6 Months of Student Progress: A Review

Streetlight: Jeppestown opened its doors in January this year and took in the first cohort of 70 learners. A lot has changed since then: we are closer to the ideal learning environment that we envisioned, our school is expanding, but most importantly our learners are growing. The first semester has been an intense journey, with lots of new experiences acquired and lessons learned for both students and teachers.

When Streetlight: Jeppestown opened we did not screen children for ability, and accepted whoever came to our door. We operate in one of the poorest communities in Johannesburg, and many of our children were at a disadvantage when we started. Many of our learners were not able to speak a single word of English when entered the school. In the words of one teacher:

They couldn’t count. They couldn’t even hold a pencil. Let me give you an example for two classes I’m teaching. Most students in Grade 1 class didn’t go to the pre-school. They came and directly went to Grade 1.

But things have changed drastically since then. Our students have all grown enormously and we can say that we have closed the gaps that previously existed. To quote another teacher:

I have seen students who came in and couldn’t speak a word in English and now they can. I have seen others that could speak but couldn’t read, but now they can write, read and construct sentences on their own. The students are really growing.

The progress made by our students so far is palpable and the data from our assessments speaks clearly. We have evaluated the level of our students in terms of Numeracy and Literacy at the beginning of the school year and at the end of the second term. Evaluation was conducted on a scale of 1 - 5 (1= below average; 3 = good; 5 = outstanding). All students grew from “below average” to “good” and above, as seen in the graphs below:

To put these achievements in perspective, we decided to compare our student’s advancement in Numeracy and Literacy to government standards - the CAPS. We discovered that at the end of six months our learners are far surpassing national academic requirements expected of learners after 12 months of schooling. Some of the most striking facts are summarized below:

Below are some examples of the improvements that our students made between January and August:

On top of the amazing academic results, our learners are improving in many other respects. Here in Streetlights we don’t picture children simply as students but we are concerned with their overall development as young individuals. We believe that students cannot be just put in a classroom and expected to learn, they need to be guided and taught how to internalize the mechanisms and expectations implied in a creative and modern education system. It was not an easy task. As one of our teachers described ‘When we started here, it was chaos: fighting, running around the school and all those things.’ But after one semester we can proudly say that our students have embraced our concept of schooling. Learners fully understand what being part of our school is about and they are aware of the benefits that going to school brings to them. In other words, they love coming to school because they know it is a place where they can learn while enjoying themselves. According to one teacher:

All of our learners like to come to the school, even when they are sick. If their mom ask them to stay at home, they would cry. They want to come to the school. I think it’s because of the environment, the teachers and other learners.

In Streetlight Schools we see each child as a psychological, physical and intellectual whole, and treat their education as supporting and engaging with all these facets. Our aim is not just to deliver some knowledge, but to create an environment that will allow kids to flourish both academically and on a more personal level. By the end of the first semester teachers have started to observe some changes in the nature of our learners. Quoting one of them:

Our students are more mature. I see it behavior-wise. When they came they were a bit rowdy because of the community they come from probably. Now, they are much calmer, they have learned small things like sharing or feeling empathy for the next.
Trip to planetarium

Trip to planetarium

We are proud of what we have achieved so far and we are looking forwards to the future with confidence. Our teaching method has proven to be successful in all respects and beyond all expectations. The unique workshop model that we have been adopting into daily teaching practice enables learners to communicate and share ideas:

The workshop model gives learners room to air their views and to think outside the box...The traditional way of teaching could limit the learners.

Learners are abundantly ahead of their expected level according to CAPS, indeed they are in line with US academic standards (the Common Core) in terms of Numeracy and Literacy. More importantly, they are enthusiastic about school and they show a wonderful motivation for learning. We aim to continue to provide a stimulating and all-inclusive environment that will encourage each child in their development, and hopefully achieve even more outstanding results by the end of the year!

Thank all of the people that made this possible: our amazing teachers and tutors, interns and volunteers, secretary and cleaner, our school counselor, after school facilitators – and the most special group of learners. Keep it up with the amazing work!


Alessandro Ferrara

Guangsen Qian

Streetlight Schools Interns from Bocconi University


The tricky, awesome part of teaching: Classroom management

Our school leader, Heidi Lindberg Augestad, reflects on a recent training workshop in which our teacher team developed invaluable classroom management skills.

It is Thursday morning and the teachers, myself and facilitators from Instill Education have met for a full day professional development training. Today is about Classroom Management – a challenging and tricky, but also the most fun and engaging, part of the teaching job. Classroom management is crucial as it dictates what kind of learning environment and social culture we are able to create in our classes. 

