Schools play a critical role in the life of communities, especially those situated in remote areas. A good education is a ticket to success for many young people. For rural children, in particular, it’s the key to opening new opportunities and building prosperity.

Vele Secondary School is a rural school located in a mountainous region of the Vhembe District in Limpopo Province. Before refurbishments, Vele Secondary was a dilapidated, crowded and hazardous environment for its learners.

According to Samuel Makhado, principal of Vele Secondary School, the main problem prior to the building operations was the overcrowding in the school. It was also so cold in the morning that learners had difficulty concentrating on their studies.

As part of the pre-design research process, pupils were given cameras and taught to map the area, including their routes to school. They identified hazards — leopards, baboons and snakes, among others — as well as special sites in the landscape. Their photos were exhibited to raise funds, but also inspired the school’s design and the selection of its building materials.

In an impressive turn-around, Vele’s matric pass rate rose from 38% in 2009 to 84% in 2011, following the school’s refurbishments. This increase has, in part, been linked to the improvements made to the school campus. 

The school also invested in a digital weather station to create effective solar design and rainwater harvesting strategies. Science labs and IT centres were added, and pupils were trained to serve as guides in nearby game reserves. The use of local resources – mainly stone and masonry construction – reduces the carbon footprint and invests in local economies.

Derek van Heerden from East Coast Architects, who were responsible for the project, said they had sought and received feedback from learners, teachers and other community members from the outset. “This has had a massive impact on the eventual outcome, with the whole community embracing the school which is already having a positive effect on education.”