Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) would like to commend Sunday Times on the article “Learning to break the cycle of poverty” (10/05/09, Review, p. 6) by Bienne Huisman. The article profiles Christel House private school, the alternative approach it has taken to education and how it enables children from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend the school for free. The article is not a typical school news story, where children are depicted as nameless learners or victims of poverty. Importantly, it gives voice to the children, who are enthusiastic about going to school, learning and focusing on their studies.
The headline and picture grab the reader’s attention as they are both positive. It is a delightful change to read about a happy child in a school uniform.
Themba of Troyeville Primary School told MMA that he liked the picture which accompanied the story. “The picture is good for the story because it shows a child in school, smiling and feeling happy, nothing bad is shown in the picture” (Children’s Media Monitoring Project, Workshop 2, 16/05/091).
The main headline is inspiring as it implies that children from poverty stricken areas are able to overcome obstacles. The child in the photograph provides a positive example of this.
The sub-heading says that the children are from Cape Town’s poorer areas, rather than talking about “poor children”. This use of language is good as it avoids labeling children, and allows that poverty is a situation rather than a defining feature of a child.
The article gives children a direct voice as three children are interviewed on their opinions of the school, goals and aspirations for the future. Featuring the children’s opinions could strengthen the children’s sense of importance and self-worth, and enable them be seen as role models for children in similar circumstances. It also recognises their ability to speak for themselves and facilitates their right to express their opinion on matters affecting them.
When Fortune of Troyeville Primary School read this article he was very impressed. He said that he was pleased that the journalist had involved the views of the funders, teachers and pupils. He was also pleased that the children’s rights were not violated (Children’s Media Monitoring Project, Workshop 2, 16/05/09).
The article talks about the holistic approach the school takes to ensure learners excel academically. This includes, for example, allowing grade 12 learners to study at their teachers’ houses so they may concentrate in a quiet environment, providing two meals a day to keep the children well nourished and hungry for knowledge, and offering extra-mural activities. The school also makes use of a file coding system, whereby those who can do better academically carry a red file.
The approach to education taken by Christel House is a welcome change and can serve as a positive example to other schools. It is commendable that Sunday Times focused on this school.
The article explains clearly, in bullet points, how the school selects the learners. Making the selection process transparent enables children and parents in similar poverty stricken areas to apply.
Young people are so often portrayed in the media as voiceless victims or perpetrators of crime, or simply as nameless recipients of education and other public services. In featuring children’s stories which provide positive role models, young people are encouraged to see how they too may excel and contribute to their communities. Sunday Times is commended for taking this approach towards an education story.
1 As part of its Empowering Children and the Media Strategy, MMA has been working with learners in three schools in Johannesburg, developing their knowledge of children’s rights and building skills in media monitoring. For more information on this project, contact MMA.