Today’s workshop focuses on tone, posture and position. They are basic rules for how to structure and manage a whole class, through awareness on how to use your voice, your body language and where you place yourself in the room related to which activity you lead. The teachers have identified characters that are disruptive in class. The facilitator from Instill Education pretend to be the teacher and there we go; our whole teaching team has become uncontrollable students! Great fun, but also very interesting—and a bit therapeutical even—to act out behaviours we otherwise try to avoid, limit and change.

The learning lesson in this exercise is what effects different teacher roles have on group dynamics. Will any teacher instruction get through if half your learners are not ready or able to focus? When your learners don’t listen, does it work to shout at them? Should you grab or push your students around? No. The simulation shows us what we already know: these strategies do not work, they actually end up adding noise and chaos to the situation. 

The next act is with a teacher who is in control of, not her class, but her role. She is confident in what the aim for the lesson is and what she expects of her students. Instead of shouting she speaks in a friendly and calm voice. Instead of focusing on the students who misbehaves, she waits for the entire class to find a common understanding of what they should do. And she waits, and waits—with only a clear glance at them—and then suddenly silence become stronger than the noise until, at last, all is quiet. 

A very good strategy for dealing with classroom management! But being that confident in your teacher role also requires a whole lot of wise and unpredictable methods and a broad understanding of what affects your learners and the group dynamics in the class. 

The most important lesson is that a classroom consists of all sorts of people. You have the teacher and then you have each, individual student (nope, they are not one homogenous bunch)! Being the one who is managing the others, the teacher needs to know all of them, independently. Where and what they come from, what they carry of social and academic resources, their motivations and hinderances, their weaknesses and strengths, their abilities to interact and cooperate. You will use this information when you organize the seating, the individual and collaborative work and the learning material they will use. This information is fundamental when you teach, facilitate, support, comfort, cooperate with and challenge your students in their academic and social progress. 

A good teacher’s role is a flexible mixture of empathy, skills and responsibilities in order to accommodate the students’ needs, make the whole class work as a team, and create the kind of learning environment we all need.

Another important lesson is that in order to establish a functional and good learning environment, your students need to be engaged in meaningful and inspiring activities. It may be a strange thing to say as we usually expect schools and teachers to ensure meaningful learning, but there are too many stories and statistics related to drop outs, low results and negative school experiences that tells us that the learning potential and individual growth are not exploited enough. 

In regards to classroom management, ensuring that students are engaged and motivated through learning activities contributes to a wonderful and constructive learning environment. 

One way of ensuring this is through student centred and differentiated teaching and learning strategies. We have implemented and developed a workshop model in our school which ensures that differentiated teaching and learning are implemented in all core subjects and that student engaged activities have at least 60% of lesson time. This is a radical change from the traditional schooling where the teachers are in focus for most of the lesson. 

One of the most positive experiences from using the workshop model as our standard lesson structure has been the change in teachers’ roles and their approach to the students. Preparing for differentiated exercises means that the teachers always aim to find that fine balance between mastery and challenge for each and every student. The tasks shall be neither too difficult nor too easy—the students must stay engaged throughout the lesson and keep their strong motivation for constructive activities in class. The result is a classroom filled with structure and discipline that is designed not only by the teacher, but by the students as well. Less reliance on rules and sanctions—it’s a truly collaborative effort. Inspiring!

Back to our professional development workshop. It is the end of the day and the teachers have had classes where they have been observing each other. Now, it is time for self-reflection and feedback. How can I seat the students so that I have everyone’s attention during instruction time? Did I manage to vary my tone and voice? I must plan and prepare the differentiated activities better so that I keep everyone engaged! Remember to always get back to your instruction point! 

The day has given us incredibly meaningful and important input regarding how to manage classes well. Furthermore, it has sparked the kind of confidence that good classroom management is built on.


-Heidi Lindberg Augestad
School Leader, Jeppe Park Primary

Turn On The Light For One Child

Streetlight Schools opened its flagship school, Jeppe Park Primary,  in January 2016.  We have designed a low-cost, high-quality innovative primary school model to address the achievement shortfall in primary education in South Africa. Currently, we have 70 Grade R and 1 learners enrolled in our school. Help us by turning on the light for one child. I’d like to give you three reasons why I think you should contribute:

  1. We can have tremendous impact;

  2. Research shows that an investment in a child in their first years of schooling is the best guarantee of success in later life. In many school systems, the reading ability of a child in the second grade is already a predictor of whether they will go to university. I started this organisation with the aim of re-imagining education in South Africa. Our knock-on effects will go beyond the direct beneficiaries will be an entire way of looking at education that can help us tackle some of our most intractable challenges. You can help us take the first steps;

  3. Every student we cover in 2016 is an investment in perpetuity;

  4. From Year 2 (2017) we are eligible for a subsidy from the government and our school becomes self-sustainable. We only need to raise for these kids this one upcoming year: thereafter the school sustains itself going forward;

  5. We are the people we have been waiting for;

  6. At some point in your life, someone cared enough for you to pay for your education and transform your future. I believe in the children of Jeppestown, and I know that we will transform their futures. I want to live in a world where it’s us: ordinary people who invest directly in the wellbeing of others.

