What it’s like attending a South African Primary School || a day in the life

by Phoebe Giffey-Brohaugh

This is part 2 of a day in Njabulo’s life. Read part 1 here.

Today is even hotter than usual. Njabulo got out of school early today, because they are taking exams. As we are driving into the community of Embonisweni, we meet him on the dirt road in the midday heat. I hop out of the Gray Condor and walk the rest of the way to the program with him. Njabulo looks down the road with a grin and tells me he thinks he is doing well in his exams so far. After he checks in with his mother and changes out of his school clothes, we sit under the shade of the tree in the yard at the After School Program. Njabulo is 13 years old, and is in 5th grade. He tells me what a typical school day is like for him:

6:30 || Walk to school
It takes Njabulo about 20 minutes to reach school. After walking a third of his trip on the hilly, curved dirt road in his neighborhood, he reaches the main road that is paved. The paved road leads him past small shops that sell things like chips or airtime or electricity vouchers. There are also houses along the road. At the top of the hill, he passes the community soccer field on the left and the tavern and a local fast-food spot on the right. There are usually a lot of children walking on the main road in Embonisweni on the way to school. For Njabulo, the hike is about a 1 kilometer walk, or 0.62 miles.

7:00 || Assembly
Students, teachers, and principal gather together in the schoolyard. The students sing a few songs, and then there are announcements.

7:30 || English Class

10:00 || Break
This is between 30 minutes and one hour for lunch and to let off some steam. The school is on a feeding scheme that gives children lunch, usually consisting of rice and beans. After eating lunch, Njabulo usually hangs out with friends and plays soccer or another game.

10:45 || Class
Depending on the day, Njabulo studies either Math, siSwati, or Lifeskills. In Life Orientation, they are currently learning about skeletal structures.

“My favorite subject is siSwati. I understand it more easily than the other subjects.”

1:00 || Dismissal
Njabulo leaves school with a group of friends. He goes straight home on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he attends the After School Program.

What’s in the book bag?

What do you want the world to know about you?

He sits for a few moments considering what he would like to say before he speaks. His chin is resting thoughtfully in his hand, and his eyes are fixed ahead. Then he says,

“I am very respectful. I like to wake up every day and go to school. I want to learn today so that tomorrow I can wake up and make something of myself.”

Stay tuned: next time we will follow Njabulo home from school to see how he ends his day!