/ 18 October 2019

Old Mutual improves educational outcomes

Kanyisa Diamond
Kanyisa Diamond



Old Mutual Education Flagship Project, a multi-partner national initiative that set out to boost education at under-performing public secondary schools in South Africa, comes to an end in 2019.

The seven-year programme had two main objectives: to increase the number of grade 12 learners passing maths and science, and to build the management and leadership capacity of under-performing schools. The core focus of the project was to improve learner outcomes by strengthening the leadership, management and teaching capabilities of these schools. It was envisaged that matric learners would be able to pursue tertiary education and would eventually be included in the broader economy.

Over R265-million was invested and 327 schools in four provinces were reached, but return on investment proved difficult to measure, and investment per learner was limited. Old Mutual has decided to change its focus during the next phase of the project, due to be rolled out between 2020 and 2024. The programme will prioritise outcomes rather than reach, and monitoring and evaluation will receive more attention.

Addressing weaknesses in the public school system

Kanyisa Diamond, senior project manager of the Old Mutual Foundation, said the next phase of the project will focus on early childhood development (ages five and six, or grade 0 to R), foundational and intermediate literacy and numeracy (grades one to seven), and leadership development to enhance institutional capacity at school and district levels.

South African schoolchildren often fail to acquire numeracy and literacy skills, and learners entering grade one start from a low base. Research conducted in 2016 showed that 78% of grade four learners could not read for meaning in any language, and 2015 research showed that 61% of grade five learners could not do basic mathematics. The aim is to fill these chronic gaps in the curriculum, and strengthen the institutional capacity of the public school system.

Old Mutual will collaborate with provincial departments of education in order to scale up learning interventions.

Effective leadership development

Leadership will remain an ongoing focus for Old Mutual, which has invested heavily in research into how leadership methodologies inform behaviours and decision-making central to instructional leadership, conducted under the auspices of the Seed Educational Trust.

The research will inform Old Mutual’s strategy in the foreseeable future. It has identified primary leadership styles of school and district leaders in 750 schools around the country. It sets out to understand organisational culture and its implications for effective management and leadership in contexts of challenging and complex socioeconomic matters.

The importance of informal adult learning

Seed Trust research has found that more than 50% of informal learning practitioners within South Africa’s basic education sector have formal coaching or mentoring qualifications and 91% undertake a form of continuous professional development, but only 22% have more than 10 years’ experience in offering these services in schools and districts. Exploring how to change this outcome is another of Old Mutual’s goals. Experience is a valuable commodity and extensive research has been conducted into laying the foundations in which future leadership programmes can be rooted.