To show our gratitude to you, we will be putting your name on our website as a sponsor, as well as putting your name on our founding donor wall in the school. If you would like to remain anonymous, please less us know. If you are based in South Africa, we will also be shipping you a personalised gift to express our gratitude.


How to donate:
For a contribution of R780 ($65) a month you could be a part of the story of how we can start to transform education in South Africa. Donations are 100% tax-deductible in South Africa and the US. Join in with a friend; sponsor a child as a family, or as work-colleagues. Sponsor more than one child. Sponsor half a child – it doesn’t matter to us. For every child that we have fully sponsored we are one step closer to opening the school. Join those who have already committed to signing on and help us put a child through school for one year.

Email hello@streetlightschools.org with the subject “Donate” to join and find out more.

By committing to sponsor one child, you’ve committed to donating a total of R9, 375 (or $750) in any payment schedule that suits you. Monthly donations of R780.25 ($62.50) or quarterly donations R2343,75 ($187,50) are also completely acceptable. Whatever works for you: just let us know which you choose.

Our donation cycle for this campaign will run from August 2015 to November 2016. Though we prefer to have donations come in earlier (September to March), we are open to have them come through until November.

If donating from South Africa, please deposit directly into the Streetlight Schools bank account:
Streetlight Schools
FNB Business Account Account
# 62464302620
Branch: Rosebank
Code: 253305

Streetlight Schools has high degree of financial transparency and are audited by PWC annually. For a donations invoice, please email melanie@streetlightschools.org with your full name and address. Once the donation is reflected in our account, we will be able to furnish you with an invoice for the full amount.

If donating from the US:
Donations to us are also fully tax-deductible via our 501(c) US Partner-institution, the Omprakash Foundation. To donate in the US, do so via our donations page:https://www.omprakash.org/partner_donation?partner_id=4070

If donating internationally:
Please donate via our PayPal account via our website:http://www.streetlightschools.org/#donate


Bocconi University Challenge

Designing a school payment mechanism that encourages parents to regularly pay fees without creating any disadvantage for the children.


About Streetlight Schools:
Streetlight Schools is launching scalable primary schools with an innovative learning model to address the achievement shortfall in primary education in South Africa. Our unique approach focuses on enquiry, collaboration, exploration, relevance and the use of technology to teach and learn.

The problem:
Before the launch of the first school, Streetlight reviewed all schools in the neighbourhood and surveyed parents in the area to make sure that the cost of education was affordable to parents within the community, and provides significant support to parents within the community who would like to attend the school but cannot pay fees.

However, there remains a significant percentage (15-20%) of parents that, even if though they are financially capapble of paying school fees, do not actually pay them. This is a problem that affects every low-fee private school in our area, Jeppestown, a poor neighbourhood of Johannesburg. It also creates unfairness- especially for parents who do pay on time.

Traditionally, local schools have dealt with non-payment by banning children from coming to school when their parents don’t pay on time – damaging their learning progress and making them unfairly responsible. At Streetlight this is not an option: we commit to providing low-cost quality education to poor communities without comprising on the service provided to the children and the overall sustainability of the school.

That is why it is important to find a workable solution for both the children and the school.

We are open to any kind of solution: an incentive scheme for the parents, an innovation in the definition of school fees (their timing, their quantity..), and so forth. Everything is welcomed. Bear in mind that simpler, easily implementable solutions will be favoured over expensive and complicated solutions.

Please come up with every smart idea that lies in the back of your mind. After the challenge is closed, a team composed of Bocconi University students and the Streetlight staff will examine the solution and choose a winner (or two if we consider it fair).

If possible, we will work as hard as we can to implement the winning idea, resulting in a genuine improvement in the lives of children.

