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Smiling female students gather outside with other South African students in Bonnievale.

Creating employment opportunities through skills-based public schooling

Project overview

The town of Bonnievale in the Western Cape of South Africa is grappling with poverty, unemployment, and unstable home lives for learners. 

The community had 11 primary schools and one high school — meaning 80% of grade seven students didn’t have access to a local high school. The only option for many was to try and enroll in schools in neighboring towns. Because of limited transport, many teenagers dropped out and became trapped in unemployment.

In 2016, a group of community members responded with a vision to build a new, no-fee, skills-based public high school for 1,000 students. As a public-private partnership, the community collaborated with the Western Cape Education Department to build Jakes Gerwel Technical High School, which opened in January 2018.


How it helps

When developing the school model, the creators wanted to ensure it met the true needs of the Bonnievale community. To do that, they spoke to parents in the community, inquiring about what would be valuable for their children to learn. They also spoke to local employers to gain insight into what they were looking for in candidates. Through these conversations with the community, they  recognized a need to help young people build character, develop skills, and restore self-worth.

To meet the needs of its students during their academic journey, Jakes Gerwel offers a new, blended curriculum designed to provide each learner with what they need to create a path to employment. The curriculum’s subject selection directly aligns to the needs of local employers, spanning engineering, architecture, agriculture, welding, and plumbing. The school day is also longer, and includes two meals, reading and math interventions, supervised homework sessions, sports, arts, and culture.

With the goal of making school a safe haven for its students, the school dedicates a portion of funding to transport to and from school, as well as to counseling, mentorship, and character-building programs. Given that some of the classes need to be smaller to properly and safely train the students on their skills, the school also employs additional teachers to meet that need. While still in its early years, the leadership of Jakes Gerwel continues to drive toward their mission of transforming the community of Bonnievale through education.

Foundation Project Lead