Natural Learning Academy.
NLA is unique. Do we need unique schools in our country? This is a country with so much poverty that it hits you in the eye on a daily basis. One simply has to drive from the airport to the Strand, and one’s overwhelming impression is that of feeling sorry for so many people living in makeshift houses in which there are children who need to go to school. Schools in those areas easily have classes with up to 60 students per class. A maths teacher from one of these ‘overfull’ schools, told me that it was impossible to teach maths to 60 students of whom at least 10 had fetal alcohol syndrome.
On the other hand, I attended a local primary school sports day recently where I observed happy, lucky and active little kiddies running around, learning a new sport, learning how to cope and have good manners within our cultural norms. They were blissfully happy in this almost carefree, idyllic environment – mountains in the background, mothers arriving with cooler boxes, dads trying to teach their six-year-olds how to handle the bat correctly. I sat under a tree and studied behaviour – of parents, teachers and the pupils – neither to enjoy, nor to judge, but to learn.
In one 6-year-old cricket team I saw a few pupils who, should nothing drastically go wrong in their lives, would excel in this environment, students who would benefit from sameness; same hairstyle, same uniforms, same bookcases, same everything. But I also saw the little quiet ones, looking bewildered, not because of newness but because of who they were, clearly not comfortable with this preconditioned set up.
There were a few bullies-in-the-making. One overgrown little boy could not leave the ones who wanted to be obedient alone. He did that by quickly pulling the hair of the one in front, pushing another one when nobody looked, pulling down the pants of a boy who was standing in the row as he was asked to do. The mother was sitting in the shade, so proud, not noticing – no one is as blind as he who does not want to see. She was holding his lunch bag with snacks and juices, which would not be shared with the classmates who only have water.
My observations that afternoon made it so clear that needs vary, that educating does not have only one form and that the process of differentiation of those little six-year-olds should have started already. It had nothing to do with intelligence, but much rather with personality, natural talents and some parents and their children’s need for more care and more guidance to raise that child to become a well-rounded adult who can enjoy life and be productive and compassionate. Those are the students who should be identified as soon as possible, for whom a remedy should be found.
One of the possibilities (not the only one) is to change to a non-mainstream school, where emphasis and resources are on individualized learning and development, where a young boy, for instance, can develop his self-esteem from playing the violin and not necessarily holding a cricket bat.
There are township schools without the idyllic setups, without resources, where apart from students who perform against all odds, you also have the students who need individualised learning.
How can NLA assist?
I am not a politician, nor a freedom fighter, nor any form of activist. I am only a teacher and proud to be a teacher. Through teaching I together with my staff at NLA, try to change lives, at school as well as at places with more adverse circumstances. NLA students get taught that they are privileged, and from that perspective they too assist compassionately where they can. Naming all the involvements would, to my mind, be uncivilized and counterproductive. Our Facebook over the years, as well as our website, shows how NLA interacts and brings about change.
A few students from less fortunate circumstances, not racially determined, are taken in at a lesser fee. The balance comes from personal funding from the school owners and some members of the public. An NLA Stichting was established in the Netherlands a year ago. The aim of this Stichting is to help NLA to accommodate students who cannot afford it, to receive tuition the NLA way.
We are so very proud of our ex-students. Two of them are currently teaching at the school, one in animation and the other in physical education. A few of our ex-students are studying to become teachers. There is a well-known chef, a few designers, science students, a 3rd-year medical student. One of our gr. 12s has just been awarded a full bursary at the Western Cape Rugby Academy, whilst another is in the WP dancing team. The proud list is long…I shall follow up with information.
As a school that is unique in so many ways we annually help students to reach their potential and to become responsible citizens. Some of our unique characteristics is that we did away with homework years ago (long before the big hype). Our students have school till 17h00 which includes time for so-called homework, enrichment such as visiting places of possible further studies, going to museums, to the movies and much more. At NLA we truly love what we do and all the teachers are being re-trained in Solutions Focused Education. Therefore, within clear boundaries, we always work from the positive, keeping the student’s self-esteem in mind.
Contact us should you wish to discuss further, we welcome enquiries.