Extra lessons aren’t just for those learners struggling in certain subjects; learners of all aptitudes can benefit, and academic extension centre Edify’s results are testament to this.
On average 2022 matric learners’ marks went up by 16% from the time they first joined an Edify school to their final matric results. For example, if a learner scored 80% in their last maths exam before they joined Edify, they would have scored 96% in the final matric exam, while a learner with a 60% mark would have achieved a 76% matric result.
Husband and wife team Wynand and Gemay van Heerden prove that it pays to be good at maths – their local small business Edify has flourished, and learners at Edify schools have seen phenomenal improvements in their marks.
Edify was launched seven years ago as a small extra-lesson school. The Van Heerdens quit their day jobs to follow their passion to run an educational business – Wynand was a manager at KPMG and Gemay a teacher. When the first school opened in January 2017 it had three learners, with Gemay teaching maths. Today it’s a thriving business employing 29 people with four schools in Gauteng and an online international school. By the end of 2024 it will have opened an additional three schools, in the Western Cape, and will have a staff complement in excess of 50.
There are currently Edify schools in Houghton, Bryanston (Hurlingham) and Bedfordview in Johannesburg, and Lynwood in Pretoria, as well as its online school. In July 2023 an Edify school will open in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town near Rondebosch and Newlands, and in January 2024 two new schools will open in Stellenbosch and Paarl.
All Edify schools offer teaching for the international Cambridge (IGCSE), Independent Examination Board (IEB) and South African National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) curricula, with lessons in maths, physical sciences, accountancy, and additional language isiZulu and Afrikaans. Learners range from 4 Years old to Grade 12. Lessons are an hour long (half an hour for preschoolers), once or twice a week, and the teacher-to-learner varies from 1:3 to 1:6 – depending on the subject and learner’s age.
How it all started
“We rented a small three-bedroom historical house in an office park in Houghton as our school – where we secretly lived for the first year. Without jobs we couldn’t afford to rent an office and a home, so we put a bed in the one room, which I covered with a tablecloth and told people was the school’s sickroom. There were two classrooms, a small bathroom and a kitchen. We kept our clothes in a kitchen cupboard. It was the most bizarre time – we would leave and turn off all the lights and sneak back in at night so security didn’t see us,” says Gemay.
The turning point was in June 2017 when Gemay ran a workshop before a Grade 8 exam. The number of learners had doubled by then and she offered the six learners the chance to invite a friend, expecting 12 children – 72 children showed up for the workshop. “My ultimate goal was to have 100 children at the school and by August 2017 we’d reached my target,” she says
At the end of 2017 they employed another teacher who used what had been the “sickroom” as a classroom and moved into a separate home, and later they converted the garage into a fourth classroom. In January 2020 they moved into a bigger space in the Houghton Estate Office Park, had five full-time staff and opened the Bryanston school – just before the first Covid-19 lockdown. The international online school launched later that year (catering predominantly for clients who’ve emigrated and their friends), while the Pretoria school opened in mid-2021 and the Bedfordview school in January 2022.
“It was a challenging time to expand, but we continued to grow during the pandemic. We played a vital role in letting parents know what was happening with their children’s education. Our learner numbers continued to grow during that period,” says Wynand.
Edify’s Foundation Phase maths programme launched this year and is aligned to the advanced level of preschool maths in Singapore and China. Gemay developed a play-based programme that instils a love of numbers.
This year Edify also initiated a comprehensive year-long teacher training CSI programme in teaching methodology, for a group of student teachers from the University of Johannesburg.
The secret to success
Passion is the secret to Edify’s success. It only hires graduates with a deep knowledge of their subject matter – mostly experienced teachers with excellent references, or professionals such as engineers and applied mathematicians. “The key factor in hiring teachers is personality; they have to be approachable and passionate about their subject – and have an ability to transfer that passion to the learners. People are generally passionate about things they’re good at,” says Wynand.
According to Gemay, “Our teacher-to-learner ratio is small enough to ensure each child gets differentiated learning tailored to their level of readiness for particular tasks. The children also learn from each other – you will often find one learner helping another and they both benefit from the exchange. They bounce off each other’s energy. Our students love attending the lessons, they love the interactions with the other learners and teachers, and they develop a passion for the subject they’re studying.”
At the end of each year Edify circulates a survey to parents to rate its services. One of the questions is how often they have to force their child to attend lessons, with a five being never – and for six years the score has been an almost perfect five.
Visit Edify’s website for more information: https://edifymaths.com/