The School of St Jude – a success story
The power of education to transform lives and create a better future is clearly illustrated in Naomi Hockins’ look at how, from small beginnings, one school in Tanzania has become a pioneering influence on teaching and learning.
Justin may only have been at The School of St Jude in Tanzania for the last two years of his secondary schooling, but the impact of that education will last a lifetime. “I came from a government school so I know how much the students need help there,” he said, on the cusp of graduating from secondary at St Jude’s in May this year. “For example, last year at our (government school’s) graduation, only seven students graduated out of something like 280. Only seven students; I decided that it would be better to help those people and I’m ready to help.” So he did.
Justin has spent the months since graduation teaching 40 students at his local government school, like many of his classmates, through the Beyond St Jude’s community service program. The year-long program is designed to spread the free, first-rate education St Jude’s students receive to those who attend severely under-resourced government schools.
The School of St Jude
School founder Gemma Sisia began her mission to establish a school in line with her belief that a free, high-quality education should be accessible to all children and is of particular importance to those who grow up surrounded by poverty, corruption and political instability. Gemma was gifted plot of land by her father-in-law in 1998, and received her first donation of AU$10 towards the school in 1999.
St Jude’s opened its gates to three students and one teacher in 2002, and has grown into an institution now educating almost 2000 desperately underprivileged yet promising students across three campuses, and providing hope for the future of Tanzania. The first St Jude’s secondary school graduation this year was a milestone event, realising the dreams of the entire school community and firmly establishing the credibility of the St Jude’s education model.
The quality of education St Jude’s has carefully constructed is clear, with Justin’s Form 6 (Grade 12) class of 61 students not only all graduating, but more than half of them doing so by achieving the highest possible mark of ‘Distinction’. As the very first graduating class in St Jude’s 13-year existence, they also ranked in the top 10% in Tanzania for chemistry, economics, advanced mathematics and physics. The results placed them third in their region and twenty-fifth in the nation.
Beyond St. Jude’s
The Beyond St Jude’s community service program has been well-received by the graduates, many of whom plan to attend university afterwards, but for now are resolutely stepping up to the challenge and believing in its value. Those stepping up, like Justin, are provided with a kit of essential teaching materials (text books, etc) and prepared with a week-long Work Readiness workshop. The Beyond St Jude’s team continually reinforce their teaching with support visits and mentorship.
Esther, who teaches up to 90 students in a class, said she has felt accepted, respected and appreciated by students, some of whom are obviously struggling. “Some of the students in Form IC (the first year of high school) cannot even write their own names,” she said.
Tumaini, whose largest maths class has 46 students, said the internship has given him a huge understanding of Tanzanian government education and about how to work best with students. “I have realized why many students in Tanzania fail so much,” he said. “St Jude’s is an example to be followed as far as educating a child goes. If I had remained in my former school, I would have been failing like these students, because I started out as a failure but got better and better and started excelling when I got to St Jude’s. This is a lesson to me that a student isn’t the one to blame; instead, they should be listened to and we should try to understand the troubles which could be the reason for their failure”.
These shortcomings in the Tanzanian education system are what spurred Gemma to create The School of St Jude. The 43-year-old mother of four remains heavily involved in the school and said it could not have been done without the support she has passionately lobbied for throughout the years. “To see how education is hugely changing people’s lives is very special,” she said. “It would have been impossible to make it this far without each and every one of those who have shared that vision of a better future through education.”
Naomi is an Australian journalist currently volunteering at The School of St Jude’s marketing department in Arusha. She loves travelling, movies, books and meeting new people, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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