About Sparrow Schools

We offer education and training to cognitively impaired children and youth.

Academics are not the only way

Most of the world’s education system’s core focus is academics, which makes school a prolonged ordeal for many. This leaves learners going through many years feeling like they are not good enough to compete in the world and that can have detrimental consequences. When the apartheid government was abolished in 1993, many children affected by the system were still at a disadvantage and had nobody to help them catch up on the backlog, allowing them a smooth transition into mainstream schools.


Through its remedial teaching and skills training, the Sparrow Schools Education Trust has developed a way to provide the previously disadvantaged and academically challenged people a fighting chance to compete in society and contribute to the country’s economy.


After going on the United Kingdom Choir tour in 2004, one Sparrow Schools student in the Catering Programme was inspired to break the stereotypes that you can only compete in the world if you excel academically. “When I was in school, I was really not an academic child, so I found an opportunity where I could rise and do what I am doing now and I love it,” says Lehlohonolo Magadime, Senior Chef Supervisor at Delaire Graff Estate in Cape Town. He further adds, “It does help having a passion and doing what you love. I think it is important for the youth out there to follow their passion for them to succeed.”

Magadime has since travelled the world and is now also running his own Catering Company called Exclusively Yours Catering. “I think he is a very hardworking, strong and upcoming young chef. He is very passionate, dedicated and he has a very bright future in the kitchen, he will take it further than that,” says Head Chef at Delaire Graff, Virgil Khan.

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Young Chef on the rise

South Africa continues to be plagued by youth unemployment and more young people are being locked out of the country’s education system due to a lack of finances. As demonstrated by recent events, young people are growing impatient as they continue to be barred from enjoying the fruits of the country’s young democracy. After completing her matric in 2010, Segomotso Phitlho was faced with a dilemma experienced by many, figuring out what she would do with her life and how she was going to further her studies and finance them.


In 2011, instead of pursuing her ambitions and furthering her studies, not by choice, Phitlho like many others sought a job in retail just to make ends meet. Things did not get any easier for her in 2013, after falling pregnant and having no idea how she was going to raise her baby.  After getting a recommendation by a friend, Phitlho found her breakthrough and registered for a funded Assistant Chef program at the Sparrow FET College in 2014.

chef 2

Phitlho underwent training at the College and was placed at a Spar outlet after 3 months to gain workplace experience. After the duration of her training at Spar came to a conclusion, due to her resilience and determination, she was absorbed into the Spar as a permanent employee. “I am very grateful for the opportunity that I got through Sparrow, being there has built me as person, my self-esteem has improved and my life now has direction,” Phitlho says.

After spending some time at Spar, Phitlho decided it was time to spread her wings and go out on her own. With her head held high, she walked into Southern Sun, Monte Casino. After spending just 3 weeks in training, Phitlho was soon promoted to Commis-Chef.  “Phitlo was one of those people that came in here seeking work but I saw something different in her. Her confidence the minute we started talking really stood out you know, which is a trait that you need in this kind of environment. I honestly believe that if she remains focused, she has the potential to really go far in her career,” says Southern Sun Head Chef, Jade Sullaphen.

chef 3

Phitlho’s story does not end here. “There are a lot of things I still want to achieve, I’m planning on studying further and taking my specialties to the world and I have my eyes set on Dubai,” says Phitlo emphatically. This is one among many stories that the Sparrow FET College continues to produce through our effective and market-leading training models.

Sparrow Combined Introducing Bridging Programme

The Sparrow Combined School offers the full prescribed CAPS curriculum at grades 8 and 9 level. The curriculum is offered according to remedial principles that allow the adjustment of content and pace of learning. The learning pace and content is specifically matched to learner ability and type of impairment.

Due to the Combined School only offering grades 8 and 9; the school realized a need to make the transition into the FET College easier and is introducing a two year bridging programme. This programme will cater for learners who have successfully completed grade 9 and will serve as an introduction to the skills of any FET College.

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In addition to the practical skills, learner literacy levels are improved through computer-assisted literacy training. The basic skills needed to successfully cope with the world of work are also introduced through a work-readiness program that will also help learners get a head start as they embark on their journey through the FET College. This ensures the learner is mature enough to cope and compete in society.

