Working Together to Improve Education

Life Skills December 07, 2015

“The future success of the South African classroom lies in understanding the issues of interdependency and sustainability – and in having the courage to make innovations possible. This Review is a showcase of a section of the outstanding innovations in the South African Education sector.” (Professor Jonathan Jansen – writer of the Review’s foreword)

South Africa spends 19.5% of its total GDP budget on education and since 1994 significant progress has been made in education legislation, policy development and educational resources clearly directed by considerations of equity. However, equality of access has not translated into equality of opportunity. Measured literacy and numeracy performance of South African children is well below countries of similar economic status and “80% of South Africa’s Grade 9 students are achieving at a Grade 5 level in Mathematics and the backlog starts in Grades 1 to 3”[1]. Significant challenges also exist along the pathway from cradle to career and within the Teacher Development space.

But, there is a significant and hopeful narrative and in light of this the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a specialised unit of UCT’s Graduate School of Business, partnered with Results 4 Development on the Center for Education Innovations platform to increase access to quality education for low-income communities. This was done by identifying, connecting and analysing innovations in the South African education sector. The Bertha Centre team has compiled case studies of over 125 organisations demonstrating innovative programme design, successful scaling, robust monitoring and evaluation, cost efficiency and systemic collaboration.

Upon reflection of this work, we were inspired to compile this publication to celebrate a selection of the outstanding innovations. We spent time with the implementers to move beyond a clinical analysis, to extract and understand their practical learnings gathered through implementation, and to identify ‘what works and why’. These discussions were characterised by vulnerability and generosity on the part of the programme implementers who shared their triumphs, challenges and learnings. A tenacious commitment to keep addressing the challenges in the system with thoughtful interventions was also evident.

Read full article

This ecosystem is reflected in the chapters of this Review, with the student at the centre, surrounded by the vital stakeholders needed for successful systemic change: teachers, parents and caregivers, school leadership, Government and the private sector. Professor Jonathan Jansen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State and education activist, highlighted this need in his foreword to the Review: “I love the metaphor of the ecosystem that frames these innovations, for it speaks to issues of interdependency and sustainability; in other words, that multiple stakeholders are required, from funders to NGOs and from Government and teachers, to make such innovations possible, visible and durable within the education-change landscape.” Many of the key learnings identified in this publication point to the importance of thoughtfully building these relationships:

  • Relationships between implementers and school communities “Build the capacity of the community, so that it can take ownership of the innovation”.
  • Relationships between implementers and funders “A systems approach to change is needed. This, as opposed to short-term and isolated project funding, can be a hard sell to funders, but the benefits of integrated approaches are far more sustainable and have greater impact”.
  • Relationships between schools, implementers and the private sector to address the challenge of the growing disconnect between what employers are looking for and what educated matriculants and graduates have to offer: “Set up a pathway to employment that is mutually beneficial for both the student and the corporate partner”.
  • Relationships between students and their subjects to promote curiosity and confidence: “The relationship between student and subject is key. When it comes to Mathematics and Science, student and teachers must understand – and grow to love – the unique language of the subject”.

Along with the in-depth look at specific programs, each chapter features a local expert’s opinion, outlining the current state of – and challenges in – the particular field, and highlighting the need for innovation and the likely components of a viable solution. We have also highlighted some ‘innovations to watch’ that are meeting a need in this ecosystem.

We need to challenge broken systems with innovation and through analysis build a knowledge-base on how innovations work and why, and then with that confidence support them to scale for greater and more systemic impact. We trust that this Review will shine a spotlight on the sometimes under-recognised role that frontline actors can play in this kind of impact in education, and the hope that lies in the all-too-often untold narrative of their positive work.

The electronic version of the Review is available on the Bertha Centre website.

[1] Starting behind and staying behind in South Africa: The case of insurmountable learning deficits in mathematics. International Journal of Educational Development. Nicholas Spaull & Janeli Kotze (2015)