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Harvard EdCast: Reaching Rural Students in South Africa

By Jill Anderson on November 14, 2018 2:35 PM
Craig Paxton, Ed.M.'09, executive director of Axium Education, on the importance of supporting education efforts in South Africa's most rural communities.

It’s difficult to imagine a school to which the majority of its students walk over an hour every day, where 70 students can fill one classroom, and most live at homes with no electricity. But to Craig Paxton, Ed.M.’09, that is the norm. As executive director of Axium Education, a nonprofit organization based in rural Eastern Cape, South Africa — one of the country’s poorest and most underperforming districts — Paxton is focused on expanding the educational opportunities for the millions of children living in rural communities.

“The challenges are enormous but so is the potential,” Paxton says, sharing that his own experience teaching in rural communities inspired him to launch Axium Education in 2009. “As a white South African, I’ve had a lot of opportunities…. There’s a responsibility to give back.”

There are many hardships faced not only by the children but also the teachers in rural South Africa, who travel an hour and half to and from schools at which they work. Their students are often many years behind, and the rewards of a typical teacher — seeing a child learn from a lesson, then go on and do well in life — are far from the usual result. But, through Axium’s interventions and additional support, that is starting to change. When Paxton began, it was common that only one student a year would go on to study at the university, but today that number has grown to 50.

“That well-beaten path to success isn’t there for many rural communities,” he says, explaining that shifting the narrative for the students is a key part of Axium’s work. “You have a lot of kids saying, ‘If I do homework and attend class, then I can really go somewhere. It’s possible because my friend or neighbor is going somewhere and has done well.”

In this edition of the Harvard EdCast, Paxton talks about his work in rural South Africa and making a difference in global education.

About the Harvard EdCast

The Harvard EdCast is a weekly podcast featuring brief conversations with education leaders and innovative thinkers from across the country and around the world. Hosted by Jill Anderson, the EdCast is a dynamic space for discourse about problems and transformative solutions in education, shining a light on the compelling people, policies, practices, and ideas shaping the field. Find the EdCast on iTunes, Soundcloud, and Stitcher