Working together to educate South Africa
By Tshikululu Social Investments on 31 May 2012
Tshikululu CSI practitioner Sarah Ball reflects on the themes discussed at the FirstRand Foundation’s FNB Fund Primary Education Workshop held at Tshikululu Social Investments earlier this year.
For too long now, South Africans have been looking at what we need, what we don’t have, and what is wrong. What we fail to see is that our firmest allies and greatest assets are all around us, and have been all along. Across the spectrum of organisations working in education, and throughout the communities in which they operate, we have everything we need to make education work; we just need to realise it.
Historically, funders, NGOs, and other educational organisations have been territorial about their strategies, their successes, and, most importantly – their failures. This is particularly true in the case of primary education, and has been brought to the fore largely as a result of the stir created by the 2011 Annual National Assessment results.
South Africa is fortunate to have a very active and sophisticated civil society. The flip-side of this asset is that we have, through the development of so many NGOs and the active interest of such a wide range of stakeholders, created a system in which a plethora of participants are using their own means to work to what are essentially common goals. However, the amount of overlap and the number of gaps in the sector indicates that although we may have the same ends in mind, our means of reaching those and our method of achieving this end as a collective are uncoordinated and largely inefficient.
In the assessment of the four major contributors to education (homes and habits of learners; homes and habits of teachers; school curriculum; and leadership, management and policy imperatives), it is clear that an enormous number of important interventions are taking place. However, these almost always function in isolation – without the benefit of shared lessons or any kind of ‘peer review’. Anecdotal evidence has illustrated cases in which the principals of certain schools are not able to provide accurate information on the interventions and NGOs working in their very own schools, while those same NGOs are often unaware of the involvement of other stakeholders in the areas or schools in which they are working.
Hardly a week goes by without yet another workshop, talk, or information-sharing session, but we risk relegating these to a state of redundancy if we don’t actively use them as opportunities to create partnerships, to gain real insight into the work being done in the sector, and to scale up successful models, rather than to let our egos dictate our actions, ferociously protecting our work and assuming, without much concrete proof, that we know best.
There are a number of very successful examples of collaboration and cohesion which have illustrated the positive effects of ‘teamwork’ in the sector. One such model is that of the Western Cape Primary Science Programme, which, with funding support from the Anglo American Chairman’s Fund and the Zenex Foundation, supports first and second-year teachers who have qualified from the University of the Western Cape. Support comes both in the form of pedagogical and content assistance, and in the provision of a platform for networking and knowledge sharing amongst these teachers. Lessons learned in this process are fed back to the University of the Western Cape, where the effectiveness of the programme is being measured, and manuals are being developed for teachers and principals.
This model, which sees funders, schools, NGOs, and a tertiary academic institution each focusing on their own core competencies while simultaneously aligning to collective goals, ensures a more comprehensive intervention, one which is able to have an impact on an entire school system, and one which could be replicated in other areas, with a similar group of organisations. The manuals created by the university are able to be used in schools across the country, not just those involved directly in the programme.
South African civil society cannot be faulted for a lack of passion, ingenuity or genuine love for the country and its children. For so long we have been looking for the tipping point, the X-factor that will turn South African education around. Perhaps it’s as simple as working together.