I spent the day yesterday at Cross Over and with our good friends Alan and Deb Norton. When we first met them in 2007, Deb was tentatively beginning Cross Over, a new education project aimed at the children and young people in the communities they were serving where the state education system had almost completely collapsed.
Key issues included:
- Teachers being amongst the lowest paid professionals and continually neglected by the government. This caused a situation in the area called Westgate where Cross Over began and not untypically, where there would be classes of fifty children to one teacher and the teacher would only be present every other day.
- The majority of children leaving school around the age of thirteen when the state stops covering any of the costs. Because of the lack of teaching and resources, these children leave with a very poor standard of education and no real prospects (at the beginning of 2010 UNICEF estimated that the textbook to student ratio in Zimbabwe was 1:10).
- The overall situation in Zimbabwe lead to a ‘brain drain’ – very few well educated and professional people are willing to stay and pass on their expertise to the next generation. This all contributes to the standard of teaching in state schools, where it exists, usually being very poor.
Starting from the obvious place of the apparent need for a ‘school’, but one that worked, Deb began to see and realise that the standard school model was actually not going to be the best place to begin. Closely examining and trialling several of the existing education programmes and packages available, she found that they were not going to work with the children and people they wanted to help. A very significant issue, often completely overlooked by the state system and those wishing to promote existing education programmes, is that of English-second language (ESOL) teachers who are teaching ESOL students. Add to that the home and family circumstances many of the children are coming from where, given the high number of sibling-led households and the lack of positive adult care, support and role models, the children are not served well by any of the existing educational models.
During the past eight years, Deb and her team have grappled with these issues and have continued to develop a concept of care and education which, although initially often snubbed by professional educationalists, is beginning to turn heads in a positive way when people see and experience it and the results it is producing in the children and the communities they come from.
We have seen the amount of work Deb has done to establish Cross Over and in some small ways have at times been able to help and have some input. Back in 2012 we spent three weeks teaching an APT course with some of their older boys. At this point, with the establishment of SALT, we are also asking ourselves the question of whether SALT is able to help and support further what Cross Over is doing, not just financially, but perhaps more importantly with human resources and expertise too. An example of a need currently is in the ongoing design and production of materials within the curriculum and for a gifted artist/illustrator.
Recently, an American couple who are professional film makers and producers, gifted a video they have made about Cross Over. They were visiting Zimbabwe learning about Conservation Farming and heard about the project, so visited and spent some time there themselves. The six-minute film does a great job of conveying the essence of what Cross Over is about.
You can see the film by clicking the link here.
For those reading who do not have any specific position of faith, I should point out that Cross Over is very openly a faith-based concept of education. It is quite normal here for people not to separate the spiritual and what is often their ‘biblical’ world view from what we might term the secular. As was once the case historically in our own culture, many people here see their whole lives as lived before God and unto God. They do not compartmentalise religion as something personal or private, but express their faith (in Christ) quite openly and normally in all they do.