Kevin Sevlall, principal of Blackburn Primary School, surveys the new school premises.
Having their school moved into brand new premises right on their doorstep was a welcome change for Blackburn Primary School learners living in the subsidized housing development of Cornubia, north of Umhlanga Ridge.
In March this year, the 52-year old school was moved from a building located on Tongaat Hulett’s sugar cane agricultural estate of Blackburn to new premises in Cornubia. Funded by the Department of Education, the school’s relocation would allow easier access for the large numbers of children living there.
“Cornubia is KwaZulu-Natal’s largest mixed use, mixed income, integrated human settlement that ultimately will provide 15,000 housing units for indigent beneficiaries,” said eThekwini Mayor James Nxumalo. “It is important for the children living there to have an accessible primary school. The role of the Municipality’s Human Settlements Unit is to ensure that we achieve a sustainable human settlement by facilitating the school and other amenities. The core objective is ensuring that a complete and liveable environment is created within which a range of economic and social opportunities are integrated with the provision of housing.”
The new prefab structure housing Blackburn Primary School currently accommodates 270 learners from Grade R to Grade 6 and has seven teachers. By next year, all 24 classrooms are expected to be filled by between 500 and 600 learners and new teachers will be appointed to cater for the higher numbers.
“The move to the new school took place midway through the school year and many of the children living in Cornubia had already enrolled at schools in Phoenix and Waterloo but we are expecting them to move here next year as it is much closer and more convenient for them,” said Kevin Sevlall, who has been headmaster of Blackburn Primary School for 32 years.
Sevlall said that they were all adjusting well to their new premises which he hoped, in time, would be replaced by a more permanent structure on land situated close by. Plans for a permanent primary school are at an advanced stage, and it is anticipated that construction will commence in the near future.
There are also currently 52 children attending the school crèche, a larger number than at the previous premises.
“Many of the children are attending school for the first time and are enjoying their new learning experience,” Sevlall said.
Several companies donate funds to Crossroads who supply all of the children with breakfast cereal in the morning.
Sevlall is hoping to set up a library at the new school which will give learners the opportunity to further their education.
“The school is also a useful and accessible community resource outside of school hours as a nearby church and community members make use of the facilities. ABET literacy classes are given in the evenings.”
There are several challenges facing the school as the learners are mostly from impoverished families. Many of the parents are unemployed and some of the learners are from child-headed homes.
“At this stage about 75 percent of the children have uniforms,” Sevlall said. “We would like everyone to be in uniform because it is important that the learners have a common identity and feel part of their new school. It is something we are trying to address.”
Cornubia is a ground-breaking joint venture partnership between the government and Tongaat Hulett. The move of the school ties in with Tongaat Hulett Development’s and eThekwini Business Support Unit’s Socioeconomic Sustainability and Innovation Programme (SSIP), which aims to uplift and empower all the communities living in and around their developments in an organised manner. SSIP programmes focus on improving the lives of those in impoverished communities through job creation, skills development, education, infrastructure development, health, welfare and upgrading the environment.
Blackburn Primary School started in a temple hall in 1953, and then moved to a building on Tongaat Hulett land in 1963. As the school is no longer situated in Blackburn, the name has been changed to honour freedom fighter, Solomon Mahlangu.
Bongani Gumede, corporate director of Tongaat Hulett Developments, said that the old school facilities and agriculture estate in Blackburn were being converted into a Mixed Incubator providing a training facility to facilitate various social development and economic participation programmes including upskilling residents of Cornubia, Blackburn and neighbouring communities to participate in the economy of the greater Umhlanga through employment and SMME opportunities.
“We continue to pursue ZERO Unemployment, we have identified a need to link skills development to the phases of development, i.e., Construction phase demand for sspecific trades such as bricklaying, electrical work, plumbing and forklift driving so they will be equipped to apply for jobs as they emerge,” Gumede said. “People will also be able to study for career-centred formal qualifications and various non-academic skills programmes offered by at the new centre.” “We collaborate with various government role players including eThekwini Municipality’s Skills Development Unit which will facilitate various programmes.”
Tongaat Hulett Developments in is the process of completing the renovations so that training courses at the new centre can begin in January next year.