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In January 2015, nine learners from the Combined school were successfully recruited into the FET College’s Furniture Making: Wood programme. The learners spent six months undergoing both theoretical and practical training at the FET College. “It was not easy getting the learners to the level that I want them to be at considering they came here at a much younger age. I’m very happy about this bridging programme as it will make all our jobs easier, including helping the learners have a much better transitioning experience,” says Furniture Making: Wood programme facilitator, Wayne Hendricks.

The learners have been successfully placed into various companies for their workplace experience. These companies include Webbers Woodcraft, Falcon Shopfitters SA (Pty) Ltd, Everhood, Devin Cabinet Doors, and Charles Oregon Furniture.

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Sparrow Schools joins third industrial revolution

Additive Manufacturing, also known as 3D printing is taking the world by storm and Sparrow Schools is joining the revolution. With just a click of a button, you can turn a digital file into an actual physical 3D part object. Many manufacturing industries have also joined the wave. According to a Wohlers Report 2014, the 3D printing industry is expected to grow and exceed the $21B mark in worldwide revenue by 2020.


After being approached by two University of Cape Town students who started a programme called 3D for Schools, the Sparrow Foundation School is looking to integrate 3D printing into the school’s maths, science and technology curriculum.  For instance in the mathematics subject, while learners are taught about shapes, through 3D printing, they will be able to physically develop the shapes, giving them a better grasp of volume, height and width.

3D print

Furthermore, 3D printing will take its remedial intervention plans to a whole new level, particularly for autistic learners. It has been found that autistic children learn differently from their peers.  They have difficulty visualising concepts and relating to stories or pictures on a page.

The Foundation Schools’ autistic learners were tasked with designing floor plans for their dream houses. They failed when they drew on paper but thanks to 3D printing, they successfully completed the floor plans in 2 days after using Sketchup (3D modelling computer programme). People with autism are visually gifted, they think in pictures. In this sense, 3D printing is one of the tools that can help them express their ideas and creativity.

3D printer

The 3D printing programme also aims to inspire and trigger thoughts in young minds. It seeks to keep them up-to-date with the third industrial revolution, driven by additive manufacturing (3D printing).  The programme will also instill the spirit of entrepreneurship in learners from an early age considering that the industry is going mainstream. “We are already starting to see businesses, both large and small, take advantage of 3D printers to create customized designs or follow blueprints. The real appeal lies in speedy prototyping and increased accessibility,” says Chris Elsworthy, CEO of CEL, the makers of the Robox 3D printer.

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Investing in Early Childhood Development

On 20 November 2014, the Sparrow FET College in partnership with Brainwave Careers officially launched the Early Childhood Development (ECD) program for those who want to enter the field of Education, Training and Development, specifically within the sub-field of Early Childhood Development. The aim of the programme is to formally recognise those who are already practicing in this field but do not have any formal recognition.

ECD candidates doing a class activity

ECD candidates doing a class activity

The program further aims to “develop the appropriate skills and knowledge required by a person for the establishment and development of a small to medium business venture, and addresses the economic, administrative and behavioral (psycho-social)barriers that contribute to success in starting and sustaining the venture.” After the success of the first intake, the program has had some notable successes.

Starting with only 3 children in January 2015, Millicent Boa, a former ECD candidate, opened a day care which now caters for 25 children in her hometown, Glenridge, Soweto.  Boa attributes much of her success to the ECD programme, “The ECD programme taught me a lot about children and how to handle them with care. I learnt that there are four things which are very crucial in a child’s development. These are, ‘patience, nutrition, self-esteem and the parents’ involvement.”

Boa at her day care

Boa at her day care

Being just eight months old there is increasing demand for Boa’s day care in the community. She started the day care in her mother’s house, running it with both her sister and mother.  Due to the high demand for her services and her mother’s house getting smaller to house all 25 of the children, construction has already started at the backyard of her mother’s house where she will accommodate more children. We spoke to one parent who sings high praises of the day care. “I can really see the difference between this crèche and the last one that my son attended. I can see it in his behavior when he comes back from crèche, he is happier and can tell me about his experiences from crèche, that never used to happen,” says parent, Carol Phakathi.

Carol Phakathi with her son, Siyabonga Phakathi.

Carol Phakathi with her son, Siyabonga Phakathi.

