Craig Paxton

In South Africa, all are still not equal, especially when it comes to education. This is the reality Craig Paxton, an engineer-turned-teacher, has been plagued with since 2002 when a teaching practical in KwaZulu-Natal opened his eyes to the problems surrounding rural education. So, with an engineer’s knack for problem-solving and a teacher’s passion for the classroom, Paxton resolved to deal with them, one issue at a time.

It was while pursuing a master’s in educational leadership as a Fulbright and Reynolds scholar at Harvard that Paxton first penned his ideas. But it was only on returning to South Africa in 2010 that he co-founded Axium Education with his wife Michelle. Committed to putting his theories into practice and, ultimately, improving results in rural schools, the Paxtons packed up their young family and relocated to Zithulele, in rural Transkei — the site of Axium Education’s pilot programme.

In between juggling jobs, raising funding for their non-governmental organisation and acclimatising to “living with chaos”, Paxton started putting smart, sustainable practices in place with the blessings of the local schools. To date, their model of using a three-tiered strategy of supporting students, teachers and school leaders seems to be working. Take, for example, the fact that, for the first time, science teachers are getting together to discuss difficult sections of the syllabus, while top students are receiving extra lessons on key subjects and taking what they learn back to their schools.

These improvements in the schools Axium is working with, while significant, are not Paxton’s ultimate ambition. What he really wants is to find systemic solutions that, beyond Zithulele, will break a cycle of poverty, unearth potential in rural scholars and engineer a way in which rural schools will be what they should be: equal to, if not better than, South Africa’s best.

Lu Larche