Johannesburg - Ultimately, it’s not the minister of basic education or department officials who are responsible for delivering quality education in schools.
The education of pupils in South Africa’s 25 000 schools is in the hands of teachers and principals. If the country wants to see a substantial improvement in the education system, focus should be on developing teachers and principals and improving their skills.
This was the message from some of the speakers at African Education Week at Sandton Convention Centre last week.
Louise van Rhyn, executive director at Symphonia, an organisation that specialises in leadership and capacity building, said South Africa wasn’t following the basic concepts of implementing change in its attempts to improve the performance of the education system.
“We need a custom-designed change process for every one of our 25 000 schools. We think this is impossible, so we leave it… but in business, change doesn’t come from the headquarters or the CEO’s office, it happens at the local branch level. The education system is not following the basic principles of inputting change,” she said.
Van Rhyn, whose organisation partners school principals with business leaders, said principals had a lot to gain from business in terms of management skills and other resources and expertise. She cited the 2013 World Economic Report that rated South Africa’s education system 140 out of 144 countries. The report placed the country’s maths and science performance at 143.
Van Rhyn said that same report rated South Africa number one for quality and reporting standards and number two for availability of financial services. She said it’s this know-how from the business sector that needed to be shared with the education sector.
“We need a radical partnership with business leaders and school principals,” she said.
Van Rhyn said schools were headed by teachers who were promoted to heads of department and ultimately principals, but received no management training.
“Business people, on the other hand, have been well trained. They also have access to HR, IT, accountants and other personnel who can help principals. Teachers flourish when they are well led, but we’re not focused on equipping the people who are supposed to lead them,” she said.
“It’s pointless to look to the education system for the solution. The education system is broken, we know that. We need help from the outside,” Van Rhyn said.
School principal Ashraf Dawood said principals also needed to be entrepreneurs to develop their schools.
If a school needed a sports field or a computer centre, for example, principals must take the initiative and write to businesses and other organisations that are in a position to assist, Dawood said.
He said communities should also get involved in improving and developing schools, which would foster a sense of ownership.
Speaking about the integration of information communication technology (ICT) in education, Kobus van Wyk, education technology expert and head of e-learning at Mustek, also emphasised the importance of capacitating teachers and principals.
He said that if teachers and principals didn’t take the lead and used technology in schools, the integration would fail.
“We need to support teachers in the short, medium and long term to come to grips with technology,” Van Wyk said.
Also speaking about the use of technology in education, Jaye Richards-Hill, a member of the ICT in Education Excellence group in the Scottish government, said it was teachers not pupils, who were resistant to the changes brought about by technology in education.
“There’s always been resistance to change in education, but we’re living in a world with many revolutions.
“Now we’re in the middle of an information revolution and we can’t let it bypass our classrooms,” she said.
Children today were “screenagers” with their eyes always locked on to screens.
“When children come to school, why do we expect them to power down? Young people are engaged if they learn with things they can relate to.”
Richards-Hill said social media disrupted traditional methods of teaching - teachers were no longer the only source of information.
“Children are proficient with technology, but parents don’t watch over them... the children are in a world of a playground without parental supervision,” she said.
Professor Johannes Cronjè, dean of informatics and design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, said that since information was widely available, teachers should no longer be teaching students information, but rather how to get to that information. He said parents should learn about cyberspace. “Facebook is where your children are. Go out and meet them,” he said.