How much are you sacrificing when it comes to your child's education? Are you sacrificing luxuries or even necessities to be able to afford a private education, or are you sacrificing quality education because you can't afford private education?
There's a school that is combining a more affordable option with great education, and they call themselves "disruptors" in the South African education space. SPARK Schools is trying to close the massive divide, and founders Ryan Harrison and Stacey Brewer have created great-quality education that's affordable too.
On paper, the SPARK schools look promising. The first one opened in Ferndale in Joburg in 2013, and with a high success and demand, the next school was opened in Cresta in 2014, followed by Maboneng and Bramley in 2015, and MIdrand, Lynedoch (Stellenbosch), Rynfield and Centurion in 2016, and Randpark Ridge, Silver Lakes and Carlswald this year. The team says they aim to open new schools every year throughout the country and they have announced four new schools to open in January 2018 in Theresa Park, Turffontein, Kempton Park and Les Marais.
In practice, SPARK Schools look even more promising than on paper. I visited the Bramley school last week, and was blown away by the spirit of the scholars, and how the school has customs and ways of learning and teaching that I've never seen anywhere before.
For starters, the school day starts with Sparks Fly, an assembly that combines learning with singing and dancing, motivation, self belief and camaraderie. It's the most fun I've ever seen at a school, and by far the most engaging and special way to start a school day.
Education here goes beyond the books, from what I saw. There's a creed the scholars say each day, which made me cry when I heard it. I was moved that education here is not only about a syllabus, but about the self too, and about a future self, going to university. Values and self belief are intrinsic here and practised daily. Here's how it goes:
"I am a SPARK scholar at all times. I serve my classmates, community and country. I am persistent, I never give up. I achieve my best in all that I do. I am responsible for my actions. I treat everyone with kindness. I am compassionate, I will show care and concern for all. I am a Spark scholar and I am going to university".
Another thing that suprised me was that school finishes later than most, especially for such young kids. On Mondays, learners finish school at 1pm. Tuesday to Friday, grades R and 1 finish school at 15h00; grades 2 and 3 finish school at 3.30pm; and grades 4, 5 and 6 finish school at 4pm. This extended day includes all academic classes, as well as PE and technolgy-based learning (there's also aftercare with enrichments and extramurals until 5.30pm).
So, how do kids last almost the whole day at school? Apparently with ease, I'm told. Classes are engaging, and there is a personalised-learning model, which combines teacher-led instruction and technology-based learning.
And now for the other showstopper – there is no real punishment, no detention and no warnings. Kids don't have to sit in corners, or sit for an hour writing a repeat of sentences as punishment. Here, scholars get assigned a number, and take responsibility for their movements up/down the behaviour chart, according to how they behave in class.
So for example, if a child speaks while the teacher is talking, the teacher will tell them to move their number down a level. Generally, seeing themselves placed on a lower rung motivates them to do something positive to move up the behaviour chart. If you're wondering why they get assigned a number, it's to protect them – the other kids can't keep track of who sits on the top, and who sits on the bottom.
Here's a picture so you can see what I mean:
If a scholar ends the day on the red part of the chart, they need to sit out the fun assembly the next morning – they're still allowed to be there, but have to stand on the outskirts. Apparently the fun of the assembly is a huge motivator to keep kids on the right track.
Another highlight for me was seeing how families are encouraged to participate in the school. All families are asked to complete 30 volunteer hours during the year. These can be in the form of donations, taking part in a committee, doing charity work, or attending school events. Many parents do volunteer work with their kids, while others come to class and read to the scholars.
The SPARK Schools story is a good one, and whether you're happily ensconced in your child's school, or looking for a more affordable or better and progressive education model, I recommend you visit, or chat to one of the staff, who are so proud and so fuelled by what they are creating – and delivering – to scholars.
For more information and contact details of the schools, head to the website. Fees for 2018 are R21 000.
Have a look at this must-watch video to get more of a sense of what it's about: