Creative writing has helped a KwaZulu-Natal rural school go from a 37 percent matric pass rate in 2009 to a 90 percent success story in 2011.
And the other 10 percent of matrics who qualified to resit their exams are expected to pass when they write again in March, predicted one of their former teachers, Professor Dlamini of the Khulabebuka Secondary School, Umbumbulu.
He was addressing a media launch about the Dancing Pencils writing club at the school, saying that it had made an impact on the school’s matric pass rate.
Two matriculants, Nokhukhanya Ntombela, 21, who got three distinctions in the last matric exams and Sifiso Makhanya, 19, who got two, then read stories that they had written as a result of their membership of the club.
Both are orphans and have no money to further their education.
Their former teacher said the school was hoping to help them in some way.
Writer Felicity Keats – the powerhouse behind Dancing Pencils – recalled being approached by the school. It is in an area where there is no running water, where most households do not have electricity and there are gravel roads, she said.
“But pupils were thirsty for knowledge.”
Schools did not need fancy equipment to start Dancing Pencils: just “pencils and paper”.
And the stories that pupils write end up being published as books, which are then read by other children.
“Children read what children write and they can learn from each other,” Keats said.
Creative writing and seeing their work in print gives pupils self-esteem and confidence and inspires them. And it kept them in schools, Keats said.
Dancing Pencils aims to build a strong, literate sub-Saharan region and to unlock creativity.
It focuses on unlocking the right brain creativity and giving pupils the chance to develop their imaginative powers.
“The right brain gives people the ability to dream, to make a change in their lives,” Keats said.
Librarian Patricia Devenish, a Dancing Pencils mentor at the Open Air School in Durban, also explained: “Our education is very much left brain orientated… The non-verbal right brain has pictures and emotions and feelings that go deep down into the soul.
“It has melodies, it is filled with colours and tastes and a sense of touch. This is the stuff of which creative work is made.”
Keats, who has a niche publishing company which produces the books, has been running her project for 15 years and financing it herself.
When the KZN premier, Dr Zweli Mkhize, heard about Writing Pencils late last year, he promptly got his department’s priority projects team involved.
“You could not get better approval than the premier of the province,” Keats said.
Mkhize met Keats in Durban when she received the mayor’s Living Legends award for her work – and she then told him about the project.
As a result of his interest, 10 workshops have been held in several areas around the province which have resulted in clubs being formed in schools and books produced.
Mkhize goes to schools on his travels to read to pupils in between his official engagements.
The plan is to have 50 Dancing Pencils clubs in each of the 11 school districts.
Ntombifuthi Ndlovu, the manager of the premier’s priority projects, said that children whose books were published become popular at school for the right reasons and it encouraged other children to write their own stories.
“It suddenly becomes cool to be known as a reader and writer of books,” she said.
Veena Gangaram, a Dancing Pencils mentor at Parkvale Primary School in Newlands West, said the benefits of the project include creating future journalists and motivational speakers.
Allowing children the opportunity to be heard also picked up cases of child abuse, bullying and children with illnesses.
Keats hopes to one day get a big-name funder to take Dancing Pencils nationwide.
“It will take lots of money. We need the backing of someone like Oprah Winfrey or Bill Gates,” she said.
l There is also an adult club at the Bat Centre in Durban.
To get in touch, e-mail Keats at [email protected]