After the success of the first intake of the programme ran by the Sparrow FET College and Brainwaves, the College has recruited a sought after facilitator in Tessa Wolfaardt to facilitate the second intake. Starting off as a primary school teacher, Wolfaardt has over 15 years’ experience in the industry. She penned one of the first ever ECD manuals in the country.

After taking a break to go and pursue other ambitions, Woldfaardt got back into the ECD field due to a high demand of her experience by different institutions. Her mission now is to pass on her wealth of experience to those coming after her through the ECD programme at the FET College. “I want these learners to walk away from this programme having developed in every aspect of their lives. That will lead to them passing that on to the children they will care for. South Africa is lacking behind, early childhood development is extremely beneficial for children in need of proper care,” Wolfaardt explains.

Lydia Munyai

Lydia Munyai

Lydia Munyai, 39, is one of the candidates in the current programme. Munyai who is a mother herself, joined the programme after losing her job and sitting at home unemployed for months. “I joined the programme because i’m planning my own creche. When I first started in the programme I took childcare for granted. I have children of my own and I always thought that raising children was just about the security. Because of this progamme I now know that there is more to it, there’s a lot to consider about a child’s developmental process,” Munyai says.

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Meet the Sparrow Choir

In November this year, the Sparrow Combined School Choir will embark on a tour of the United Kingdom. The tour will be a huge cultural and social experience for the learners. Many of them will have never traveled outside their hometowns and will have had no idea of the real meaning of an English winter. Meet one half of the choir members:

Kamo Lephallo

Kamo Lephallo

Age: 16

Born: Orlando West, Soweto

Voice type: Soprano

Q: Tell us about yourself

A: I’m kind and friendly with people. Basically, what you see is what you get.

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: In my spare time, I play computer games and chess. I really like playing brain games

Q: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

A: I see myself as an actor or musician. If I go into the acting field, I would like to be an actor on Isidingo (popular South African telenovela). If I go into the music industry, I would rap.

Q: What does the Mandela spirit mean to you?

A: From what I have been told and read, he was a well-known, respected man that did a lot of good deeds for our country.

Q: If you could change the world, what would you do?

A: I would help the poor by providing disadvantaged children with free basic education and jobs for their parents.

Kelebogile Peele

kele peele

 Age: 18

Born: Molapo extension, Soweto.

Voice type: Soprano

Q: Tell us about yourself

A: I am quiet and shy in nature that is why I have a small circle of 4 friends. I usually speak when spoken to.

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: I cook and occasionally sing old school RNB music the likes of Mariah Carey and Tamia.

Q: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

A: I see myself opening my own restaurant in Sandton (Johannesburg) because I am passionate about cooking.

Q: What does the Mandela spirit mean to you?

A: It means Ubuntu and working as one as well as equal rights for all citizens.

Q: If you could change the world, what would you do?

A: I would help street kids with shelters to accommodate them. I would also set up programmes to help them achieve their life goals

Noma Ngamlana

Nomathamsanqa Ngamlana

Age: 15

Grade: 9

Born: Mofolo, Soweto

Voice type: Alto

Q: Tell us about yourself

A: I am a shy person. I am short-tempered and I love my family.

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: I read books when I have nothing to do so far I have read High School Musical.

Q: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

A: I see myself studying BA Tourism Management at the University of Johannesburg

Q: What does the Mandela spirit mean to you?

A: It means fighting for people’s rights even though it personally affects you.

Q: If you could change the world, what would you do?

A: I would build homes and hospitals for poor people.

Sanele Nkabinde

Sanele Nkabinde

Age: 14

Grade:  8

Born: Diepkloof, Soweto

Voice type:  Soprano

Q: Tell us about yourself

A: I love singing because it makes me happy. I do not like greedy people.

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: If I’m not singing, I am probably reading a book like Charlie and the chocolate factory, and Silver Book.

Q: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

A: I see myself as an English or Isizulu teacher. If I choose to go into singing, I will sing gospel songs like Rebecca Malope and Hlengiwe Mhlaba.

Q: What does the Mandela spirit mean to you?

A: It means an act of heroism whereby a man went to prison for 27 years in the fight for equal rights.      

Q: If you could change the world, what would you do?

A: I would reduce crime in South Africa by deploying more police onto the streets.

Karabo Khupe

Kari Khupe

Age: 15

Grade: ASP 3

Home: Parktown, Johannesburg

Q: Tell us about yourself

A: I’m a kind person that loves joking around. I also play sports namely netball and hockey.