How to participate?
You have two options:
- Comment this blog post providing the details of your solution
- Send your solution to streetlightcrowdchallenge@gmail.com

What will you get from the challenge?
1. You get to face a stimulating challenge.
2. The possibility to have a real impact. You can help Streetlight Schools grow sustainably, improve the education of Jeppestown children and, hopefully, a lot of children of disadvantaged families throughout South Africa in the future. Remember: schools can change a neighbourhood forever.
3. A really nice Thank You picture from some of the Streetlight students

Our first school term: From wobbling steps to confidence on the dance floor

Three months ago we sat around a table on the Bjala Square rooftop, myself and our team of teaching staff, writing and preparing our first curriculum calendar and unit plans in eight different subjects as we tried to foresee how our school would turn out. Downstairs, in the school, project managers, volunteers and construction workers were demolishing, building, painting and preparing classrooms and facilities for the very first school day on the 13th of January. We were so excited!

Despite all the work and planning, we were all aware that we actually knew so little of how our real and everyday life in the school would be. It is all about the children and what kind of starting point they come with: where they come from, what social and cultural luggage they bring, whether they have been exposed to reading and writing before, if they are school ready. How will their presence affect our planning and expectations for what we want to achieve? There were so many questions – and we were very much looking forward to experiencing the answers.

On opening day, we welcomed almost 60 children, divided between one Grade R and three Grade 1 classes. We planned for the first week to be purely introductory, for us to get to know the children and for them to become familiar with us, the school and each other. Teachers and assistants had organized fun activities related to the different subjects such as reading, writing, maths, art and physical education. With observation criteria and forms at hand we learned so much from these beginning days and gained valuable information about our learners: whether they had previous knowledge and skills we could build upon, whether they were ready for a structured school day, whether they were motivated for learning or a little bit anxious.

And they were all of it! We soon realized that our learners are far from a homogeneous group but include just as many personalised characters—variations of school readiness and motivation, abilities to learn and socialize as they were numbered on the registration list. This knowledge led us to go for two main focuses during our first months: 1.) to establish a positive and inclusive learning environment and 2.)to create a safe and predictable school structure for the learners. Our strategy can be summed up in two words: Reason and Love.

The idea is simple: we recognize that our learners are small children and that they need to be guided and taught how to relate to and internalize the different expectations you will find in a school system. The best way to that is through dialogue and conversations where expectations are described and explained. Love is the basis for every relationship, for inclusiveness and recognition – and patience.

Both learners and parents were no doubt surprised by our behavioural strategy and we have heard too often that “you have to beat them in order to make them do as you want.” No, you don’t. Half way through our first term our school is filled with smiling children who are motivated to learn. Some are still a bit uncertain when they realize that we want to talk instead of punish; we recognize that conversation is a skill that needs be learned and nourished. It is wonderful, though, to see how so many of our learners have gained confidence to be and act as children and, at the same time, adjust to a school culture where learning and sharing has become their core focus.

To be honest, neither I nor the teachers had high expectations related to academic achievements in the first term. We were told, and we knew, that too many of our learners are coming from homes and family backgrounds where stimuli and resources for learning are poor. Our first days of observations also told us that we had so many learners that had never seen books before, had never learned any letters in the alphabet, needed to learn how to hold a pencil and how to learn and play constructively with others. We knew we had quite a challenge ahead of us. But I decided early that we had to take this challenge step-by-step. I anticipated that we would need two to three terms to get to the academic standard that we want to achieve.

I was so mistaken! In the last three weeks of term 1 we conducted assessments in all our subjects in order to have proper knowledge of how to proceed in term 2 as well as collect information for our first term reviews. One teacher after the other came and showed me results that told us that half of our learners can now read on a basic level, show high motivation for reading, can write their names and basic words, know how to add and subtract, know how to play pedagogical games on the computer, follow instructions in physical game activities and do activities that require fine motor skills such as colouring, tracing and cutting. According to our experienced teachers we are already well on track to reach the benchmarks for literacy and numeracy, not related to CAPS – but to Common Core (US academic standards).

This was an amazing surprise and we deserved to celebrate thoroughly! For our students, we threw an end of term/Easter party with egg hunting, bunny ears, home-made muffins and a dance show. A blast! For us: well, we really didn’t have much energy left.. and headed home for a well-deserved break.

The first term has really been an amazing journey—incredibly hectic and intense, and a steep learning process. But most importantly it has shown us that we will succeed! Our mission is to offer children and families in Jeppestown a low cost and high quality education where our learners are ensured a child- and learning-friendly environment. Yes, we can! On the other hand, we still have so many tasks to improve and adjust, to implement and develop before we have the whole school structure and resources in place. But we have achieved so much already despite all the challenges that come with starting a brand new school!

