“This is a time to reflect on the shortcomings of the past, gains made, and lessons learnt” - Gail Campbell, Conference Chair
At the end of March 2014, CEI South Africa attended The SA Basic Education Conference in Johannesburg. The conference was designed to build on the 2012 Durban Conference and this year the themes of: professionalizing teaching; strengthening school leadership; improving government capacity to deliver; delivering resources for schools; increasing community and parent involvement, and nurturing learner support and wellbeing were successfully explored through seminars, drawing on over 120 abstracts.
The delegates were addressed by the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Mr. Mohamed Enver Surty as well as Head of the National Planning Commission, Mr. Khulekani Mathe. Mr. Jay Naidoo, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and Mr. Nick Taylor, Head of National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEDU) contributed to the call for action to support Government’s delivery of quality education. These opening speakers highlighted areas of accomplishment in the education sector over the last twenty years, but also acknowledged the significant obstacles facing the South African learner.
One of the breakaway workshops on collaboration was spearheaded by Bridge, an NGO partner of CEI_SA. Barbara Dale Jones talked about the importance of the non-state sector coming together and reducing duplication for greater impact in South Africa’s schools. She gave examples of Bridge’s success in Communities of Practice where, as a network, the practitioners and stakeholders have rallied together for change. An example of this is their national Early Childhood Development community, and on a more localized level, their network of Gauteng principals sharing professional wisdom. CEI shares this vision and knows the importance of connectedness in the complex and wicked problem that is education in a developing world context.
Another valuable discussion was lead by Godwin Khosa from the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT). There has been much hype in the sector around the NECT. South Africa’s biggest public private partnership seen in the education sector, draws on some of the most influential business leaders who are leveraging their corporate-social-investment spending through working alongside government. They have prioritized vulnerable and under-performing areas such as the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. Godwin talked about a need for bringing in evidenced based interventions at scale.
The session exploring the development of teachers heard Mrs. Tolbert Mbatha from the Kgololo Academy talk on effectively using performance management to incorporate a coaching model that puts teachers in the driving seat and improves the quality of learning and teaching. Ms. Armstrong shared ideas on incentivizing teaching to ensure that top performers in the labor market enter the teaching profession and that top performers already within teaching remain in the profession. In this session, Ms. Brody also stressed that professional learning community support is vital and Ms. Black and Mr. Rouse from EdVillage led the delegates in ways to improve teacher support and development through the use of video, operating from the departure point, “Teachers don’t fear observation – they fear negative feedback."
It was helpful to hear that one of the significant gaps that CEI_SA has identified in their interaction with initiatives, was echoed by the speakers, namely the importance of parental engagement in children’s learning. Taylor also called for a national reading program as learning accelerates when children can read on their own and this once again resonated with many of the conversations we have had with literacy practitioners. He asserted that, “We should be looking for a national literacy program that has a strong evidence base.” Encouragement for the non-state sector’s role was also echoed by The Deputy Minister saying: “NGOs play a critical role in drawing attention to community-specific realities.” It emerged from the conference that we cannot simply apply standard principles in South Africa and that context and political history matter. CEI_SA has a role to play in researching the realities of the sector and promoting programs that work because of the implementers' thorough understanding of the needs and realities of the communities.