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: When I have nothing serious to do, I go to the gym or simply unwind at the mall with my friends.

Q: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

A: I see myself as a successful hockey player for the South African national team.

Q: What does the Mandela spirit mean to you?

A: It means freedom, and equal rights and responsibilities for all.

Q: If you could change the world, what would you do?

A: I would reduce crime in South Africa by creating employment.

Tumelo Vilakazi

Tumelo Vilakzi

Age: 16

Grade:  ASP 1

Home:  Fourways, Johannesburg.

Q: Tell us about yourself

A: I like singing a lot. I do not like cats because I have asthma. I attend church on Sundays and I like travelling.

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: I chill with friends and teach them how to sing. I also sketch fashion designs because I want to be a fashion designer when I grow up.

Q: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

A: I see myself working for a sewing company so that I can learn how to start my own fashion company, if not, I see myself singing on Idols South Africa or being a choir mistress like Mrs. Badesile Gaobepe (Choir Mistress).

Q: What does the Mandela spirit mean to you?

A: Simply means to help people that cannot help themselves and spread peace.

Q: If you could change the world, what would you do?

A: I would buy houses for poor people and I would reduce the price of bread, milk, toiletries and other essentials.

The tour will help expand links with Sparrow among a number of UK schools, some of whom have organised exchange tours of their own including Tudor Hall School for Girls and Westminster Under School. The aim is to expand knowledge of Sparrow to new audiences, as well as among existing supporters. Click here for the tour itinerary.

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Highlights from Learner Support Unit

The Learner Support Unit is comprised of therapists and other professionals whose goals are to assist Sparrow Schools learners with barriers to learning. Barriers to learning can be described as any factor (physical, cognitive or emotional) that stops a learner from reaching their full potential. The Learner Support Unit works in a collaborative way, with the various therapists working together with parents and educators to ensure that each learner is helped holistically.

The LSU has made some great strides through the years helping inspire action while changing lives . See below:

Sandile Mkhonza – Foundation School learner *


Mkhonza has been attending the Sparrow Foundation School since the start of 2014. Upon arriving at the school, it was apparent that Mkhonza struggled with communicating in class and relating to his peers. This was all despite the fact that in a non-verbal way he showed a warm and bubbly personality. A multidisciplinary approach, involving Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy and Play Therapy, was employed to help Mkhonza reach his full potential. Mkhonza has made excellent progress and interacts well with his educators and peers and is one of the most liked learners in his class. In additional to the social skills that he has gained, the play therapy that he has received has helped him with some emotional issues that he had in the past.

Sizwe Simelane – Combined School learner

Simelane started at the Combined School in 2012. Despite being a hardworking and diligent young man, he struggled academically. An assessment by the Educational Psychologist indicated some barriers to learning and as a result he was placed in the ASP program as it would better meet his academic needs. Additionally, Buhle received weekly therapy from the social worker at the Combined School to help with the adjustment and also to give Buhle guidance towards his future. By the end of 2014 Buhle had shown a great improvement in his school performance and even completed the ASP program. Owing to his hard working nature, the Combined School has given Buhle a scholarship to come back to the school to further his learning in Catering and assist in the school’s kitchen.

Mabaruti Makhetha –Foundation school parent

Didintle Makhethe. Grade 1F

“I would like to thank the Sparrow Foundation School. My daughter has been at Sparrow for four months now and we have seen a great change in her. When she came to the school she could hardly hold a pencil properly and writing was a challenge for her and she had already developed a negative attitude towards school. Didi has gained so much confidence she can write and trying to read as well. I wish we could have more schools and the type of dedicated Educators that we have.”

*Names have been changed.

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Melanie Malema driving change

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have,” Magaret Mead. Since joining Sparrow Schools in 2002 and realising the huge divide in South Africa’s education system, New Business Development Manager at Sparrow Schools, Melanie Malema has made great strides bringing meaningful change to the lives of young persons.

Malema developed interest in the social space in the year 2000 when she was approached by a church in Bryanston, Johannesburg. She was invited to run and manage a home that was established for boys who were living on the streets. These boys faced various social issues such as drug abuse and did not attend school.  This is when she came across Sparrow Schools which was the perfect fit for such boys.

