Teacher brings learning to rural kids in a fresh way

An award-winning teacher has started a second pre-primary school in a rural Wild Coast mud hut after villagers pleaded with her to help their children.

Dawn Brochenin, 44, was just finishing off a six month sabbatical earlier this year – after starting the acclaimed Ikhaya Labantwana Montessori school in Coffee Bay – when villagers in nearby Hole in the Wall asked if she could set up a similar operation there.

From humble beginnings in a small mud hut in 2010 – when 15 children enrolled – the Coffee Bay school has grown to 60 rural children and won a major early childhood development award last year for the groundbreaking work Brochenin did to empower rural children.

Although she was taking a much needed break after years of hard work setting up the Coffee Bay School, Brochenin did not hesitate when local families asked for help.

“When the Mgwali family approached me in January and asked me to do what I did in Coffee Bay, it was clear that the universe wanted me to continue with the work I am doing.

“Cindy Mgwali said ‘Dawn, we have a rondavel for you, please can you do for our children what you did in Coffee Bay?’ and I could not refuse.”

Normally schools associated with the well heeled, the dream is to spread the Montessori way of educating in rural areas – free of charge.

“Montessori education must not be reserved for wealthy city children.

“I would like to do the same for the Hole in the Wall community and continue spreading Montessori through rural Transkei.”

After being given a rundown mud hut to start the Hole in the Wall Ncinci (little) 1 school, Brochenin used social media to appeal for financial help to sponsor children to attend.

Within days, 10 people had signed up to each sponsor one child’s monthly R500 school fees.

After 18 years in the hospitality industry, many in the Transkei, Brochenin went to Cape Town in 2007 to study the Montessori way of teaching for two years.

“Giving children the best start in life means ensuring them good health, proper nutrition and early learning.

“When children are looked after when they are young, many problems can be avoided in later life.”

According to Brochenin, local and international research indicated that a child’s formative years until seven were critical to their development.

“These early years are when they acquire skills, attitudes and concepts that lay the foundation for lifelong learning.

“The Montessori method, which incorporates all the senses in the learning experiences, stimulates the child’s innate love of learning, thus reducing the chance of future failure.”

She said the Montessori education system was based on educator Maria Montessori’s discovery “that all children, no matter what hardships they have suffered, were capable of achieving great things, when simply given what their development needed”.

According to Brochenin, winning the South African Early Childhood Development award in March last year was a dream come true.

“It was like the Oscar or Grammy awards, which for someone coming from the lallies (rural areas) was wow.”


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