by Kgotso Schoeman

Educating the nation

Open partnerships key to better education

Developing education is about paying attention to the details of partnerships
Remote schools receive science laboratories

Eight schools in a remote rural district in the Free State have received fully equipped science labs, computer centres and refurbished libraries. 

They are all beneficiaries of the Beyers Naude Schools Development Programme (BNSDP), through a partnership between the Kagiso Trust and the Free State Department of Education.

The programme is active in 167 schools in the Thabo Mofutsanyana District in that province. 

A notable feature of the BNSDP success in the Free State is that it is achieved in a collaborative partnership with the Department of Education.

It is a partnership that shows how we can tackle the challenges in education in an integrated manner and sustain improvements in the system, particularly in schools. 

It is also a partnership that exists because the Kagiso Trust understands the power of shared responsibility and shared accountability for resolving the education challenges we face in South Africa.  

We believe that all sectors of society should be working together to create a better future for our children and that together we should be taking ownership of the crisis in education. 

In fact, Kagiso Trust’s "bold step" campaign calls on corporates, NGOs, government departments and leaders, as well as local and foreign funders, to get involved.

It is not enough for some of us in the private sector to make a donation of funds or resources; we also need to accept responsibility for supporting performance improvement within our schools, as much as we are responsible for performance within our own companies.  

The partnership between the Free State education authorities and the Kagiso Trust in the BNSDP programme is one where we hold each other accountable, where buy-in comes from the top, starting with the government and radiating down to the district offices and the teachers themselves, and where funding invested by the Kagiso Trust is matched with an equal investment from the government.

The most striking hallmark of the programme is that it has established a precedent with its unique model for driving and sustaining accountability at all levels.

The eight schools which received new infrastructure are not in this position through luck or chance; they have earned the right to this infrastructure by working very hard to increase their performance and meet targets which were set for them – all of them reached the matric pass rate target of 75% in 2011.

The BNSDP model is one where performance must precede the reward. It is a controversial approach to school funding, but the results we are getting speak for themselves. 

The standard approach of government is to spend money on infrastructure for schools that are underperforming.

Indeed, many schools may blame their poor performance on their lack of facilities, amongst other things.

But the Free State government has taken a visionary leap of faith by sharing the BNSDP approach which says that schools should first prove their commitment to a high level of performance before they can be rewarded with labs, computers and books.

The result has been soaring matric pass rates and the rapid growth of centres of excellence in formerly poorly performing schools. 

The BNSDP is implemented in small groups of selected schools in marginalised areas over a four-year period, after which the schools are able to continue on their own.

We work with the education authorities to identify potential beneficiary schools and partner with the department in infrastructure spend.

Schools have to apply to be admitted to the programme and must be willing to participate – teachers are even required to sign a commitment statement.

Teachers are then given curriculum training, with maths and science receiving priority.

We also provide governance training to the school governing body and learners go on leadership retreats. In some cases local universities are able to bring in learner support programmes.

So the first step in the programme is to provide the participating schools with the basic capacity to improve their performance. 

The most distinctive intervention is that each school is set a minimum pass rate target for Grade 12, usually 70% or 75%, and only when a school meets this target is it eligible to receive new infrastructure and resources.

This incentivised approach has seen pass rates sky rocket. 

The Kagiso Trust has worked for 27 years to establish sustainable policies to eradicate poverty, particularly in rural areas, by empowering communities. 

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