On any given weekday, a few minutes before 3 pm, you’ll find a group of peppy learners chattering away while making their way to their homework centre on Eureka Farm on the slopes of Paarl Mountain in the Western Cape.
Soon the eager learners spot their afterschool teacher, Vivienne-Leigh Prins, who greets them with the warmest smile before they bombard her with questions about their planned activities for the afternoon.
These keen learners form part of a dynamic aftercare homework centre initiated by Eureka farm owner Freddie Kirsten (45) who wanted to support the children of the agri-workers living on his farm.
“We started the homework centre in 2015 after we noticed that the school dropout rate of the learners living on the farm was extremely high. Children weren’t completing matric and their parents were struggling to assist them with their homework,” Kirsten, who farms with fynbos flowers and table grapes, explains.
Since its inception four years ago, Kirsten and his team have set up a fully equipped homework centre, with computers, printers and internet access. He has also been the sole funder of the initiative. To spearhead the project, Kirsten roped in three qualified educators to assist the learners.
Inside the classroom the pupils are assisted with their homework and they receive extra learning material to improve their mathematics and literacy.
The buzzing classroom with only 12 learners is fit for learning with interactive educational material on the walls, a workspace for each learner and the freedom to ask any question that springs to mind.
“We want to ensure that every child has the right fundamentals. This year we’ve started looking at ensuring the learners have all the essentials they need when they start their school year. Anything from school shoes to books,” says Kirsten.
Currently the programme assists pupils from grade R up to matric. One of the educators, Dr Hannie Menkveld, is a retired education professor at Stellenbosch University. She has started connecting with the teachers at Nuwedrift Primary School, where the majority of the learners are enrolled. Menkveld realised shortly after she started that to better assist the learners, they need to build their afterschool programme around the learners’ current curriculum.
According to Kirsten the learners tend to struggle in school because their classrooms are often overcrowded, but at the homework centre they get individual attention. The educators have also picked up that a few of the learners need spectacles, which Kirsten has funded, along with assessments for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Outside of the classroom Menkveld has also arranged for monthly meetings with the parents of the learners involved in the initiative to discuss their children’s progress.
Kirsten hopes that through this project the learners will excel in their matric year. He has even added an incentive by committing to fund the learners’ studies at tertiary institutions. As a farmer he secretly hopes they’ll consider agriculture to ensure the sector’s future.