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  • Writer's pictureSam Danforth

School in South Africa



Colored pencils labeled for school.

Originally published January 28, 2015.


School runs late January-early December in South Africa.  We now have a 4th grader in "preperatory school" and a 3rd grader in "junior primary".  From what I gather, the social and academic jump from junior primary to prep school is akin to our jump from elementary to middle school.


The week before school, the surrounding towns are in hustle and bustle mode buying "stationary" (school supplies).  Unlike the US, every pencil, every crayon, every coloring pencil, every marker, EVERY ITEM has to be labeled with your child's name.  Also unlike the US, the school supply list is extremely strict, down to the exact type of pencil case expected.  Cross off two days of your summer vacation solely to find the correct stationary and label it :)


School runs 7:30-2 with 2 days of mandatory sport for Sawyer (swimming, cricket, field hockey, soccer).  Grade 4 sport takes place after school, so Elaina is out at 3:15.


Grade 4 course of study includes English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Geography, Natural Science, Maths, History, Culture Club, P.E. and Sport.  Wow.  The homework load takes several hours each day and there is a strict code of adherence for how homework is to be completed.  Proper lines must be drawn under the date and any messy work must be erased and re-written.  Once grade 4 students have individually proven themselves to write neatly, they gain a "Pen License" where they graduate from pencils to pens.


Girl gets ready for school in South Africa.


The grading system is one we are having to get used to, so I'll write as objectively as I can.  Our school produced two seniors in the top 1% of the country last year.  Their grades were in the 80% range.  Achieving a 70% is considered our high B range and an 80% is quite highly regarded.  Scoring within the 90's is quite rare.  The line between rigor and impossible on assessments here is something that I may someday understand, but not yet.  Likewise, material that is assessed and assessment methods are something we will have to learn to adapt to.


There is a strict code of conduct and overall student presentation.  No make up or jewelry is permitted in any grade (other than stud earrings).  Hair must never fall below the collar, therefore must be tied up for girls.  Boys wear knee socks, which, if sagging, may earn a demerit.  That becomes interesting with the only low quality socks that are available.  Students may earn a demerit if they forget their sun hat during break time and they may get a detention for chewing gum, wearing the wrong sport clothes, or arriving late to school.


You get the drift of where the American rebel in me may rear its ugly head. HOWEVER, the old school American in me has fallen in love with the following things:


1.  Every student, no matter how young or old, will drop everything they are doing when an adult walks by, look them in the eye, and say "Good morning, Ma'am/Sir".  Every student.  Even when school hours are over.


2.  Student responsibility is huge here.  How a child can be punished for being brought late to school may be beyond me but I see fruit in other amazing areas.  Independence in homework, personal study time, ownership of work and neatness, ownership of behavior, awareness of personal impact on community, and good stewardship of belongings are all traits that have greatly increased in the last 7 months.


3.  World Language is taken seriously down to the elementary level.  My 4th grader is learning Afrikaans AND Zulu.  How forward-thinking is that?!  How hard we fought to have World Language offered at least in junior high in Cedar Falls.  Rather, Iowan students well beyond their optimal language learning years are forced to play catch up with the rest of the world.


4.  Snakes, monkeys, and tropical flora invade campus.  I mean, c'mon, that's cool.


We are so very grateful to the Lord for this educational opportunity and for the life lessons it pushes us through.  Now, bring on 3rd and 4th grade!


Girl and boy in school uniforms in South Africa.

At the request of readers, posts from my original blog are being republished here,

some of which appear in Raising a Family Overseas.

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