A Cape Town program with years of experience in residential work is developing a new solution to the special education needs of community youth.
Cape Youth Care inherited the work of the former Teen Centre and St Johns Hostel and has for some years been located on the border between a residential and an industrial area in the city. But for the past year, in addition to its residential program, it has been pioneering a new model of school for young people who, because they have missed school or behind their age group, are not welcome in ordinary community schools. These pupils easily get caught in a downward spiral of failure and are at risk of welfare and youth justice interventions. Their academic future is in any event unlikely to end in the normal school-leaving qualifications.
According to Chris Smith, Director of Youth Care and developer of the new model, the BEST Centre model (Basic Education and Skills Training) offers basic education within the community, aiming at a level of ability which will allow the young person to offer at least some marketable service in employment or on an individual entrepreneurial basis. Instead of wandering the streets and getting involved in risky behaviour, a youth learns Basic Literacy, Basic Skills and Life Skills “within the context of a social service agency which can call on additional resources as necessary.
The new National Qualifications Framework in South Africa allows people to enter educational establishments at their own level of competence and leave having learned one or more specific skills which they can then offer for employment. For example, having mastered a course in home appliance repair, a recognised certificate of competence allows the person to practise this skill to earn an income. Preferable would be employment within one of the partner industries with whom the pupil was connected during training. In this way, many young people who would otherwise never have completed their schooling can now acquire a marketable skill “and may return for more training when desired.
The curriculum of a BEST Centre includes, but is not limited to, three components:
1. Basic academics
A: Communication in the mother tongue, whether English, Afrikaans, Xhosa or another African language.
B: Numeracy and basic maths
C: Social science and economics studies.
2. Life Skills
A: Self development issues
B: Values and principles
C: Sport and recreation
D: Entrepreneurial skills
3. Links with Industry
Allowing for two learning sessions per week in organisations offering motor, electrical or building services, or in the hospitality and tourism industries.
The BEST Centre is run independently of any residential programs, and in the current pilot study there are no overlaps between Cape Youth Care’s two programs: their residential clients attend local academic schools; their BEST Centre pupils live at home with their families in the nearby community. The provincial Education Department has registered the program with its Special Education office, and is encouraging the replication of the model as from 2002, initially on a satellite basis, in other suburbs where there are a number of pupils who will benefit from this approach.
The experience so far is that a child attending a BEST Centre will be likely to have other family members with some social or behavioural problem. This family and neighbourhood context then becomes the focus of outreach from the Centre, and on the basis of building partnerships, good family and community work is possible. These partnerships may be co-operation with a skilled social agency, or perhaps with just one resident in the area who can offer mentoring or even a “safe house”.
The best outcomes so far have been on the individual level, where youngsters who formerly felt excluded and unsuccessful in formal schools now feel part of a teaching program that (a) fits their circumstances more accurately, and (b) offers tangible scholastic and occupational goals. Inevitably this feeds back into their home and community experience and reduces the load on their already struggling families.