The key principles to success

2013-02-11 00:00

ON the night the KwaZulu-Natal Education Department announced that top principals will coach their counterparts from under-performing high schools recently, Education MEC Senzo Mchunu nearly kneeled down before his guests at a Durban hotel.

It was as if Mchunu hoped that his guests — principals of schools which obtained between 90% and 100% matric pass rates last year — would feel pity for him as he sought their buy-in to the rescue plan.

The department held the gala dinner to honour the principals of top-performing schools and to announce a programme aimed at twinning them with heads from schools that obtained less than a 35% pass rate. KwaZulu-Natal recorded a 73,1% pass rate last year. This was a five percent improvement from the 68,1% obtained in 2011.

Of the province’s 1 712 schools that enrolled pupils for matric examinations last year, 106 obtained a 100% pass rate.

There were 1 240 schools that recorded above a 60% pass rate. Another 472 schools registered a pass rate below 60%. Of the 34 schools that obtained a pass rate below 20%, Mchunu said: “We are ashamed of those schools.”

He said the department wants to turn the situation around at the poor-performing schools.

“We would want all of you to work with us,” he told his guests. “You are better than us at changing the schools that got below a 30% pass rate.

“We are requesting that you set aside some time at least once a month and go tell your colleagues how to make a school functional and assist in managing pupils.”

Christiaan Piterse, principal of Ladysmith High, said he welcomes the initiative.

“If we can contribute to the success of those schools, that will be an achievement. We will show them how to do it, but every school is unique and different,” he said.

Anver Bayat of the Siraatul Haq Islamic School agreed: “Schools that perform should network with those that are struggling.”

According to Mchunu, department officials are hard at work fine-tuning the roll-out of the initiative.

They have until February 20 to come up with modules to be used in the training exercise, allowances for subsistence and travel for the participating principals, and twinning the schools, among other things.

He said the principals would work in groups of three to five on issues relating to school functionality, people management and curriculum management.

“We want this to be well-organised,” Mchunu said, adding that a training module would be developed on good practices in collaboration with excelling principals.

“It is part of skills training. We do a lot of management workshops, including training of principals.”

The funding for the initiative will come from the department’s training budget. The department, responsible for the education of 2,8 million pupils, has a budget of R35 billion.

The principals are expected to meet once a month to share their experiences in the programme, which is set to run the entire year.

An educationist, however, was cautiously optimistic about the plan’s chances of success.

Professor Labby Ramrathan, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Education, said the initiative is a good idea, but its success depends on the nature of the proposed partnership and what is expected of it.

Ramrathan said he did not think the partnerships would lead to improvement at poor-performing schools in the near future.

However, the positive aspect of the initiative is that it will enable principals to interact, come together and share their experiences, he said.

“There is a lot of opportunity for principals to interact with each other and share problems. But formalising partnerships will not change things drastically.”

Ramrathan added that there is much that needs to be addressed for schools to ensure the improvement of results.

“What they are trying to do is to do one thing to the exclusion of the others. You need to look at it holistically,” he said.

Ramrathan listed the interest and involvement of pupils and teachers in the education system, the availability of resources and promotion of quality education as areas that need to be looked into as well.

“Those are things we tend to shy away from,” Ramrathan said. “There are more fundamental things that have to be looked at.”

He added that one way to solve the problem is to understand why particular schools in the same geographical area do well and others do not.

“Let’s start to understand and intervene in a way that is school-specific rather than across the education system.”

EDUCATION MEC Senzo Mchunu said the education system in the province is poised for radical transformation.

“We will streamline our school system,” Mchunu said.

He said the days of schools of 20 to 50 pupils will soon be something of the past.

“Small schools amount to no schools,” he said. “We will have to do away with them.” He said that school mergers and provision of transport for affected pupils are on the cards.

He also said schools with unpalatable names will be renamed.

“If you say to me I am an ex-pupil of Phuza [drink] Primary School, I don’t think I will be proud,” he said.

Referring to a school called Mgwazeni (stab), Mchunu said the name does not send an educational message at all.

“Some of the names are unpalatable educationally. We will change them,” he said.

He also said the word “technical” will be removed from names of schools that do not offer technical subjects.

Mchunu added that there is a need to consider a different method of appointing principals, among other things.

This included the role of school governing bodies in the appointment of principals and exempting principals from teaching because they are managers.

He also said the days of teachers doubling as councillors are numbered.

At the ANC conference in Mangaung, it was decided that the government should amend legislation to bar public servants from becoming public representatives at the same time.

“We want to change this as early as possible. If I had my way, by the end of March mayors will not be principals, and teachers will not be councillors by June.”

Mchunu said the ANC is ready to walk the talk on the matter.

“It is not going to be a nice thing, [but] we have to do it for the future of our children.

“We plead with the Legislature to enable us to move faster on this matter. If [these measures] are implemented, they will assist in making the system function better,” he said.

Mchunu added that much-needed teaching-related equipment — interactive boards, overhead projectors, dictionaries, mobile laboratories, charts and maps — will be distributed to schools.

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