Broader teamwork required to save SA education

Partnerships with education advocacy groups, NGOs and communities have become key in improving the quality of education in the country’s poorer schools.

Schools that tap into viable partnerships with various stakeholders are showing improvement, and those still yet to forge such relationships risk being left behind.

The South African Basic Education Conference in Durban heard on Wednesday how schools are benefiting from forming such partnerships. Attended by 600 academics, NGOs, teachers, principals and provincial government officials, the conference is aimed at finding ways to improve the education system.

According to Allistair Witten, director of the Centre for the Community School at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, some of the country’s functioning schools “build partnerships with a number of stakeholders to support the core aims of the school”.

The schools seek to “look at who’s out there that can assist us”, Witten pointed out. “These partnerships are not random; they are coherently tied to the improvement goals of the school.”

He said schools with such partnerships are schools “we want to learn from in terms of developing alternative models of schools”.

More schools need to get into such partnerships. “We need partnerships at every level,” Wits University education professor Mary Metcalfe said.

She insisted that the conspicuous absence of the national education department officials in the conference did not mean the department had snubbed the conference and it was not in favour of partnerships.

“The minister has asked us to report back because she’s strongly in support of partnerships,” Metcalfe said. “I’m confident that the collected wisdom will be shared” with the department too, she added.

Phumzile Langa, a principal at Khanyisa Secondary School in rural KwaZulu Natal, said besides the important partnership with the community her participation in the Principals Management Development Programme, a public-private partnership, had also helped improve results in their school.

When she took over as principal in 2008 the school had a dismal matric pass rate of 12% and Langa said she knew that, as an “outsider” in the community, she had to win over support of the community.

Last year the school scored over 60% achievement in matric and Langa attributes the results improvement largely to community involvement, which resulted in the school being renovated by community members.

Langa said it was commendable that principals in provinces other than KwaZulu Natal are now also showing interest in programmes such as the Principals Management Development Programme.

But sponsorships are not proving reliable for schools in rural areas, as Langa has come to learn. “These boards showing you where the school is are part of advertising and companies are saying who will see them in a rural school.”

Schools that are functional amidst the prevailing crisis in the education system need to be recognised, said Pam Christie, a professor at the University of Cape Town.

“These schools exist and we need to learn from them, nurture them and build their numbers.”

Bongani Nkosi

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