Education has been a topic of contention for many years in South Africa. From the change in matric pass rates and marking to the fundamentals of getting kids into pre-schools. Despite these challenges, there is still a need to change the dynamic of the schooling system in relation to the ever-changing world, as technology and innovation drive change as we head into the 5th industrial revolution. Centennial Schools aims to bridge these gaps between the schooling system, industry and independence of our country’s youth.
If it wasn’t difficult enough for the youth to circumvent the challenges of growing up, social acceptance, finding their way in the world and everything else in between, having to enter an education system that was fine-tuned for the industrial revolution some 150 years ago, isn’t an ideal environment to spend six to seven hours a day. Traversing through the same syllabus your grandparents undertook isn’t exactly appealing. Driving change in the education system and moulding the next-generation workforce will require a shift in thinking.
Where Centennial Schools Come In
While many adults around the world embraced changes in the workplace through 2020 and 2021, switching to remote work and more flexible hours, the youth, too, embraced major changes to their learning. This model change has empowered students to take charge of their own education with online learning taking centre stage. This has prompted a requirement for a holistic change in how we use technology in the education system, while also encouraging free, lateral thinking while teaching fundamental skills to drive the youth into an ever-changing future.
This is the idea behind Centennial Schools. It offers students the opportunity to break away from the norms of the current education system.
What is key in this approach is that the offering is still wrapped around the required national standard, with the IEB curriculum being the bases of their schooling. This is in line with most other private schools in the country. However, where conventional schools end, is where Centennial Schools excels. Beyond the basic education, students are provided multiple options to increase their skillset.
I spent some time with CEO and founder, Shaun Fuchs, who provided a detailed tour of the facilities, courses and approach to the system, while also offering insight into the drivers behind each of the fundamental differences. Mr Fuchs has been a lifelong teacher, involved in the education system at various levels and roles for over three decades, allowing for great insight and shortcomings our youth face heading out into the real world after they leave school.
“It’s becoming more difficult to find genuinely revolutionary reform at the system level in existing schools.”
How Centennial School differs
At its core, the school teaches the base IEB curriculum to its students. However, it isn’t as straightforward as that. The school in itself has a different setup, from how the students learn, how the teachers are selected and how the syllabus is taught to encourage more engagement throughout the day.
Teachers were hand-picked for the school, while also being equipped with the skills to prepare to work in redeveloping the learning landscape for students. This isn’t only limited to academic prowess but also touches on aspects including emotional and physical well-being.
In order to change the way students learn, it’s not only a matter of changing what they study but also the how. The conventional classroom has been stripped away. What you’ll find at Centennial Schools are larger learning hubs, where students better interact with their teachers, while making the best use of technology to amplify “learning, creating, making, connecting, communicating, collaborating and problem-solving.”
Students are encouraged to take the reins very early on when it comes to them getting the most from their experience. Here, the environment feeds into structures we can find in some corporate institutions. This includes providing meeting rooms for students to book and brainstorm and pressure test ideas, using chill hubs, cafe areas and more to add to independence in structure.
Although many other schools aim to instil strict discipline, it is too often restrictive in approach. Here, values, discipline and morals are led by the students’ independence – guiding them into adulthood by treating them likewise.
While many matriculants will feed into universities after passing their final exams, it isn’t always a guarantee. Additionally, having a tertiary education doesn’t always secure a job for our youth. However, with sufficient skillsets and additional certified courses above its IEB credentials, Centennial Schools’ students are better geared to face that future in South Africa – whether it be heading to university, applying for a job or taking up the mantel and carving their own path as an entrepreneur, content creator, developer and the likes.
Upskilling students beyond the IEB fundamentals is also a big driving force for the school. Each of the additional courses that the students enrol in is certified. These are taught in specific terms for specific grades. For example, coding starts with HTML basics in grade 7, moving on to more advanced coding through the terms and years. Other courses include social media tools, Adobe workshops, Audio and Visual skills, eSports gaming and content creation, and much more. The school’s property houses an eSports Arena and Gaming Centre at over 300𝑚2. This is the largest of its kind in Africa.
However, before students can enjoy some of these amenities, they’re required to partake in more conventional recreational aspects of physical well-being. This includes cross-fit, karate, fight-fit, yoga or boxing, as well as more conventional sports in basketball, action football (soccer) and volleyball. The school has a multipurpose sports facility and gym where students can perform these activities on-premise. Where students wish to go beyond this, like taking up swimming and others, Centennial Schools has partnered with a nearby gym to offer lower rates for memberships.
The Bigger Picture
While Centennial Schools offers a significantly different schooling experience for the youth, addressing several aspects hampering the country’s education, affordability is still a top priority for the school. A key point in delivering next-generation education and opportunity is to allow for as many students to enrol as possible. Centennial Schools offers pricing for its students in the “mid-fee” category, creating a more affordable bundle when compared to most other private schools.
Additionally, a key takeaway from my discussions with Mr Fuchs was how the school aims to provide a centralised entry point for almost all aspects of its schooling. This means that requirements for additional classes to improve grades are seen as a failure on the school’s part. Where students may struggle, it should be addressed through internal mechanisms to support its students, as opposed to parents having to fork out on supplementary classes. This not only includes aspects of the curriculum but also some basic support structures. The school uses tools to check in on students to ensure they’re addressing the mental and physical well-being of every student.
Although the school is blessed with some of the best eSports and AV equipment, students are required to participate in other physical activities, such as gym, sports and the like. This is to create a better balance between each of these aspects.
One of the challenges when starting a new school is the number of students and grades you’re allowed to facilitate off the bat. As it stands, the school currently has a group of grade 9s registered for 2022. Registration is open for grades 7-9 for 2022 with grade 10 for 2023 and then grades 11 and 12 in 2024 and 2025, respectively.
With plenty of new opportunities for its student, while also providing the basic IEB curriculum, Centennial Schools ushers in a new horizon for education in South Africa. It is an exciting prospect and something we’ll be following closely in the years to come.