Reclaiming the "Graveyard Shift" in South African Schooling

The last week of school in South African state schools is often a dead time. The "graveyard shift" after exams and assessments are completed. Officially, these are still school days when teaching and learning are meant to take place. But in practice, most learners choose to stay home, while teachers and school managers use the time to catch up on report writing and other administrative duties.

What a lost opportunity! In a country with an education system widely regarded as being in "crisis", where contact time between teachers and their learners is already limited, and where many schools struggle to keep up with the curriculum, to give up on all these extra days of schooling is shocking.

Even if these days are not used for the ordinary school program, they could be used to keep children in school doing alternative fun learning activities through the arts and sport - aspects of schooling that are often sorely neglected in South Africa.

Cape Town-based non-governmental organisation Bottom Up Social Development has been working with four high schools in poor Cape Flats communities since 2017. Reclaiming this "dead time" in the last week of school, through arts-based activities, is one of the things Bottom Up has focused on in its effort to stimulate engagement and reduce the school dropout rates, which are high in these schools.   

On Wednesday the 28th of March, members of the iBali Network took a break from their storytelling workshop to visit one of these schools - Lotus High School - to meet the learners and share some storytelling techniques with the school's "action research committee". This committee was set up by Bottom Up last year to find ways in which youth activists could address disengagement dropout in their school through action research.

In a three-hour workshop, the early career researchers from the iBali Network met with the 15 high school action research committee members, sharing perspectives and getting to know one another while exploring the art of storytelling. Coming from many different African countries, and with numerous personal experiences of difficult educational journeys, the iBali researchers quickly established a strong rapport with members of the school group, who were fascinated to meet them. In return, the Lotus High committee gave the iBali group a valuable insight into their school and some of the opportunities and challenges they experience during their schooling.

Through storytelling exercises, the "River of Life" drawing exercise and a short drama, a number of collective and personal reflections on the learners' experience of school and education were elicited. Both groups thoroughly enjoyed the engagement, which added a valuable dimension to the iBali storytelling workshop, and to the experience of the learners from Lotus High School.

At least at one school, the last day of school was a little less dead than it might have been!