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collaboration-articleFlanked by businessman Bobby Godsell, Business Leadership South Africa president Saki Macozoma points at models of schools during the launch of the National Education Collaboration Trust in Pretoria on 16 July. (Image: GCIS)24 July 2013 – A bold new partnership between the government, business, labour, parents and the NGO sector aims to systematically and sustainably improve basic education in South Africa. Launched last week, the National Education Collaboration Trust will pool resources, strategies and work in an initial 20 school districts.

The trust is supported by some heavyweights in South African business and politics, such as Sizwe Nxasa, CEO of banking group FirstRand, who spearheaded its establishment and is founding trustee. Other trustees include National Professional Teachers Association president Basil Manuel, the South African Democratic Teachers Union’s Nkosana Dolopi, and Business Leadership SA’s Mark Lamberti.

The patrons are businessmen Bobby Godsell and Cyril Ramaphosa, former deputy president and newly appointed executive director for UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and James Motlasi, the former president of the National Union of Mineworkers.

The trust comes out of an acknowledgement, on the one hand, that the education system is still failing many South African children and, on the other, that while government, business and civil society are all working to improve the system, they are not working together.

“The 2011 Census Report on Education highlights ... inequalities along racial and class lines inherited from the past, which still arrest and retard the realisation of the full potential of many a learner, particularly those in rural and township communities,” Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said at the launch of the trust in Pretoria last Tuesday.

“The widespread support from the broadest cross-section of stakeholders in civil society, labour and business has helped us to improve the learning outcomes in our schools. Interventions by the private sector have demonstrated that even those learners who attend poorly resourced schools can achieve excellent results if provided with the requisite support.”

Motlanthe cited the example of Madikgetho Ngwanapedi Komane, a student from a rural Limpopo school, who was one of the top performers in last years’ matric and earned distinctions in maths and science after benefiting from BP South Africa’s education support programme.

National Development Plan

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, who is also a trustee, said the trust is a response to the National Development Plan (NDP), a new, long-term government initiative that seeks to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030.

“Today we launch the National Education Collaboration Trust as the first practical embodiment of the National Development Plan,” she said. “We are aware that grand plans are not going to change the lives of our people. It is implementation that matters most.” As a long-term strategy, the NDP focuses on education as an important prerequisite for economic development.

Motshekga said that while the trust drew on the support of business – which spends some R3-billion on South African education every year – and other nongovernmental bodies, it “does not intend to usurp” government’s primary role in education, which is to manage and administer the entire basic education system. Instead, the trust has been set up to support the government’s education reforms.

“It aims to accelerate the reform strategies of government by targeting 20 education districts. Six districts located in the poorer provinces will be targeted in the first phase of the Education Collaboration Framework.”

Themes for educational success

In both planning and implementation, the work of the trust will be guided by six themes: professionalisation of teaching, effective leadership, improving government’s ability to delivers, improved resources and infrastructure, community and parent involvement, and learner support and wellbeing.

“We know from international change theory that those six levers are most closely associated with educational success,” Motshekga said.

She added that while there had been a number of past initiatives to reform education, the trust was distinguished by three important factors.

First, it is a system-wide intervention, not a fragmented approach. Second, its focus on entire districts, not just individual schools, means “its scope or impact is huge”. Third, it is sustainable, with the potential for long-term change.

“It is sustainable because it will help us find synergy and eliminate wastage and duplication in the work we do as government and NGOs. Certainly this is not about competing with the NGO sector.”

In practical terms, the work of the trust will focus on three priorities:

  • The rapid approval and payment of funds to where they are needed most, giving government and education stakeholders the flexibility to agree on how contributions to the trust should be spent
  • A central disbursement of resources so that the trust is responsible for overall coordination, thus reducing duplication and waste
  • Ensuring that private financial and human resources are used to unlock innovation and identify best practices to be incorporated into schools reform

The trust plans to work in particularly under-resourced regions in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and North West, and then expand in a phased way.

Reinforcing existing work

In response to the launch of the trust, Graeme Bloch of the Wits School of Public and Development Management said in the Sunday Independent that the trust had the potential to take advantage of, and build on, civil society work already being done in education, particularly in rural areas.

“The trust will hopefully reinforce what is working on the ground,” he said. “Successful approaches, from Adopt-a-School to the Lafarge Education Trust, will have to be shared. More partners will have to be invited into the fold and will have to listen, to contribute, to be clear what it is they bring to the table. Only in this way, working together, can we do more.”

Bloch stressed that making plans was not enough: those plans have to be implemented.

“The setting up of the collaboration trust is not a call to sit back,” he said. “Too often, as South Africans we wait for great names to solve our problems; then we moan when they cannot. We all have a role to play. We have to find the space to make it work.

“The message of the trust is clear. We can no longer simply do our own thing and hope that this will bring the change we want. We have to learn to work together.”

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