Public/private partnerships and literacy on the agenda for the NECT dialogue

Education stakeholders to discuss innovative proposals for education reform.

The National Education Collaboration Trust (the NECT) in collaboration with the Wits School of Governance will convene the next Education Dialogue on 5 March 2015, and it is certain to elicit wide-ranging inputs and debate on two potential strategies for improving the quality of South African education. Stakeholders from all the sectors contributing to the NECT – government, business, teacher unions, academia and civil society – will attend. The dialogue will be chaired  by Professor Ihron Rensburg, vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg and Deputy Minister for Basic Education, Enver Surty, delegates include the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, the NECT CEO, Godwin Khosa, FirstRand CEO Sizwe Nxasana, Professor John Volmink, , Mavuso Msimang, CEO of the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation and independent educationist Graeme Bloch.

Regular dialogues are central to one of the NECT’s key roles – that of provoking insightful conversations, creating a picture of the future now and working towards promoting the desired behaviours and cultures. By so doing, South Africans will support the journey towards achieving the NDPs primary goal: ensuring that by 2030, 90% of South African learners will be passing Matric with language, mathematics and science marks above 50%.

The enormity of this undertaking is what prompted the NECT’s inclusive “Codesa” approach and its acknowledgement that the task cannot be achieved by government alone, but requires a committed collaborative effort involving all stakeholders to create ideas, processes and actions with game-changing power. Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of of Basic Education, said of the NECT at its inception, “Our vision should be a shared vision where we all, as participants, create a better South Africa. It is important to have these robust dialogues – to facilitate open, honest engagement among key stakeholders that will provoke insightful responses, creating an avenue for joint understanding of what we individually fail to think through ... None of us should say it's not our responsibility – we should be active participants in this regard. But at the end of the day, this should culminate in a common vision about education.”

Alternative schooling models and reading as a strategy

After updates on action plans of previous education dialogues, and the progress to-date of the NECT programmes, the March 2015 dialogue will run two parallel group discussions – one on alternative schooling models, the other on reading as a strategy to promote learning achievement and greater community participation. The former will most likely create the most contentious and intense debate, with two presentations in support of a proposal to create privately managed public schools. This strategy has been applied successfully in several regions, including the UK and a number of African countries, and its proponents believe it is a viable way to deliver quality education within the state system – i.e., to learners who cannot afford private schools.

Dr David Harrison, CEO of the DG Murray Trust, who will be presenting one of the papers in this discussion, proposes public schools are managed with the assistance of the private sector. Through this model, struggling public schools could be placed ‘under new management’ – thus drawing additional management resources from outside government.

Professor John Volmink thinks that not all stakeholders might support this idea, but debate will be healthy. “The NECT creates a space for constructive dialogue between people of sometimes-divergent views on matters of national importance. This is not a board meeting; it’s a dialogue, so we will have contending ideas. This is a form of partnership, I believe, that does not have to be adversarial. Having different views presented encourages open dialogue.”

Ann Bernstein, CEO of the Centre for Enterprise Development, will present the other paper in this section, on private schools for the poor. Yousuf Gabru, former MEC for Education in the Western Cape has been asked to contextualised and kick-off the discussions in this section.

Concurrently, and in a separate stream Shirley O’Caroll of Wordworks will be presenting on ideas  supporting learners to read and write successfully, followed by Thulile Seleka of Praesa on reading as an extension of the school into the community, with a response from Hubert Mweli of the Department of Basic Education and further discussion. This session will focus on two principles: that good reading and writing is the cornerstone of all other learning, and that encouraging reading programmes in communities, with adult volunteers reading to children and helping children to read, is one of the simplest but most effective ways to stimulate greater community participation in improving education standards. When the parallel discussions conclude, there will be a report-back in a plenary session, to give both groups an update on what was discussed.

As laid out in the NECT’s founding documents, the intention of the dialogues is to create an avenue for open, honest engagement among key stakeholders such as the teacher unions, student organisations, civil society organisations, business and government. They are apolitical and inclusive, giving all organisations the opportunity to explore joint societal actions, and to make recommendations regarding changes to the programmes of the trust in accordance with new evidence that may arise. All the sectors of society involved in the NECT understand how important improving the quality of education is to the goals of the National Development Plan; the dialogues play a crucial part in deciding how to get these improvements done, and conclude with solid plans for action.

Follow us on twitter for updates on the dialogue throughout the day @The_NECT.

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