In terms of country size, South Africa is three times larger than Zimbabwe. It also has a staggering R207 billion budget allocation to education. So howcome South Africa’s educational system is still outshone by its north-eastern neighbour, despite Zimbabwe’s ongoing political instability? And why, in particular are South African students scoring lower in basic literacy? The answer may be less about resources, and more about community support and the quality of teachers.
Zimbabwean educated UCT student, Kumbirai Gundani, says that community plays a large role in supporting education. “Man is a function of his environment. The Zimbabwean student just comes from a society that values education more than the South-African society. Because of that, the Zimbabwean student seems more superior yet both students are empirically of the same make-up as the other.”
South Africa would do well to take a leaf out of Zimbabwe’s book and develop a national psyche that values schooling through community development. One such local initiative is attempting to do just this. Symphonia is an Organisational Change practice aiming to impact nation building. Their “School @ the Centre of Community” project focuses on bringing community leaders and school principals together to deal with challenges facing schools.
“Education has to be a national priority,” says founder of Symphonia Companies, Louise Van Rhyn, “The idea is that business leaders get to be in a co-learning and co-action partnership with school principals.” With 56 business leaders partnered with 56 school principals already, this initiative is directly impacting 40,000 learners and strengthening the communities they serve.
The FW de Klerk Foundation recently released a statement that one of the main problems in education was the quality of teachers and principals. Studies have found that South African teachers spend less than 50% of their time in the classroom and many don’t even understand the subjects they teach. On the other hand, Zimbabwe has specific teacher training colleges with a ”two year in, two year out model.” It focuses on teacher and core subject education, supervised placement in schools, as well as problems that might come up during teaching practice.
“The (Zimbabwean) teachers were gate-keepers of information rather than facilitators, but when the gate keeper does their job brilliantly, there really is no problem,” says Gundani.
If the DA has their say in 2014, they intend to implement performance contracts for principals and their deputies to improve accountability and governance, as well as regular teacher testing. These interventions could dramatically improve teacher quality in schools and improve nationwide schooling.
Short of waiting for an election campaign to initiate a positive ripple effect in South Africa’s educational system, we could simply take a few cues from our well-educated neighbours right now. By going back to basics and reinstating a communal sense of accountability, South Africa can do for education what it has done for national identity, namely – creating the Ubuntu effect – “I am what I am because of who we all are.”
Image 1: The Symphonia for South Africa
Image 2: South African pupils reading donated books