You can improve SA education – this is how!

2015-11-23 12:21

SA education is struggling with poor outcomes, low standards and inadequate resources. Instead of lamenting about this or being fatalistic, you can improve SA education. No matter if you are wealthy or poor, educated or not. As long as you are willing to contribute, you can make a difference. Partners for Possibility (PfP) is a wonderful organisation that has taken the education challenge in SA by the horns and its making a distinct difference. They have also made it easy for you to become involved.

Out of the c.25 000 schools in SA, only 5 000 are considered to be world class, with the other c.20 000 schools considered to be “failing”. These 20 000 schools cater for more than 10 million children in disadvantaged communities and are the leading contributor to the poor education outcomes in SA. They are the reason that only 32% of the 2003 grade 1 class in SA passed matric in 2014, they are the reason that only 12% of the 2003 grade 1 class made it to university and they are the reason why SA ranks bottom out of 148 countries in the quality of Maths and Science education. It is these schools that need the most help and it is in these schools that PfP is starting to make a meaningful difference for good.

PfP helps underperforming schools in SA by creating partnerships between business leaders and principals. Such a partnership runs over an entire year, with the business partner contributing at least 150 hours during that period. Their focus is on the 80% of schools in SA that are considered to be “failing”. These schools typically have teachers that have been promoted to the role of principal (without the knowledge or skills to lead an organisation) and have very little support from other citizens and parents.

Through their partnerships, they aim to support and develop principals by equipping them with skills and knowledge to lead change and mobilise communities around their schools. The partner provides hands-on support to principals, shares what works and engages leaders to replicate proven interventions that leverage all resources.

The results achieved by the programme have been impressive. More than 90% of the principals involved with PfP have seen an improvement in their ability to inspire, lead, build and sustain. As a result, these principals have overseen healthy improvements in various areas of their schools. Importantly, the majority of schools have seen an improvement in teacher commitment and school management team and governing body involvement, with almost 2/3rds of schools seeing a large or massive improvement. Academic performance improved in the majority of schools with some seeing pass rates improve significantly, like CL Willmot Primary school where it increased from 40% to 70% and Iphuteng Primary School where it went from 21% to 53%. There has even been an improvement in infrastructure for almost half of the schools involved as principals have managed to increase the involvement from parents and the community. Almost every school in the programme has seen a positive impact on the reputation of the school and 8 out of 10 have seen a pick-up in student enrolment.

PfP has grown steadily over recent years and by the end of this year will have 378 partnerships in place. Even without significant funding support, this should increase to 1800 partnerships by 2020, covering almost 9% of “failing” schools. However, PfP is dreaming much bigger and has set itself the target of reaching almost every “failing” school in SA by 2025. To achieve this loft goal, it will need much more support than it is currently getting. It will need thousands of active citizens, strong leadership from business SA, the involvement of churches and civil society organisations, HR, Finance, IT and other support, organisational muscle and donations.

In addition to increasing the number of “failing” schools involved in partnerships, PfP is also looking to offer a more holistic solution to these schools, empowering principals even further. They are in discussions with the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) to offer financial management support to schools and with the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) and UNISA to provide HR management support. They want to provide training and support to school governing bodies and provide assistance on the IT front. From 2016, they aim to capture all the needs of PfP schools on the website, which should help to bring schools and volunteers closer together.

PfP is starting to gain support from the SA business community, with sponsors including Sanlam, Nedbank, Boeing and Lewis. However, if they are going to achieve their lofty goals, they will need more assistance. I would like to encourage big business in SA to become involved. Improved education outcomes are vital for the continued success of SA and you can be part of this improvement. If you are in a leadership position in a large SA firm, I would urge you to investigate PfP. Go to their website at, email them on or call them on 021 913 3507 to set up a meeting. This will be time well spent and will hopefully encourage you to become involved.

If you are a business leader in SA and you are ready to give of your time to improve education outcomes in SA, you are the ideal candidate to become a PfP partner. This will take a great deal of commitment from you. You will have to set aside 150 hours over the course of a year and you will have to be ready for regular interactions with your partner principal. However, the difference you can make will be substantial. Your skills and expertise can help a principal to meaningfully improve their working environment, allow them to get more out of their teachers, parents, community and pupils and help the school to produce better results. What makes the PfP programme extremely useful, is that it is well structured, well thought out and provides you with a growing suite of tools to help your partner principal. This is the ideal solution for someone that has always wanted to get involved, but did not quite know how.

Even if you are not in a position to fully commit to a PfP partnership, there are several ways in which you can still be involved. If you are an IT, HR or Finance professional, you can contact PfP and offer your skills to partner schools. Similarly if you are an audiologist, optometrist, doctor, nurse, counsellor or psychologist. If you are a sports coach, music teacher or art teacher and you want to give something back, contact the PfP or approach an underperforming school directly. If you want to volunteer other goods and services to schools (even if only on a discounted basis), you can contact the PfP, get involved with the website or contact schools directly.

Most importantly, if your child is in a “failing” school or you live in a community with such schools, you don’t have to wait for others to make a contribution. You don’t have to wait for PfP to set up a partnership. You can start getting involved today. Contact your school principal and offer your help. Maybe you can fix windows of fences, maybe you can help with painting, maybe you can coach a soccer team, maybe you can become a teacher assistant volunteer, maybe you can supervise children before or after school, etc. Yes, most “failing” schools in SA lack funding, but your time and skills are valuable and can help to reduce this gap. Schools where parents and the community are involved fare much better than schools where they are not.

All of you can also make a difference from behind you PC or phone screen. Social media has been a powerful tool in raising awareness for important issues and SA education needs to be top of mind. You can follow PfP on facebook at and on twitter at and you can see all the great work they have done on their YouTube channel Please help me by using the #QualityEducation hashtag aggressively, let’s get it trending. You can also tag PfP in your tweets using @PfP4SA.

Other hashtags that you can use are #FlourishingSouthAfrica, #SAVision2030, #ActiveCitizenship, #OURFuture and #OURHands.

Finally, if you want to make a small donation to this worthy cause, please SMS PfP to 42220 and you will give R30 on the spot. Thank you in advance.

Are you as excited as I am to help improve education in SA? Are you ready talk about this, make a donation, offer up some of your time or become a partner for possibility? Are you going to reach out to your school principal, talk about this with your HR division or set up a meeting with PfP? I would love to hear your feedback. Comments are welcome on my website.

In the mean time, keep your talking straight!

@PfP4SA #QualityEducation

Marius Strydom is the CEO of MLAX Consulting

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