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No child left behind

Matona Fatman

Two dedicated women are going all out to build up a school that specialises in leadership and technology. It provides specialised private education for children with Autism and ADHD.When Yanela Ntlauzana left the UK earlier this year and headed back home to South Africa, she was determined not to go back.

“If I go back, I would’ve failed,” says Ntlauzana.

The 37-year-old left a secure paycheck and her two boys, aged nine and 14, to pursue her lifelong dream of opening a school that would ensure that every child gets an equal opportunity in life by getting the very best individualised education.

For Ntlauzana an ACAE (advocacy on autism and related conditions) specialist and bespoke trainer -- failure is not an option.

She is putting every fibre of her being into making Plumfield Specialist School work. The school is nestled in the tranquil slopes of Chartwell in Gauteng.

The vision for Plumfield, while born of glorious ideals, is by no means an easy feat, even for Ntlauzana and her co-founder, Hlumela Sixishe, who is a Goliath of individualised education in her own right.

The duo are building a bespoke school from the ground up that specialises in leadership and technology. What sets it  apart from its well-resourced counterparts that provide specialised private education is its focus on children with Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

These are the very same children that get rejected and branded as ‘unteachable’, robbing them of their basic right to quality education and an equal opportunity to thrive in life.

Both Ntlauzana and Sixishe understand that an Autism or ADHD diagnosis is not the “no return” decree some would have the parents believe. It simply means the teaching and learning environment has to respond differently and to each individual to afford the child at the centre of it all the opportunity to discover how smart, capable and intelligent they are and to be able to contribute to the collective.

The school’s core curriculum is liberal arts along with subjects like coding with students learning fundamental programming concepts including a Lego-like visual language, which progresses to Java Script and Python.

The potential of a child with autism

No one knows better the potential of a child with autism than Ntlauzana, as both her boys are autistic. This is why she is determined to make Plumfield a success. It’s a dream towards which she and Sixishe toil day and night.

Ntlauzana is working to get to a point where her two boys can join her and be part of the student body at Plumfield.

The care that her boys are getting from the public system in the UK is what drives her to want the same for children with Autism in South Africa.

When it comes to providing children with opportunities and resources, Sixishe is just as passionate as Ntlauzana. They are unrelenting in their view that all children must be given equal opportunities. Ultimately, they want the end goal of education to change.

For now, Plumfield doesn’t enjoy any funding and Sixishe and Ntlauzana are not drawing salaries. Their commitment to affordable, quality education is what keeps them going. They one day hope to get the Department of Basic Education to subsidise learners with Autism so they can get tuition at Plumfield. 

Sixishe and Ntlauzana are not scared to dream big and act even bigger. They plan to grow their school to offer boarding in the future. So far, Ntlauzana and Sixishe have managed to show that with the right mindset and unbending resolve, anything is possible. Even a specialised school called Plumfield. 

What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

Symptoms of Autism

  • Lack of or delayed spoken language.
  • Repetitive mannerisms or tics such as flapping of hands.
  • Lack of eye contact.
  • Lack of interest in family members or friends.
  • Lack of make-believe playing.
  • Fixation with specific objects, or parts of objects.

Note to parents: Always keep track of your child’s developmental milestones so that if there are problems your child can get help early.