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OPINION: Moving SA’s Education Issues Forward Is A Multi-Layered Challenge

It is devastating to think that over 140 schools in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng were vandalised during the unrest and looting that took place some weeks ago in areas of the two provinces.

However, some school communities in Durban and Pinetown have reported that the theft of school assets was already happening before the civil unrest took place – including from perpetrators within the communities themselves . 

In a country that is already suffering from a prolonged economic downturn, with historical educational inequalities that still linger and require strong, co-ordinated efforts to remedy the education levels of many of our public schools, this just moves the goalposts required to improve our educational results even further.

Due to budget constraints and deficiencies, it is not feasible to think about hiring security personnel to guard every single public school in the country. Which begs the question, should we rally communities to be their own guards at public schools? While we did see this solution springing up spontaneously in some communities during the unrests, it is unlikely to be a long-term, sustainable solution although it is the view of KST that it is a viable one. Similarly, if we were to consider implementing educational roadshows to educate communities on the longer-term impacts of vandalism, it is most unlikely that the perpetrators themselves would come. And so, we see that a high-level solution is required.

Moving South Africa’s education issues forward is a multi-layered challenge, and current approaches in public schools fall short partly because there is not a robust collaboration between viable potential partners. However, the success of such an approach is already being proven in over 200 public schools in the Free State, due to the efforts of the KST, in collaboration with the Free State Department of Education.

The KST pilot project was launched some eight years ago to improve the quality of education in previously disadvantaged schools in two of the five districts of the Free State Department of Education – Fezile Dabi and Motheo districts. KST is a collaboration between Kagiso Trust, which works to overcome poverty, and the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation, an independent public benefit organisation. KST’s aim is to collaborate with viable potential partners, to make education an empowering experience that equips learners with the skills and knowledge to thrive and contribute to the development of our society.

KST implements the ‘District Whole School Development’ (DWSD) model, which demonstrates a new way for collaborating with government at district level to support schools. Using a holistic approach, the DWSD model aims to influence a broader systematic change in the education sector and is aimed at supporting and transforming public school education based on a district-by-district approach across South Africa.

The model uses a four-pronged approach that embraces infrastructure development, curriculum development and support, leadership development in schools, and transformation and empowerment workshops. In this way, it collaborates with members of the communities as well. Our strong partnership has been created through shared values and joint decision-making.

In partnership with the Free State Department of Education, KST piloted the DWSD model in two districts of the Free State Department of Education, Fezile Dabi and Motheo, and has already been able to show great success. This has been assisted by the fact that we have had leadership buy-in at all levels, which has enabled us to be consistent in uplifting education levels in the 225 schools that have joined the programme to date.

The positive outcomes brought about by the partnership between KST and the Free State  Department of Education were first demonstrated by the class of 2017 matric results in the Fezile Dabi and Motheo districts. At the time, they achieved a pass rate of 90.2 percent and 82.5 percent respectively, thereby showcasing themselves as a shining example to other rural educational districts and proving that good academic results are possible with adequate support.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted/exposed the glaring inequalities that still exist in South Africa’s education system, but it is pleasing to see that those involved in the Motheo and Fezile Dabi districts are still excited and energised about continuing the work required to uplift the schools, educators, learners and communities. The holistic DWSD collaboration model has brought community ownership into the education of our children.

Through the lessons learned, we now have the opportunity to reflect on how the programme can be replicated and scaled in other provinces as well, in a model that works, and creates sustainable systematic change. We cannot, however, do this without sustained help from business and cooperation with government

The reality is that our children in disadvantaged communities are, in many instances, still reliant on financial partnership or backing from the private sector to continue rolling out this well-proven model into other provinces. The end result, however, means stronger education results and individual matriculants who are better equipped to enter the job market, and present themselves as stronger candidates to corporate employers.

The more that we are able to break the twin burdens of low education levels and high unemployment, the stronger our economy and in turn our country can become, to the ultimate benefit of all. We invite the business sector to join us and play your part in changing the lives of our children through an education model that is proven to work.

Our aim is to extend this pioneering model, into the future, outside the Free State and into other provinces. It is here that we hope to achieve our ultimate objective: having KST collaborate with both public and private sector role players on a national scale, in our joint efforts to create schools that can provide quality learning for all South African children. In this way, we are helping to change the lives of previously disadvantaged learners and keeping alive the hope of creating a better nation through education.

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