All thanks to an amazing team of teachers and tutors, interns and volunteers, secretary and cleaner, our school counselor, after school facilitators – and the most loving and charming group of learners. Term 2 – bring it on!

-Heidi Lindberg Augestad, Jeppe Park Primary School Leader

New Minds, New Ideas

The first branch of Streetlight Schools is up and running. Jeppe Park Primary looks and feels like a primary school now. We have spent the first month and a half of year one finding our rhythm.

In the spirit of modelling the sort of behaviour we expect of the little ones, collaborative problem-solving has been the name of the game. We are focused on the vision of what we would like Jeppe Park Primary to be like, but just like a child needs to learn to walk, talk and create, we had lots of things to figure out and problems to solve.

It has taken some time to adjust to the larger team. However we have been transitioning gradually over the past few years. In the first year there were three permanent staff members and it was really intimate. We cried and laughed together. I often joked about not knowing what my job description was. Boundaries were limited in that regard. We did it all ourselves. The teaching, organising the library, the cleaning, the student recruitment, the counselling, taking pictures, writing for the blog, sourcing building materials, shopping, carrying heavy things, painting the new space, and the list goes on. We had a taste of a slightly bigger team for a couple of months when some lovely ladies from Italy and the States joined us as interns. By the end of that year I swear I could have taken a seven-day-long “power nap.”

The next year, was not very different. Except we had a few more helping hands. So we were able to share the load. The idea of having “my lane” started to come into our lives. Instead of doing everything under the sun and the moon, I knew what my job entails. We had a few new people, so we were able to now focus on all classroom related things. “Happy days, happy days!” A lovely social worker joined the team, and her presence took a huge load off of our emotional heavy lifting. Communications and social media has been taken over. Our project manager took a huge load off of the physical heavy lifting and other things that made it easier. And last but not least, our School Leader joined us and brought much inspiration and structure to the team. But of course, we were preparing to open a brand new school, so there was much to do for everybody.

This year, with the new school that has a person for everything plus some, we have to be reminded that there are people to help deal with all the challenges that we are dealt on the daily. We are learning from each other through observation and conversation. Although our conversations take much longer now that there are more opinions to be considered as we deliberate over decisions. We are all getting used to the different spectrum of personalities and communication styles. Our days are organised with space for individual and group planning, preparation and professional development slotted in between all the fun learning and exploration we are experiencing with the children. The innovative aspect of our school calls for many a debate over what we should try in our trial and error phase as we find our feet. More minds, more ideas, better solutions and greater growth.

-Dionne Mankazana, Tutor at Streetlight Schools


A Great School: The Magic Ingredients

Jeppe Park Primary: Day One
After two and a half years of preparation, the moment finally came a few days ago: we launched the first Streetlight School- Jeppe Park Primary, in Jeppestown, Johannesburg. I cannot describe what it felt like to see children in their school uniforms with excited eyes looking at their new classrooms, learning the names of their new teachers and discovering a world made for their learning. It was beyond thrilling! Our mission has always been to demonstrate how exceptional education is within our reach for everyone in South Africa now. And with the school opening, I’d like to share some of the key recipes that makes that happen and where our national conversation should start (hint- it’s not test scores):

Community: a school for the next hundred years
A school has to be a part of the community it serves: it has to know what families in that community care and worry about, it has to know the constraints and assets within that community. Jeppe Park Primary’s school facility, aftercare, uniforms, school-feeding, social services and multilingualism are built to work within the framework of this community. When a school operates as a foreign, sanitised entity to its surroundings, it cannot create the legacy that comes with a great school.

Talent: Teachers matter
A school is only as good as the people who work there. Our school team consists of a mix of experienced educators and young people who are entering the teaching profession. What unites them is the seriousness with which they approach the responsibility of teaching children, and their willingness to reflect and improve on their craft. Creating an environment where everyone feels supported, and everyone knows that next week they will have honed their skills even more than this week lies at the heart of a culture of excellence.

Innovation: a sea-change in learning
We are at a special moment in the history of education: though school for us looked very similar to schools 50 years ago, the same is certainly not true for children who are starting school today. The opportunities presented by technology, new breakthroughs in the neuroscience of learning, sharing of curriculum and learning trends from across the globe and the changing trends of work in the 21st century means that we are in for an awakening in education. Now is the moment to renew our educational approaches: and a part of what makes Jeppe Park Primary great is a curriculum model that incorporates new trends like writing workshops, practical math, free play and thematic inquiry. We will continue to innovate, and try new things because every day more things become possible in education.

- Melanie Smuts, Founder and CEO, Streetlight Schools