As I walk along the open-air corridors at Merry Hill Primary School, in the heart of Bayview, Chatsworth – where I attended class one to standard five (now Grade 1-7) – I’m struck at how much smaller it all appears.
The school celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
As a six-year-old I played with friends on the concrete corridor. We imagined crocodiles in the grass alongside. We would each hold on to a pole and have to cross to another, without the child in the middle stealing one. Everything about those days is light, bright and bigger in my memory. In reality, of course I was little then. However, the invariable giants, the teachers, who have largely made me who I am today, remain.
They’ve toiled through many years of a beleaguered public schooling system and to this day remain larger than life.
Many of my former classmates have gone on to have successful careers.
I should say that I was an exemplary student and surely diligent pupils and concerned and involved parents are a part of this equation – but I had stellar teachers and I know I owe a great deal to them.
For seven years of my life Merry Hill was my home away from home – the teachers I had took a vested interest in me and my growth as a pupil and person.
I relished English lessons, making mock newspapers and raising baby dolls as children; time in the long, dusty multi-purpose room we had for a library; and even mornings in math class when all 30 or so of us would stand to greet the teacher and only take our seats once we had answered the multiplication sums Mr Nanjee shot at us. I recall frequently dodging PE, particularly the barefoot cross-country runs.
I could never quite play the recorder but loved music lessons. There wasn’t a day Barbs Naidoo, now the school principal, ever called me out for it.
We weren’t just taught, but nurtured in that environment.
It broke my heart to see the school in its current state. Because of frequent vandalism, there are burglar guards and fences, and the buildings are dilapidated. There is no longer a library, just an oversized kind of suitcase of books, kept in Mrs Naidoo's office.
The schools is ranked Quintile 5. These are schools that cater for the least poor pupils and their status determined by certain benchmarks such as tarred road, brick buildings and water supply among other things. However, more than 40 percent of the 433 pupils who attend the school come from households that cannot afford the R1 200 school fees.
It is donations from former pupils that have helped renovate the school bathrooms or purchased trophies for sports days.
“We have five governing body teachers who assist us at a stipend. Without them we would have up to 60 children in a class,” explains Mrs Naidoo.
Mrs Naidoo has been a teacher for more than 23 years. Mr Nanjee has been around for more than 30 years and will retire soon.
I didn’t have a private school education, but I think I didn’t turn out too badly, and it’s been due to having had hardworking and dedicated teachers.