Wednesday, 22 February 2017

From winter to summer - My visit to South Africa

I am fortunate enough to be a Visiting Extra-Ordinary Professor at Northwest University. It is one of the older universities in South Africa on three campuses at Potchefstroom, Mafikeng and Vanderbijlpark. My work was in ‘Potch’ as the locals call it, and the area around it, as well as attending and speaking at the Educational Association of South Africa annual conference.

It was my second visit to work with their Leadership Research Group on projects of mutual interest, and to learn more about South Africa, and in particular the challenges facing the education system both in schools and in Higher Education. In HE, the ‘Fees must fall’ Campaign has been a very strong push to the government to the way they structure fees in higher education, and the campaign, which was initially violent protest, has settled down to sustained campaigning by activists.

In the leadership group, we compared the challenges facing educational leaders in South Africa with those in England. Colleagues were particularly interested to hear more about the academisation of the English system, with thoughts that it might end up, like much policy, coming to South Africa. We also looked at the personal and professional challenges faced by leaders in a system which is highly unionized, and Principals have very little say in the staff that work in their school.

Visits to local schools showed some of the specific concerns of educators locally, such as teenage pregnancy, abuse, and child parenting due to lose of parents through aids. In one local township school, we saw how the school had worked with pupils and parents to make sure that hunger did not stop young people learning. As well as the food given out by the government, the school encouraged unemployed mothers from the township to sell food in the dinner hour.

Where once the local primary schools were white, affluent and spoke Afrikaans, now affluent black parents are bringing their children into town to schools. Language instruction was also in English and the local language, Setswana. Meanwhile poorer pupils in the township may still face a 5+ mile walk to school.

We also learnt about the changing demographics of the area around the university.

The vice principal at one of the secondary schools we visited talked movingly of the history of the school, which has transformed over the last ten years from a place no one wanted to go, with under 30% in the national exams, to a popular school with over 65% and rising in the national exams.

In particular, she talked about her passion for education, despite being firebombed out of school in the years prior to Mandela’s release. Her passion for learning and her students was self-evident. It reminded me, as did the entire visit, of educations potential to transform lives.

Photos by Megan Crawford

Creative Commons License
From winter to summer by Megan Crawford is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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