Education in South African Rural Communities Report: briefing by Human Sciences Research Council, Nelson Mandela Foundation, Edu

Basic Education

31 May 2005
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Meeting report


31 May 2005

Acting Chairperson:
Mr D Montsitsi

Documents handed out:
Documentation on Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Unit for Rural Schooling and Development
Presentation on Emerging Voices Report
Emerging Voices: Report on Education in South African Rural Communities available at the
Nelson Mandela Foundation website

The Committee was briefed on Emerging Voices: Report on Education in South African Rural Communities which was a study on rural education in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. The Nelson Mandela Foundation, the University of Fort Hare, the Human Sciences Research Council and the Education Policy Consortium had been involved in producing the survey and report. The presenters covered the philosophy underpinning the research methodology and did not provide any hard findings, although these do exist. The philosophical approach of the Report was based on looking at rural communities as having potential within themselves to challenge problems of poverty and not looking at them as "deficit models" (communities where resources are so lacking that the only solution is to provide them with resources from outside).

As the Chairperson was at a consultative education conference, Mr Montsitsi was elected to stand in for him. Ms H Zille (DA) objected to not having been invited to the conference and her objection was noted.

Report on Education in South African Rural Communities
Prof Jakes Gerwel, Chairperson of the Human Sciences Research Council, paid special attention to the methodology of the report that gave prominence to the capacity of rural voices to shape their communities. He noted that his childhood had been an extremely poor one but that many learners from his farm church school went on to university and prominent positions.

Dr John Samuel, Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said that the NMF had spent R300m on school and clinic buildings. In 2001 they had audited their functionality. Despite excellent buildings, many schools were still dysfunctional. In response, the NMF had launched a study on schools in rural communities in partnership with the University of Fort Hare, the Eastern Cape Education Department, the Human Sciences Research Council and the Education Policy Consortium in order to improve understanding of how rural people experience education and educational change. There were 11.4m learners in the three provinces (KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Limpopo) surveyed. The release of this report at the same time as a similar report commissioned by the Minister of Education was a fortunate coincidence. Turning the report into action would be a challenge and there would certainly not be any quick-fix solutions.

Dr Kim Porteus, team leader of the Education Policy Consortium (EPC), gave an overview of the Unit for Rural Schooling and Development at the University of Fort Hare. The Unit aims to deepen understanding of and create methods to transform rural schools and communities. The Unit has three programme streams:
- An organisation for innovation and learning, comprising a fellowship programme, a seminar series and a development institute
- Methodologies for innovative and social change, comprising school community organising strategies, youth change agent mobilisation and local socio-economic development
- Learning and teaching.

Dr Porteus spent much time explaining the ideas of social change put forward by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze which underpinned the Unit’s organisational principles and then explained each of these 12 principles. The ultimate aim of the Unit was to grapple with these rural voices, create models of development with the schools as the centre of the community and generate knowledge.

Ms Zille commented that she had listened to the presentation with deepening misgivings. She knew very well that buildings alone could not guarantee learning and was expecting to hear serious research findings on why children were not learning to read, write and calculate. Politically correct sociological jargon masked the absence of this question. She warned that this absorption in post-modern theory would lead to the loss of another generation.

Mr I Vadi (ANC) said that even prior to 1994, there had been educational successes. What was "being done right" in those instances that had been confirmed by the research and that could be taken forward? Secondly, he asked whether there was a relationship between what the President called the rural economic nodes and education? Thirdly, what needed to be done in classrooms? He mentioned that schools in his home suburb of Lenasia had produced some of the best doctors, despite their dilapidated conditions.

Prof Gerwel sympathised to some extent with Ms Zille’s impatience with what she described as jargon but he said the survey had generated empirical findings that were available in Emerging Voices, the publication on the survey. Its Chapter 5 dealt with classroom matters such as resources, curriculum, teachers’ experience and Chapter 3 dealt with learner: teacher ratios, school fees and uniforms, hunger and school meals, health and HIV. The socio-economic issues had real relevance to questions about why learners couldn’t read, write and calculate. Dr Samuel added that schools could be treated as "deficit models" into which more and more could be poured or one could recognise that communities had the capacity to engage with change. Resources were important but it was important to understand what the other factors affecting performance were. Dr Porteus added that the issue of methodology was raised so that the curriculum and teacher development and other inputs could have maximum impact.

The Chair asked for the key findings and recommendations of the survey team. Three members of the Committee reiterated the question about why schools with similar resources performed differently or why schools with excellent resources performed poorly and asked for information about what factors led to success. Mr A Gaum (NNP), who was one of these, also asked for specific proposals for dealing with the challenge of multi-grade classrooms.

Dr Samuel answered that the intention of the report was not to underestimate the importance of internal dynamics of the school but it nevertheless was necessary to focus on issues of transfer. There was not a single factor that consistently led to any school’s success. Sometimes all of the inputs of a successful school could be given to another school and this school would be "overwhelmed by its context" and remain dysfunctional. In addition, no outside intervention alone could succeed, and the latent potential of communities would have to be tapped if schools were to develop. Not only School Governing Bodies, but parents would have to be involved. There were many excellent reports on the impact of factors such as class size, methodology, teaching maths and science but the purpose of Emerging Voices was to find ways to tear down the literal and metaphorical fences between schools and communities.

Mr N Dladla of the University of Fort Hare (UFH) said that the Unit intended to deepen the link between school and community. Teachers graduating from the UFH had been equipped with tools to mobilise community resources. This approach was different to the State’s whose interventions tended to deal separately with them.

Dr Porteus said that the multi-grade class size was an important issue. It was helpful to keep younger children closer to their families and to practise economies of scale at secondary school. She concurred with Dr Samuel that there was no simple formula of success and that resources did matter. South Africa was not near equity of input or output and relationships were important in navigating change. The policy-making was too centralised, policy changes were frequent and teachers were distant from the process. Educators at best were given workshops that gave them a new vocabulary but insufficient time to internalise policy.

Prof Gerwel, in closing, said that the report did not pretend to give the final answers to the grave problems facing education. He said that the technical, bureaucratic and racially conceived policy changes have retreated from the discourses of the sociology and politics of education. Unless one understood poverty and the other social issues of education, all of the bureaucratic and technical interventions will not solve the problems of education which is why the presenters fore-grounded these aspects. He thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present to them.


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