At game-changers we truly believe that every child – whatever their age, gender, race or socioeconomic status – should have access to quality education so that they can fulfill their potential. This is why we are committed to establishing a quality, inclusive and affordable school, for families from a range of incomes here in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.
In order to make the school sustainable – whilst catering for families from a range of incomes – our aim of quality and inclusive education for all, requires a different funding approach to what currently exists here in South Africa. Generally, quality education within South Africa comes at a cost, a cost that the overwhelming majority of the population cannot afford. Even in a ‘Post Apartheid’ society, the average black family still earns five times less than the average white family. We want to create a different model, an affordable approach for everyone, where the level of school fees you pay are in relation to your income.
As part of our research into innovative, child-centred approaches to education, we had the opportunity to visit a high school in Washington DC that is part of the Cristo Rey Network.
Below, we share a bit about Cristo Rey’s story…
In 1991, a Jesuit Priest, Father Bradley Schaeffer, had a vision to start a school in an economically disadvantaged community in Pilsen, Chicago. As a Jesuit he knew his calling was to serve the poor. High schools in the community, at the time, had a drop out rate of between 56% and 73% and weren’t giving children and their families the life they sought. He recognised that as people of faith they needed to be involved in education to bring change and transformation for families.
In More than a dream – the book that tells the story of how the first school started – Kearney (2008) highlights how the initial team strived to create a sustainable model. They identified the need for a different approach, recognising that the models to fund schools – tuition fees, endowments for bursaries, volunteer teachers – would not work, Schaeffer in 1993 explained:
‘We’re working on a model that people will be able to afford. We know that’s an issue. I don’t know how we are going to do it yet, but we’re going to make the school affordable’ (p.23).
And they did create a model to make the school affordable. They developed an approach consisting of a Corporate Work Program in which students worked one day a week. This money would go towards the payment of their tuition costs, and in addition to this families would pay relatively low school fees. Kearney explains:
“To make the school more affordable, its founders adopted a bold new funding model. It was the kind of model that when proposed in most boardroom brainstorming session would elicit a chuckle and a few harrumphs. Someone would probably say, “Yeah, wouldn’t it be nice if we could.”
Inevitably, though, it would be dismissed in favour of something more practical, something that had already been done, been tested, and proven successful. The new approach would fall silently from the table, its potential snuffed out by a refusal – or maybe an inability – to think of what could be.
In this case, though, the new model defied the odds and stayed on the table. The Jesuits were determined to start a school for the children of the working poor – and they vowed to make it happen…
The model proposed for the new school was untested and certainly unconventional. But the Jesuits decided, after substantial consultation and discernment, to try it anyway” (p.xiii).
The first Cristo Rey school did start in Pilsen, Chicago in 1996. Now 22 years later there are 35 Cristo Rey Schools, located in 21 states in America, serving 11,522 students.
Cristo Rey’s story is so inspiring. So many steps of faith had to be taken from the vision in 1991, to the first school becoming a reality in 1996. They were committed to providing quality student-centred education for the economically disadvantaged, and by taking one step at a time, this is what they achieved.
Like the Jesuits, we are determined to start a school. For the vision to become a reality a different funding model is necessary. To ensure quality and inclusive education for all in South Africa we need a different model. Our approach may also be untested, but we are going to try it anyway.