Her drive for uplifting and empowering young persons continued and led her to helping develop the Sparrow FET College in 2010. She embarked on an exploratory mission doing research and finally witnessing the registration of the college as a credible training provider that offers SETA accredited courses.

“The Sparrow FET College trains young people in short skills that have been jointly identified with industry. This model provides industry with a pipeline of young entry level candidates who wish to embark on a particular trade,” explains Malema. The identification of relevant companies is crucial to the training as this is where learners gain their practical work experience and ultimately leads to full time employment.

The partnership between the learner, The Sparrow FET College and industry has proven to be an effective model in producing qualified candidates in areas of short skills and successfully contributing towards the eradication of unemployment in the country.

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Grand Opening of RYCO South Africa

On 14 August 2015, hydraulics giant, RYCO opened its very first office and warehouse in South Africa. The launch in Midrand provided two of the Sparrow FET College students in the Fluid Power Hose Assembly programme with hands-on workplace interaction with industry experts. Furthermore, with networking in mind and being surrounded with industry leaders, our students got to speak to several guests concerning job openings, learnership and internship opportunities as well as basic knowledge sharing.

Ryco 3

Apart from the scrumptious light meals made by two of the Sparrow FET College Assistant Chef students, another spectacle was a piece of machinery called RYCO APS which has been recently imported from Australia. The machine is 4 meters in length and 40 meters in height. It stores all the equipment including couplings, fitters, hoses, and very user friendly. As described by the RYCO personnel, “it is a warehouse on its own” which ideally reduces human error in the sense that a client will be handed the correct item. It is also time-efficient, user-friendly and saves space.

The APS Machine

The APS Machine

In addition, the students were accompanied by the FET’s New Business Manager, Melanie Malema and job coaches Kholofelo Mokwele and Mary Webber to inform the special guests more about our Fluid Power Hose Assembly skills programme.

The Sparrow FET College continues to assist students by not only providing quality education but also a gateway to the workplace which asserts our statement of continuing to inspire action and changing lives.

Words by Motlhabane Modupe.

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Michelle Pellaton beating the odds

Occasionally, we come across adversities as we navigate through life. Sometimes these obstacles that life throws at us seem insurmountable. For many of us, the easiest thing to do when faced with hardship is to retreat. Then there are those who are brave in enough to soldier on kicking down all the barriers. One such phenomenal woman is grade 1 special needs teacher at the Sparrow Foundation School, Michelle Pellaton.
 Foundation 1

We live in a society where a lot of women are raised to aspire to marriage and be mothers. For a lot of women, being a mother forms a large part of their self-image. When life happens however, and it does not turn out as we wanted it to, the consequences can be crippling. When a woman cannot bear children, it tremendously affects her identity, but the pain can extend far beyond her to impact personal relationships,” says Lindsay Getz, a Freelance writer based in the United States of America.

Foundation 4

A New York based Psychotherapist, Marni Rosner, explains, “Women often begin to imagine themselves as mothers long before actually trying to have children, and this is certainly influenced by implicit cultural and societal messages that idealize motherhood. When this imagined self of a mother, however tentative, is withdrawn, it may result in feeling a loss of control, threaten her imagined future, cause her to doubt her womanhood, and feel like an assault on her ability to self-actualize.”

When Pellaton found out she could not have children, Instead of succumbing to depression and anger, her passion for children is what got her through. “I asked myself, ‘who are we to complain about our lives when there’s so much we can do for these children?’. There’s no reason why we should be allowing them to grow up thinking that that the world is cruel,” says Pellaton. She further adds, “Honestly, when I was going through Chemotherapy, these are the people that really got me through (Her learners),” Pellaton says.

Foundation 3

Her passion for dealing with children with special needs was partly inspired by her brother who is dyslexic. “I love autistics, I have so much love in me and I choose to give it to my children,” she says as her face lights up. From as early as 19 years old, she helped run a nursery school for five years in Sandton, Johannesburg. She has been and is still involved with various charity organisations including Nkosi’s Haven. Her classroom consists of children facing various learning barriers including autism, abuse and some are from places of safety.

As we all celebrate womanhood and pay tribute to the indomitable spirit of women across the country, Pellaton has some grievances. “For me women’s month means nothing because women still don’t get enough respect. I feel that it should be an ongoing thing, not just in August. There should be more respect and more understanding,” Pellaton explains.

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