community builders:with Takemore Mazuruse
Respected educationist and philanthropist Margaret Bhowa (55) believes every child deserves a chance at education and that strong belief in equal opportunities for all led to the formation of St Angela Academy, a specialised high school which she successfully runs in Borrowdale, Harare.
Speaking to Standard Style, the St Angela Academy founder and principal who was born to a teacher father and a nurse mother, said education should be wholesome and no child should be left out because they are deemed limited in terms of academic prowess.
“I grew up in Mutare and my father was a teacher and strict disciplinarian who taught us the value of education. Together with my six siblings, we were raised under strict Christian values where excellence was a virtue,” Bhowa said.
“That world helped me realise that every child given the right support and raised in the right environment can be able to exert themselves well in class, hence my decision to become a teacher even though I could be anything else in life given my academic capabilities.”
A holder of a Master of Education in Educational Administration, Planning and Policy Studies from the University of Zimbabwe, Bhowa said it was actually her experiences as a school head at another school that led to the formation of her fast-growing St Angela Academy.
“I felt we were not giving our students a perfect environment for learning and given my passion for education and developing a whole child, I felt hard done by the operating environment,” she said.
“I strongly believe in the potential of every child and where academic excellence cannot be pursued, I believe skills development should be an option so that we have complete citizens who can live their potential regardless.”
Like Bill Mills say, every passion has its destiny and as fate would have it, God had to speak to the St Angela Academy founder through a dream for her to pursue her calling towards wholesome education for every child.
“Operating under circumstances that choked my view of education and desire to empower every student was limiting and I believe this is the reason why God spoke to me to action my passion,” Bhowa said.
“I then had a dream where I clearly saw a billboard outside my home and when I went out to inspect in that dream, I saw that it was inscribed St Angela High School and my father was standing next to it. That dream strengthened my resolve and I felt God was speaking to me.”
True to the passionate educationist’s dream, one cannot miss the St Angela High School billboard as you drive along Borrowdale Road after Hellensvale shops. It is indeed a tale of a dream that came to life and lives are being changed through the school.
Bhowa also spoke of their open-door policy which has helped even the usually shunned and not so-academically gifted students to self-actualise.
“We do not select students according to their exams scores. We are open to all students regardless because we believe every child can excel given the right support and learning environment,” she said.
“St Angela High School prides itself in one-on-one instruction for students and we monitor all levels of academic performance. We start with our students from their level of comprehension and work on their confidence and ability until they become better if not excellent.”
True to her assertion, St Angela High School has got a 1:12 teacher-student ratio and learners have a perfect learning environment where they feel at home and get the best from their tutors.
“We have the perfect formula to child development and we are raising a new crop of learners that we believe can easily fit into society, thanks to the sound Christian teachings at the school as well as the security levels that helps dispel any forms of abuse,” Bhowa said.
The school environs equally speak to the educationist’s aspirations as the well-manicured lawns and flowers in the gardens greet you upon arrival.
Students are also raised to become responsible citizens that play their part in solving community problems and the respected community builder shared some light into that undertaking.
“We have designed our curriculum in such a way that allows them to go on educational tours that help them marry the theoretical aspects of their learning to the practical and that has worked very well for us as the students get to relax and comprehend better,” she said.
“We have also engaged in some corporate social responsibility work where we mobilise goods for donation to various homes and associations for the underprivileged.
“Some of our beneficiaries to date include Tichakunda Orphanage, Dandaro Retirement Home, St Joseph’s Orphanage, Emerald Hill School for the Blind, as well as the Albino Association of Zimbabwe, which we have physically visited with our students.”
Bhowa also spoke of the turnaround which they have witnessed in some of the students that come to the institution from bigger schools, thanks to their personalised approach to learning.
“When students come from some of the bigger schools where teacher to student ratio is say 1:50, they always benefit from the closer attention and assistance which they get at St Angela and every year we get parents and students coming back to the school with testimonies after scoring good results in exams,” she said.
The school also makes sure that the students get spiritual direction thanks to our sound Christian values. Devotions are held twice a week while guidance and counselling sessions are held to help deal with some of the community and home issues affecting students.
“Spiritual welfare is important and while talk of Satanism has affected many institutions, we are grateful for the strong Christian values that we instil in our students,” she said.
“The guidance and counselling sessions have also helped with relationship building between our students and their parents or guardians given that not all abuse is intentional as some parents do things that offend that children without knowing.”
The revered educationist whose school’s strongest attribute is personalised learning has plans to grow the institution’s tentacles and she told Standard Style that they already have a stand in Nyabira where they are planning to build a primary and secondary school, a hospital, a chapel and a golf course to broaden their scope.
“In spite of the operational challenges given the economic environment affecting everyone parents included, we are going all out with this vision so that we assist even the presumed limited students. No student is dull and at St Angela we are opening our doors to all hence the expansion drive,” she said.
“We have a stand in Nyabira where we intend to build a primary and secondary school as well as a hospital and a golf course.
“Yes, we value sporting excellence and we already have ball games, swimming, golfing and tennis under our current curricula.”
St Angela Academy is also registered with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and Bhowa said they were very particular about standards so that they play their part in advancing the educational sector aspirations of Zimbabwe.
“We have enrolment ranging from Form 1 to A’ Level and at any given time we are open to new recruits because at any given time decisions relating to educational advancement are made in the homes and we don’t want those to waste away as guardians wait for a new term,” Bhowa said.
“Being a dully registered institution with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, we make sure that all our teachers plan and scheme for class as compared to the rampant corner-cutting and shoddy service that some institutions prefer. Education should be wholesome and we pride ourselves in that.”
Consistent with the ubuntu spirit, St Angela High SchooAcademy also caters for disadvantaged children who cannot pay for their tuition and Bhowa said she was hoping to have scholarship opportunities as the vision grows.
“I am happily married to an educationist-turn consultant and my four kids have all made it in life. Two of these, a banker and a chartered accountant are happily married in Australia, one is an electrical engineer in South Africa and another one a telecoms engineer in Zimbabwe,” Bhowa said.
“We are, therefore, designing a way of giving back through scholarships so that we have the disadvantaged students benefiting from our unique learning culture.”
For a school that is not selective in recruitment, St Angela Academy is doing very well and its lowest exam pass rate since 2014 is 90% and Bhowa revealed she was highly encouraged by how her child development model and dream is taking shape.