Updated: Oct 14
"Bright Start College is an independent affordable private school with a portfolio of 1 flagship school & 7 preschools. Providing quality education to the underserved communities in South African townships."
Q1:Tell us about your yourself:
I am a 49 year old energetic, young at heart mother of 2 and a mother to many. I have a passion for education and people's well being. I love to encourage young ones to use every opportunity they get to study. I work in communities around our business and try my best to understand the demographics as well as the needs and potential problem areas that may affect learning, mobilise and work with the communities to try and create a conducive environment for learners in the area.
Q2:What does your company do?
Established in 1999: Bright Start College is an independent affordable private school with a portfolio of 1 flagship school & 7 preschools. Providing quality education to the underserved communities in South African townships.
We then founded Bright Star Foundation to close the gap by partnering with organisations and individuals to assist parents, who sacrifice over 50% of their income to pay school fees. We do this through our 1) School Fees Subsidy program, 2) After school classes and 3) A Feeding Program, ensuring a holistic learning environment for equitable access to education.
Q3: What inspired you to start your business?
Growing up: poverty was like a noose around my neck. In my early grades, due to my not being able to afford school fees & uniform, some teachers refused me access to the classroom. At times I was forced to sit outside just below a window, even during cold winter days, & I would peek through the window, trying hard to hear everything being taught inside the classroom. Talk about being excluded: both economically and physically.
My dream, sparked during those days locked out of the classroom, was to establish in townships: affordable private schooling system, so that children like me, can have access to quality education.
Like many, I did not know where to start and I did not have any money to start. So the natural step was to find a job. It was when I was employed at a Paediatric Medical Centre: that my childhood dream would return back to me, in the most unusual way, through a child [guest].
One day, a little girl, a patient to the Paediatric facility, came in with the mom. She looked like she was in agony, covered in stitches, as part of her treatment regime. I was immediately drawn to her, and sympathised with her pain. She looked terrified and overwhelmed. Naturally, I began looking for ways to make her feel welcome to try and ease her discomfort before she could see the doctors. I made clown gestures and funny facial expressions. Within minutes, she lit up. Gravitating towards me, almost forgetting that she was not well, she began brightening up, looking happy and at ease.
The mom on the other hand, appears to have taken offence to my efforts to comfort her child. She did not appear happy to see her child gravitating towards me. Not sure if she thought my efforts were “inappropriate” towards her child. Without warning, she confronted me: and barked instructions towards me, to the effect of "leave my child alone and stick to answering that phone [as a receptionist]". I was not too surprised by her behaviour, as it was common for the parents of patients [children], who were quite wealthy to bully me and my colleagues.
That day, it was different, that child was like a God-sent Angel to me. She was a turning point for me. She triggered the long forgotten memory of my childhood dream, which was to help kids through education. I started seeing my job as a provision for the vision God has placed in my heart. I cried out to God: I was overwhelmed by what it will cost to achieve my dream. That's when I started taking classes for a long distance Early Childhood Development [ECD] diploma while I was working there. From there I never looked back. Starting small: I focused.
I eventually opened my first facility in the heart of Hillbrow, Johannesburg, in the middle of such great need and dilapidation. That's where education was needed most. That was in 1999, as they say: the rest is history. When I begun this journey of transformation through education in 1999: I did not know I would end up with a portfolio of 1 flagship school and 7 pre-schools to lead, most of them along Johannesburg's Eastrand region. Despite my notable success, I must admit: the need far outstrips what we can achieve through these 8 facilities. Our track-record, 23 years later, we helped almost 20 000 learners, I am now opening up the model for funding and support from individuals & corporate social investment [CSI] vehicles to come on board to help us help more children to access quality education.
Q4: How do you define your business model; what differentiates your products or Services from others?:
Bright Start is an independent Private School taking providing quality education to learners from Grade 1-7, with 4 Pre Schools catering for learners from six months (Grade 000) to six years ( Grade R). We have a portfolio of 8 facilities, made up of 1 school and 7 preschools. Providing quality education to the underserved communities in South African townships.
