Story of Hope: Propelling excellence at underserved schools

Over 20 million people in South Africa are unemployed; this is directly linked to the inequality in the country’s education system.   

In 2020, two equal education champions set out to change the schooling landscape. Leopold van Velden and Juliana Louw, founders of Thuma Mina Teaching, took action to develop a product to address inequality and support underserved schools in South Africa. 

Thuma Mina Teaching aims to enable career and life opportunities through accessible learning through educational video lessons and materials. These resources are made available at no cost to Grade 7 through to Grade 9 teachers, learners, and aftercare centres nationwide. Thuma Mina Teaching is directly tackling the country’s ever-increasing school drop-out rate by ensuring underserved learners have access to better educational resources. 

Leopold, who has a background in teaching, shared his firsthand experience of the challenges faced by children and teachers in disadvantaged schools.

“I have taught in some of the best schools in the Western Cape and some of the most disadvantaged schools. The reality in underprivileged schools is that there is a group of learners who are left behind and pushed through the system. 

“I would encounter a Grade 9 student functioning at a Grade 3 level. These students struggled to comprehend what I was teaching, despite their willingness to learn. Through this understanding and experience, the idea of creating a product to bridge the gap was born.”

Perfect timing

In March 2020, when South African president Cyril Ramaphosa announced the COVID-19 national lockdown, Leopold and Juliana realised their product would be perfect to address the increasing need for online teaching resources.

“When we started Thuma Mina Teaching, we had no idea how quickly everything would shift to online platforms during the lockdown. People assumed that Thuma Mina was created in response to COVID-19, but it just happened to be started at the right time,” Leopold expressed.

“Our goal was to create a high-quality and accessible product. We dedicate over 30 hours to each video, carefully scripting and ensuring we have the right teachers. We also considered the learners from disadvantaged schools who may not be tech-savvy, so we chose YouTube as the platform for our videos. Using YouTube ensures that the product is accessible to everyone,” he added.

Humble beginnings

Despite having a well-conceived concept and an apparent demand from learners and teachers nationwide, Leopold and Juliana encountered their fair share of challenges.

According to Leopold, many moving pieces needed to align to create their first videos. Accomplishing this while the organisation was still in its infancy proved difficult.

“We were starting from scratch, so we had to borrow a camera and find teachers willing to work with an organisation with no reputation. Without funds for a studio, we had to use whatever space we could find and turn it into a makeshift studio. I even had to return to teaching at some point because we needed the funds,” Leopold noted.

While building the organisation was not easy, Juliana added that it was worth it. 

“We have come a long way, and we can look back and smile at how far we have come.” 

Answering the call

When choosing a name for the organisation, Leopold and Juliana wanted something that carried a powerful message. Thuma Mina, which translates as ‘Send me’ from isiZulu, isiXhosa and isiNdebele, symbolises answering the call and contributing to South Africa’s education needs. 

According to Juliana, collaborating with other individuals dedicated to improving the country’s education system helps Thuma Mina achieve their goal. 

“We have been fortunate to work with wonderful people since we started Thuma Mina. Through these amazing individuals, we continue to attract the best teachers in the Western Cape, who are willing to give their time and make a positive impact.” 

Thuma Mina videos are viewed over 2 500 times per day on non-exam days. During the November 2022 exam period, learners viewed their videos over 150 000 times.

“This year, we have expanded our content and started producing videos in isiXhosa. This new development excites us to see how the numbers will change this year. It’s clearly a significant need, and we look forward to possibly providing this service to the rest of Africa,” Juliana beamed.

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