The Education portfolio of the Samaj can trace its roots back to 1933, one year after the formation of the Samaj in 1932. From the beginning of formalising their stay in South Africa, the Gujarati community of Pretoria were especially concerned with the preservation of the Gujarati language. Because the authorities were hostile to the teaching of the language, the Gujarati community was forced to start their own privately-run school which children would attend in the late afternoons after spending a better part of the day in the “regular” school.
It is a testimony to the pioneers’ indomitable spirit that after all these years the Gujarati language is still alive in Pretoria even though it is not as widely spoken as in the earlier days. The Samaj runs a Gujarati school as well as a thriving pre-school (Balmandir) from its premises. Both these schools also engage in various cultural activities, the highlights probably being the hosting of the annual Krishna Jayanti Show as well as commemorating “Raksha Bandan”. During Raksha Bandan, the Gujarati school children visit every Gujarati home in Pretoria and tie a “rakhi” on every male and female household member as a symbol of the brotherhood and sisterhood of all in the community.
To meet the challenges of a declining student population, and the dispersal of Gujarati families to previously “white” areas, language laboratories and new technologies, like the Internet, are media that will need to be examined by the Samaj as possible vehicles for the Gujarati School of the future. On the other hand, the answer for the future might lie in creating virtual classrooms or distance learning centres i.e. a place where the teacher can teach from a remote centre simultaneously to hundreds of “classrooms” via satellite or ISDN lines. Or it might even be a question of teaching to each individual child in his home via the PC or TV.
In 1997, the youth wing of the Samaj felt the need to start a fund that would provide soft loans to deserving students who had passed their matriculation examination but did not have the funds to pursue a tertiary education. A major fund-raising drive was undertaken and thus was born what is today known as the Academic Financial Support Fund. Since its inception, this fund has given financial help to scores of Pretoria students who are today graduate professionals in virtually all fields of academic endeavours. Recently, a move has been made to open a non-repayable bursary fund which will likely be launched in 2012.