This story is part of a year-long series, School Year: Learning, Poverty, and Success in a South African Township.
When Wendy Lovett — a math teacher from the United Kingdom — arrived at Cape Town's Centre of Science and Technology two years ago, she looked at the white walls in her new classroom and knew something had to change.
“The first thing I did was come up with some ideas of painting it,” she said.
She hired a local artist to paint brightly colored shapes, graphs, and equations on the walls. Then, she asked her students to construct three-dimensional shapes out of paper and hang them from the ceiling. The idea was to make math inspiring.
Sisipho, a tenth-grader at COSAT, says it worked. She says she’s often tired at the end of the school day — until she walks into Mrs. Lovett’s class.
“You come in here, you get bright, you get energized because of all these vibrant colors, that just scream at you,” Sisipho says. She adds that, in this classroom, it’s easy to come up with creative ideas.
“You just look up and just see all these colors, and then suddenly the answer just comes to your mind,” she said.
COSAT hasn’t tried to determine if students actually learn better in Lovett’s classroom. But one thing is clear: Outside the school, it’s a bleak landscape of metal and wooden shacks. Inside this room, it’s a different world.
“It is really beautiful,” said Palo, an eighth-grader, sitting in the classroom. “When I look around, I feel like nothing can touch me. I’m invincible.”
Two weeks ago, just before the school’s midyear break, Mrs. Lovett taught her final class. She and her husband, who have both volunteered at COSAT since 2011, have now moved back to the U.K.
Students say they’ll miss her.
But as for Lovett’s classroom, another teacher at COSAT is inheriting it. He says he’s excited to start teaching in the room, because it will keep him inspired.