Ntsika

In Grahamstown, South Africa, people are talking - is a white principal going to cope in a township school? This documentary follows Madeleine Schoeman's first year running Ntsika Secondary. Through her outsider eyes we bring her struggles and her dreams into focus, showing what it takes for a township school to function.

There are no easy answers, except teamwork.

This is a film about what it takes to run a township school in a small town in South Africa. There's a saying that 'It takes a village to raise a child'. How does this work, when the village is deeply divided in terms of race and class? Grahamstown prides itself on being an education town, with three exclusive private schools and a top university, yet only a handful of youngsters from township schools manage to do well enough to enter any university after school. It's a harshly divided town, where green suburbia suddenly morphs into dusty township. On either end of the same road, several kms apart, are two schools that mark this divide.

This is a film about a white principal who has gone down that road. We witness how Madeleine Schoeman says goodbye to her job as principal on the privileged side of town, to head up Ntsika High School on the outskirts of the township. The film tracks her first year at the new school, as she starts to discover what it takes to run a school here. She has set herself high goals, and wants this school to achieve similar results to her previous school in town. Bit by bit she starts to discover what the things are that are stopping the children here from doing so, like persistent hunger, lack of resources, and a school culture of tolerating lateness and absenteeism. We follow her as she starts to tackle these issues together with a team of dedicated but sceptical teachers.

Madeleine believes in motivational speaking and the power of metaphor. The name 'Ntsika' which means 'the pillar' has inspired her deliver speeches on the importance of good foundations and pillars that will prop up the lives of young people. But is metaphor enough to change a school? The film explores the dynamics of change over the year, the tensions, the hopes, the disappointments and the successes. It also asks hard questions about what it is that white people should be doing in South Africa today, interrogating how to play a meaningful role in this country without taking on the role of the white missionary. Bit by bit Madeleine starts to involve the privileged side of town in the school, pulling in student tutors, business people and clubs to contribute to Ntika. It's all part of a broader vision: If change is to work, it needs to be holistic, and in a fragmented South Africa, that means imagining a village where people can start to break down the divisions of race and class, and work together to raise the next generation.

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