Windhoek – Three years ago, Amazing Kids Private School and Academy was among the poorest performing private schools in the Grade 12 national examinations in Khomas Region and the country in general.
It occupied 37th place in Khomas in 2014. The following year, it moved eight places up (29th place).
Last year, the school defied the odds and is now among the country’s best performing private schools, occupying sixth place in Khomas and 14th place in the country.
“We had to come up with a turnaround strategy to improve our academics,” Emma Kakona, the executive director and principal of Amazing Kids Private School and Academy told New Era this week.
She attributes the previous poor performance of Grade 12 learners to the fact that learners “were not Amazing school products”.
The school was started in 2007 and caters for children in pre-primary school all the way to high school. The first Grade 12 learners of the school sat for their final examinations in 2014.
“Some of these learners had been in the system for six months, others for a year and two years,” said Kakona, explaining that despite trying their best to bring about pleasing results it was difficult to groom learners to their full potential within a short time.
Learners had to adapt to the way things are done in their new school environment, Kakona added.
“At primary school level we’ve always been among the top. Those learners who have been in our system longer perform better. The children who started when Amazing school was founded are now in Grade 9.”
Amazing Kids is a science school that has embraced the e-learning system.
“So our subject choices are extremely difficult. As a result, the results were not so good for those new students.” All children stand an equal chance of being admitted to the school, Kakona explained, adding that the school cannot necessarily be compared to schools that only admit best performing learners.
“We take children with potential. That means we have to push much harder.”
In order to thrive, the school believes that it is better to touch on all aspects of learners as opposed to just providing them with an education.
The school is “holistic and Christ-centered”, said Kakona. It is important that learners are “well enough” in all spheres of their lives in order to excel in their schoolwork, she added.
“We have a chaplain and social worker at the school, and we pray a lot. We believe in a lot of prayers and we do lots of motivational talks with learners. We invite people to come and motivate our learners,” said Kakona, adding that the practice has contributed to the improvement of the school’s results for learners who wrote the Grade 12 examinations last year.
Teachers and learners had to set targets to improve on the school’s overall performance. “There was a monitoring system in place and we worked very closely with all our stakeholders to make sure we achieved our goals.”
New Era observed that learners at the school refer to teachers as aunties and uncles as opposed to ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’.
“We want to instill family values,” commented the primary school senior manager Kathy le Fleur, explaining that this has brought a sense of closeness between teachers and learners.
“Some people feel it should not be this way,” she said.
Meanwhile, Kakona stressed the importance of a good environment for children in order for them to excel in their schoolwork.
“We look at the whole being of the child. Are they content? Are they spiritually healthy? What is the environment at home? All these things play a role,” explained Kakona.
Learners at the school are tested for drugs and counselled accordingly, added Kakona. This is because alcohol and drug abuse distracts children’s attention from their schoolwork.
“We counsel them and help them if they are found to be using drugs. And, if they continue to engage in the same activities we expel them because we don’t want the other learners to be affected by that. We believe in lots of prayers.
That’s what makes us unique. We motivate them regularly,” said Kakona, who throughout our conversation made reference to how praying and hard work have made a difference in the lives of learners and teachers at the school.
The Bible is taught as a subject and all learners are tested on their knowledge of the Bible, she added.
“We teach the Bible as is. We try to touch the whole being of the child. Every child is required to have a Bible and a diary. We also respect the Quran.”
Seeing that the school gives special focus to Christianity, New Era asked Kakona to elaborate on whether children from non-Christian backgrounds are admitted to the school and whether they are allowed to join prayer sessions.
“The parents know that this is a Christian school. We don’t force them to become Christians. We have many learners who are Muslim. And we know that Muslims are very principled people. We teach them principles, and some of the things that are in the Bible are also in the Quran. We don’t indoctrinate them with Christianity,” responded Kakona.
There is a global presence in the learner population at the school and countries represented include Korea, China and India.
And, though the curriculum is pretty much the same as that of government schools, the European curriculum is also incorporated. “We push hard,” Kakona commented.
She added: “Our learners are among the best even on a global scale because we have testimonies of people who went to Australia and South Africa and are performing even better than children from those countries.”
Last year the school scooped the best science project award for both primary and high school, a proud Kakona revealed.
“It has never happened that one school scoops the same award for primary school and high school. We’ve been getting accolades since 2011,” she said with a sense of pride.
“We mean business. Our focus is ‘our children can’. It is possible that every child can perform. We just need to tap into their brilliance.”
A Grade 12 learner, Kanu Tjombe, said: “We pray before every class period. This has really brought me closer to God.” Tjombe said the children who are of the Islamic faith are also given an opportunity to pray.
“We are a Christian school. We can’t celebrate mediocracy,” she said in reference to learners of other schools who wear short skirts. “That is not allowed here and we make it clear to our learners.”
Teachers don’t smoke or drink, she added. “That’s what makes us different.”
Amazing Kids is an e-learning school so emphasis is placed on technology. Languages taught at the school include Afrikaans, French and Mandarin (Chinese).
According to an online article by Smithsonian magazine, Finland’s education system is ranked among the top in the world because many schools are small enough so that teachers know every student.
Also, nearly 30 percent of Finland’s children receive some kind of special help during their first nine years of school.
“If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else. They seem to relish the challenges,” according to the magazine.
“Not everyone buys into the vision,” responded Kakona when asked to share on the challenges. But, at the end of the day they work for a common goal of educating learners and that is what keeps them going, explained Kakona.
Erica Pretorius, the head of department for social science and Grade 7 guardian teacher said one of the challenges teachers face is the ability to create a passion and interest for subjects.
“Once you have that even the weaker learners will perform well. You need to know your child in order to know how to motivate them in the areas where they are weak,” said Pretorius.
A mathematics teacher at the school, Benkie Gladmore, explained that it is demotivating for teachers who go the extra mile for their learners but then learners don’t give their best. “It is demotivating somehow,” stressed Gladmore.
“Teachers are motivated with a good package at the end of the month. Teachers also attend motivational sessions and we pray together,” said Kakona, explaining how some of the challenges are overcome.
Why learners perform beyond their potential
The teachers believe ill-discipline is a contributing factor to learners’ non-performance when they sit for the Grade 10 and 12 examinations.
“One reason why learners in Windhoek do not perform well is access to social media. Children spend too much time on social media instead of giving that attention to their schoolwork,” said Gladmore.
“Children in urban areas also have access to entertainment facilities such as nightclubs,” Pretorius added.