Q5: Starting a business is not easy. What struggles did you experience in the infant years of your company and how did you overcome it?
I experienced a lot of challenges i.e.
During infant stages: it was very hard to access loans to buy property to expand. To overcome this I decided to move out of the city into the areas where land was bigger and there was a sense of community and stability as compared to inner city where our customers [parents] moved houses regularly, pulling their children out of school.
Competition due to mushrooming of Early Childhood Development [ECDs] facilities: We overcame this challenge by creating avenues where not only learners but parents and the elderly in the community formed part of the activities in the school and community. This saw us, as a brand, embedding ourselves into the social DNA of the communities we existed in.
Lack of Land to build: We saved and sourced good pockets of land to enable us to build a proper dream school, that's well equipped, the learners are hoping to have one day. We are now navigating zoning dynamics, to ensure our expansion towards those ideals.
Q6: What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started?:
The importance of having a great team comprising of people who are passionate about education, who are willing to serve. Where zonings are concerned, we would have avoided much of the government's red tape. Had we known that once you give compromised government officials a full picture of your ideas and plans, some [not all], will opt to attempt to exploit you. Concocting all sorts of exorbitant charges for activities that should have never formed part of the zoning discussion. Not complying with their crooked schemes, some frustrate your plans. We would have opted to be strategic and phase our plans, in stages.
Q7: What are your 3 priorities right now:
Our biggest priorities right now include:
To build Schools in all the sites that we have purchased and grow the school.
To source funding to be able to fund learning for our many top achievers whose parents can hardly afford fees, through our fee subsidy program.
To find sites in areas where we operate our community projects from, in order to reach more people and provide much needed services within reach for many of them.
Q8: What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?:
Raising funding: We're about to establish a holistic learning centre, that will provide all activities conducive for learning such as sports facilities, computer labs, science labs, proper kitchen etc. This project will form a benchmark for holistic schools we want to build next across townships and in rural areas, to afford learners the opportunity to access quality education within their communities.
Raising funding for sponsorships: We invite organisations or individuals to sponsor our CSI programs through the Bright Star Foundation. To assist parents: who sacrifice over 50% of their income to pay school fee. Join us, to help these parents & children.
To create a difference in the communities: where peace and harmony can be achieved through a changed mindset, helping hands and creation of opportunities for all.
Q9: Advice to other entrepreneurs or to your younger self?:
My dearest Boitumelo [Tumi], you are unique, you are complete and able. You can achieve all that you put your mind to, just believe in your self and your God given purpose.
When I heard that about Tumi's experience of not being allowed in class and having to seat outside just under the window at times, on cold winter days, so that she can listen in into classes via the window, to learn, my heart sank! Yes: it is a common thing for many African kids to go to school without shoes or sit through the class activities on an empty stomach.
However, what makes Tumi's story uncommon, beyond being locked out of the classroom, is her later turning around to become a solution to the same challenges she faced. Through Bright Start College, she is democratising access to quality education for previously left behind communities and not just stopping there. Through Bright Star Foundation she is solving poverty, education access and attaining social justice for those deprived of learning.
I commend Boitumelo and her team at Bright Start College for what they do through Bright Star Foundation. I can see the Bright Start College joining the list of top disruptors across South Africa's education landscape. I look forward seeing the flag of Bright Start College fly even higher, as they open more schools across townships and rural communities.
South Africa is home to a learner population of over 12.5 million. Out of those 12.5 million learners, only about 632,443 students are catered for by the current private schooling system. That's a private schooling system that only absorbs 4.6% of the learner population, not even 10%, how did we get here? That's not the South Africa or the Africa we want. The gap that Bright Start College is aiming to close is sizeable and urgent.
On the one hand, the mainstream public school framework is not coping and has glaring gaps around service delivery. On the other hand: the private education industry is underserving South African communities, thus continuing to perpetuate a prior existing legacy of inequality. The poor remain on the other side of the tracks because quality education is not accessible to 95% of our learner population. The gap in the market is huge, presenting a limitless potential for the Bright Start College widen its reach and impact.
Connect with Boitumelo Monoketsi
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