“At the same time, I have always wanted to be a teacher,” she adds.

As a student at the University of Cape Town, Dludla was part of the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) programme, a student-run NGO based at the University of Cape Town, that seeks to improve the quality of life for individuals in developing communities within the Cape Metropolitan area. Her main role here was as a project leader in Khayelitsha for undergraduate students.

She became part of the Numeric Teaching Academy in Observatory, Cape Town in 2016. She holds a Bachelor of Social Science degree and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education from the University of South Africa. Dudla also has a Teaching English to speakers of other languages (Tesol) qualification which allows graduates to teach English abroad.

“I worked in a public school last year on a contract basis. As a new teacher I was handled really badly. My contract did not end well with the school, I was not even told that my contract had ended until the first day of the second school term,” she says.

Dludla says there was a high staff turnover, with learners seeing different teachers every three months.

When she left the school, she was unemployed for three months. She started tutoring children individually to make ends meet.

This led to her getting a contract at her former high school teaching English, life orientation and creative arts and running library sessions. She says she was not paid her full salary and started looking elsewhere.

She had many books. Her love of reading and teaching saw her open a reading club with eight children in the four-roomed house  where she grew up.  More children came and parents started becoming more and more involved in their children’s extra mural activities.

The reading club became the Early Birds Lifestyle Academy. This year there are 60 learners of primary and high school age who come for lessons after school.

For the very young ones the curriculum includes English, writing, learning through play and physical exercise. For high school learners, Dludla provides support lessons in Mathematics and Physical Science. She also tries to focus on teaching things she feels are neglected in public schools, such as public speaking, fractions and counting.

“Some of my children did not even know how to count to 50. This is some of the neglect experienced at some of these schools,” she says.

The academy is closed on Wednesdays and on Sundays. Lessons are free and Dludla relies on donations.

At the moment, the academy only has shelves filled with books, a flat screen television, a printer and some computers; she uses the walls as a chalk board.

Some students at the academy also help teach and tutor the learners.

She needs help to register the NGO and to maintain it.

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  1. They offer to learn without minding where the venue is. Mostly, studying outdoor is much better than staying indoor since they could interact outside and they can enjoy and have fun together with their classmates.


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