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South Africa’s SPARK Soweto Wins World’s Best School Prize For Community Collaboration 2023

  • NEWSWIRE
  • 6 min read

The five World’s Best School Prizes, founded last year by T4 Education in collaboration with Accenture, American Express, and the Lemann Foundation, are the world’s most prestigious education prizes and see winning schools share $250,000

SPARK Soweto,an independent kindergarten and primary school in Johannesburg, South Africa, which has become a catalyst for change for its disadvantaged community that was once symbolic of the struggle against Apartheid, was today named winner of the World’s Best School Prize for Community Collaboration 2023. The five World’s Best School Prizes, founded last year by T4 Education in collaboration with Accenture, American Express, and the Lemann Foundation, are the world’s most prestigious education prizes and this year’s winners share an award of $250,000.

At the same time, Institución Educativa Municipal Montessori sede San Francisco in Colombia won the World’s Best School Prize for Environmental Action. The Riverside Schoolin India won the World’s Best School Prize for Innovation. The Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem School won the World’s Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity. And EEMTI Joaquim Bastos Gonçalves in Brazil won the World’s Best School Prize for Supporting Healthy Lives. The winners were chosen by an expert Judging Academy.

In addition, a new Community Choice Award was presented this year to Escola Municipal Professor Edson Pisani in Brazil after it won the most votes of all the World’s Best School Prizes finalists in a Public Vote. It will now receive membership to T4 Education’s new Best School to Work programme, an independent, evidence-based mechanism to certify schools for their culture and help them transform their working environment to attract and retain the best teachers.

Vikas Pota, Founder of T4 Education and the World’s Best School Prizes, said:

“My deepest congratulations to SPARK Soweto in South Africa. Educators across the world should look to the shining example of your school in the difference you have made to so many lives. And governments must look to the trailblazing work you have done as they seek answers to the great challenges we face today. Where you lead, they must follow.

“This tremendous moment has been made possible by the leadership, vision and culture your school has fostered and it brings me great pride to bestow upon you the World’s Best School Prize for Community Collaboration 2023.”

About the school:

SPARK Soweto is an independent, partially government-funded kindergarten and primary school in Johannesburg, South Africa. By prioritising affordability, community engagement, and environmental stewardship, this school has become a catalyst for change for its disadvantaged community, which was once symbolic of the struggle against Apartheid. With initiatives that tackle social and economic challenges head-on, such as curbing local unemployment and addressing gender-based violence, the impact this school has made in such a short time is the result of listening and responding to the community.

SPARK Soweto’s model is rooted in the five core values of Service, Persistence, Achievement, Responsibility, and Kindness (SPARK), and the school’s community is further enshrined in the 6th core value of Ubuntu – ‘I am, because we are.’ As such, the school prioritised community engagement from its very inception which involved interacting with and surveying the community to understand their educational and social needs. 

Based on that understanding, the school launched a number of community initiatives to help address the challenges of its surrounding area, such as its Environmental Stewardship programme, which involved cleaning the surrounding areas and erecting permanent concrete bins to curb waste pollution. This helped instil environmental responsibility and stewardship in the community. 

The school recognised a decline in voting in South Africa and launched a programme to teach its scholars how to vote. Meanwhile, its students teach younger children in the community how to read.

The school also addressed local unemployment by prioritising the hiring of local youth who have just completed their undergraduate studies. The school engaged with the local municipal counsellor and formed an agreement that at least 30% of the people hired at SPARK Soweto must reside within the Soweto community. As a result, over 60% of the staff that work at SPARK Soweto were residents of Soweto, which further solidified the school’s investment in making the community better.

Other initiatives include a Christmas drive each year to balance the socio-economic struggles during the festive season, and counselling to educate and raise awareness about Gender-Based Violence in South Africa. 

In an important example, that the community has adopted the school as a result of its efforts, community members took it upon themselves to check on the school and its buildings for any signs of damage, day and night, during recent riots. Significantly, while several buildings in the area were attacked, the school itself was left untouched.

SPARK Soweto plans to use the prize funds to continue to build on the community initiatives that have already shown significant impact. The school believes that it takes a village to raise tomorrow’s leaders and is committed to investing in the community that supports the school.

SPARK Soweto was chosen as the winner of the World’s Best School Prize for Community Collaboration 2023 from among the Top 3 finalists for the Prize, which also included William Henry Burkhart Elementary in the US and Escola Municipal Professor Edson Pisani in Brazil.

SPARK Soweto, and all of its fellow finalists, will share their best practices to help others replicate their work through School Transformation Toolkits and events on the T4 Communities app.

Applications open for the World’s Best School Prizes 2024

Applications also opened today for the World’s Best School Prizes 2024.

The five World’s Best School Prizes – for Community Collaboration, Environmental Action, Innovation, Overcoming Adversity, and Supporting Healthy Lives – celebrate schools everywhere for the pivotal role they play in developing the next generation of learners and for their enormous contribution to society’s progress, especially in the wake of COVID. The Prizes were established to share the best practices of schools that are transforming the lives of their students and making a real difference to their communities.

The Prizes are open to all schools who teach students in compulsory schooling, and are legally registered with their respective Ministry of Education or government regulatory authority, including kindergarten, primary and secondary schools, and online schools.

Winning schools next year will share a prize fund of $50,000.

Schools can apply online at worldsbestschool.org 

Applications close on February 23 2024 at 23.59 GMT