By Sizakele Mphatsoe, Head of Education: Kagiso Trust
Johannesburg – The simple and inescapable truth that education is the cornerstone to ending the cycle of poverty for many children is one that requires a holistic, committed and unique model to deal with the challenges and opportunities in South Africa’s education sector.
The inequalities in South African society are vast, something that has been brought into stark focus and amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic.
These inequalities are even more immense in an education system that others have described as broken and unequal.
Those children le behind by the system are forced to play catch-up in a world that will not wait for them, armed with an education and life lessons not fit for purpose.
They fall into the cycle of poverty, a spiral from which it is hard to escape.
A South African problem requires a South African solution, one that embraces our shared expression of Ubuntu and is driven by comprehensive, workable and sustainable solutions that address each layer of education.
The Kagiso Trust’s Beyers Naude Schools Development Programme (BNSDP) has had extraordinary success since it was introduced to the Vhembe district of Limpopo in 2004.
It has grown, developed and evolved into a programme that now incorporates projects that are changing the education landscape for disadvantaged children.
Improved matric results are just one mark of success, but for Kagiso Trust success is measured on how sustainable the project is in the long term.
It is about infrastructure development, curriculum support, psycho-social support and leadership, among others.
What is it about the BNSDP model that is unique and what makes it work in the South African context? There are nine main points.
1. We bring funding. Kagiso Trust is a non-profit, self-funded development agency funded by its own investment arm.
This makes it self-sustainable. This also enables us to partner with government and the private sector to identify and co-fund projects at schools.
It creates an equal and fruitful partnership that enhances commitment from both sides. The Trust has invested more than R500-million in education development over the past 15 years.
2. The Trust, through its team of experts on the ground, ensures they are involved in every step of the project, from the beginning until the last day of implementation.
Kagiso Trust firmly believes a partnership is not just about financial investment, but the sharing of skills, mentorship, guidance and counsel during implementation.
As a partnership, it must be based on a set of principles such as trust, sharing of skills, accountability and value for money. We build relationships this way, including everyone, from the parents to pupils and teachers, as well as the community leaders.
Education is not just the responsibility of a few, but all of us.
As the proverb says: “it takes a village to raise a child.”
3. Kagiso Trust works jointly with government and district education officials because they are responsible for the schools that have some of the most disadvantaged children.
The BNSDP has previously partnered with district education authorities in Limpopo, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Free State and Kwa-Zulu Natal, allowing it to extend the reach and scope of the programmes.
4. And in these restrictive and uncertain days of the pandemic, in which we have been forced to reassess and find relevant solutions, the Trust adapts and innovates its model to remain relevant to the times we are in.
The initial programme plan did not anticipate the pandemic crisis and had to be flexible and agile to respond, prioritising its offerings in the context of its beneficiary area that is predominantly rural.
Immediate, workable solutions were needed to ensure that education continued and that learners, teachers and staff members were safe. One example is what we did in Limpopo.
Given the expense of mobile data and the lack of technology equipment in rural areas, the Trust partnered with the Limpopo education department to provide grade 12 pupils with lessons broadcast on the radio.
The lessons were hosted with Capricorn FM, Tubatse and Sekhukhune FM from Monday to Sunday for an hour a day.
5. Looking aer the learners’ and teachers’ mental wellbeing by understanding the added challenges their circumstances burden them with is vital.
This element has become even more necessary during the pandemic, taking into consideration psychological and social aspects.
6. Our model is biased to rural areas where the education system seems to have extreme challenges, and we work there until we have a turnaround, mainly systemic.
There is no sense of giving up on a situation because the solution will be challenging and may even take longer.
Each project, each school, require the same dedication and care.
7. The Trust’s approach is always about sustainability, improving efficiencies and promoting ownership by communities as they are involved in the different elements such as infrastructure development.
Like many of Kagiso Trust’s programmes, this initiative has knock-on impact for the community as a whole.
We are committed to extending our programmes’ reach, and one of the ways we’ve seen this making a positive impact is hiring local vendors and contractors.
This approach has resulted in our programmes supporting 120 contractors, 570 SMMEs and creating 2 569 temporary jobs.
8. This is our holistic approach. We do whole-school interventions. The elements of the model are embedded on the nine areas of school functionality to ensure the schools become centres of excellence. This model views the school as a system and encourages an understanding of “the whole” before understanding the parts. It is a very inclusive model, which is why there is infrastructure ownership from the community, parental and teacher involvement.
Our interventions are customised per school, based on intensive situational analysis.
9. This is the most important element.
The Trust follows a culture of excellence. We cannot settle for mediocre in education results and in the running of our schools.
We seek to create an education system that thrives on accountable leadership, instilling a culture of excellence and create organisational capacity that empowers teachers, engages the community and inspires learners to take the opportunities offered.
The success of the Trust’s partnership with the department of education in the Free State has resulted not only in the matric pass rate increasing, but also maintaining and improving the pass rate.
This is proof of a lasting culture of excellence for the programme, which began with 10 schools in 2007.
The number has grown to incorporate over 160 schools. One district has recorded matric pass rates of over 90%. The matric pass rate in the Free State was the highest in the country in 2013 (87.4%), in 2014 (81.6%) in 2016 (88.2%) in 2017 (86%). In 2018 the pass rate reached 87.5% and it hit the highest level of 88.4% in the country in 2019.
The true measure of success is leaving a long-lasting, sustainable and meaningful change in the quality of education that gives our children a chance in a world that is changing and brings in new, exciting challenges. Education opens the path to escape poverty; it needs a model that makes education one that helps learners navigate their own pathways.
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