Paarl Update Oct 2022

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Mary help of Christians Primary School E Paarl Western Cape South Africa

Visit report

Chris and Ann Lowther, who have established a long relationship with Mary Help of Christians Primary School in Paarl were invited to visit the school on 20th September 2022 whilst on holiday nearby. The visit coincided with a Governing Board Meeting at the school chaired by Dr Evona Rebelo, Head of Education for the Archdiocese of Cape Town, who has acted as Administrator of the school since the school lost its State accreditation a few years ago. In the last 2 years the school has had two principals who have endeavoured to create improvements to the school in preparation for re- accreditation. Unfortunately, they have left for various reasons, most recently in August this year when the principal resigned for ill health and family reasons.

The school was opened in 1956 by the Salesian Sisters at the request of the Archbishop of Cape Town at the time since there were no catholic primary schools serving the locality. The school comprises 2 classes of around 40 children  in each year from reception and up to and including Grade (Year) 7 pupils and 14 teachers. Eight of the 14 teachers who were over retirement age have been replaced by younger teachers during this last year to add dynamism to the school and introduce more up to date teaching methods in line with modern education requirements.

As a result of the Board Meeting a new Principal was appointed, Jacques Fouche, who has been teaching at the school for the past year. He has also been responsible for infrastructure and introduction of IT in the school. His wife is among the new teachers the school has recruited this past year. He is a very energetic, enthusiastic, and impressive teacher who has many skills and has introduced updated and refurbished IT systems and equipment thus saving considerable sums of money for the school. He had previously taught at Holy Cross Secondary School in Cape Town where his brother is the principal.

West Surrey Circle raised some £10,000 over the last two years in an endeavour to help the school during the Covid Pandemic and in facilitating physical  improvements to the school. These have included refurbishment of 3 classrooms and the introduction of Wi-Fi, computing, and Smart Boards for Year 3, 6 and 7. This has revolutionised the learning experience for pupils in those years. They now have access to educational material from the internet, teachers are able to plan lessons in the IT system to include downloaded or live videos in their lessons. Some photos are attached. Obviously more funds will be needed to upgrade all the other classrooms in the school.

We were shown the new facilities by Jacques Fouche whilst the Board were meeting not knowing that he was about to be offered the job of principal! He showed aspects of the school infrastructure which are  in desperate need of repair and shared his ideas about improvements he would like to make. He also outlined the modern security systems and arrangements which were going to be installed the following week during their half term.

After the Board meeting, we had lunch with some members of the Board,  Dr Evona Rebelo, and  the parish priest, Fr Shaun Addinall; and with Jacques Fouche. They described some of the issues the school faced and improvements they would like to make. They were also optimistic that the school would be reaccredited following various inspections by the State School’s Inspectorate. This would relieve the Archdiocese of the significant financial burden in keeping the school afloat.

We arranged to meet Jacques and his wife a few days later after he had been informed of his official appointment as Principal. This gave him the opportunity to provide more details about his ‘wish list’ and plans for the school. These include: the refurbishment of existing classrooms; the installation of ‘Smart Boards’ in every classroom; the training of all the teachers in IT computing and use of the smart Boards; the addition of two classrooms, the transformation of one of the buildings nearest the school gate into an admin and reception area to increase security of entry into the school, rebuilding of perimeter walls, razor wire etc. to improve security yet more; refurbishment and replacement of asbestos gutters; connection of water tanks to the school water supply to prevent school closure when the external water supply was cut off as a result of water main bursts; introduction of a school garden for the children to cultivate vegetables etc. All of these plans will require significant funding which the school does not have at present.

We discussed whether he would like any donated equipment which we might be able to offer and might be useful for the school including:  old laptops,  K’nex kits, balloon cars; educational material et al to which he responded, “yes and yes”!

We also discussed the possible twinning of MHOC with Binsted village C of E  school in Hampshire which has been a longstanding agreement in principle but has not progressed any further to date apart from the donation in February of clothes from the Lost property office at Binsted.

In summary the school has taken giant leaps forward in the last 6 months and under the guidance of a committed and energetic new principal, supported by a committed Archdiocese Head of education should continue to improve. Accreditation by the State has yet to be granted and the school will require significant funding in order to carry out the improvements the school needs. One idea might be to set up a charitable trust in the UK for the benefit of the school to allow donations to be made from the UK and help the school achieve its aims. This might also facilitate the continuation of the link between West Surrey Circle and the school in future years.