Education: Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?

The news has been full of the school book disaster in Limpopo, and it is indeed a disaster. We constantly hear of the intransigence of SADTU and the aberrant behaviour of principals and teachers. We don’t understand why after 18 years of democracy there has been so little progress in Governments ability to improve the status of our schools as places of learning. And we are often told that the quality of our maths and science education is the worst in the world. So, is there any hope for education in SA?

Sadly, but it is to be expected, we hardly ever hear of the success stories. And there are hundreds of them. We have a very determined NGO sector in this country, it is estimated that out of approximately 100,000 NGO’s there are 10,000 that have education as their primary focus.

Here is one such success story of how a rural school was transformed and how it impacted the wider community.

By Nadia Rossouw

Since 2008 Phumzile Langa has been the principal at Khanyisa Secondary School, located in Montebello in the remote area of Ndwedwe in KwaZulu-Natal. She was a teacher for 13 years before being appointed in this, her first principal role. When she joined the school as principal, it had a matric pass rate of only 17% compared to last year’s success of 70%.

In her four and a half years as principal, Langa has drastically improved Khanyisa’s matric pass rate, implemented management systems and enhanced the effective functioning of various working relationships. She has developed the school management team and governing body, as well as increasing parental involvement in the school by initiating parent-learner-teacher meetings to discuss issues and determine solutions.

Langa is also proud of the extra Grade 12 tuition and assessment she has introduced, offering extra lessons and additional tests outside of the normal teaching hours (for example, O Level Сhemistry practical tuition) and during the school holidays. As most learners walk six to ten kilometres to get to school, she has encouraged matric parents to allow their Grade 12 children to rent rooms with local community members to allow them to be near to the school so as to attend the extra classes. A structured revision timetable before exams also ensures that all teachers get enough time to revise with their learners.

Being a rural school, the location is a challenge for both learners and staff. Miss Langa drives 180 kilometres each day to get to her 13 classroom, 13 staff and 315 pupils for an 8am assembly. Of the ten-strong teaching body, six are permanent – which includes the principal and two Heads of Department – and four are temporary. There is also an administrative clerk as well as a security guard and a cook. Besides Miss Langa, the others rent low-cost accommodation from community members so they too can live close to the school to make it easier to conduct extra lessons in the early mornings and evenings.

Following assembly for the school as a whole, the principal has implemented morning registration to check absenteeism, school uniform compliance and late coming of both learners and teachers. When classes begin, she prioritises her daily commitments with the help of her admin assistant. These include documents to be prepared, calls to be made and a lot of paperwork for submissions to the district office or Department of Education. She has also arranged for a different member of the community to come in each day to assist with forms, testimonials or translating of letters.

The current management challenges for Khanyisa Secondary School are a lack of funding due to low learner enrolment resulting in Khanyisa operating on limited funds even though the needs of the school are great. This makes budgeting a huge challenge. Lack of teacher consistency is another major concern as annual staff turnover is high because educators move to schools in urban areas to be nearer to their homes and families.

“The process of recruiting new teachers and renewing contracts takes time and so it has become part of our school culture that we start a new academic year with an incomplete staff contingent. Temporary educators are also often under qualified and thus it becomes my task, on top of my responsibilities as a principal, to train them,” says Miss Langa.

Each day principal Langa also ensures that she has contact with one or two learner groups. She teaches English and life skills from Grade 8 to 12 as well as supervising extra matric lessons at the end of the day. And because Khanyisa is a small school with only a few school management team members, she operates an open door policy where all ten teachers can come to her to discuss matters involving teaching and learning, learner welfare and other urgent issues.

“I am very lucky to have a school governing body who represent the parents and are dedicated to their responsibilities. They keep me informed of the important things in the community that might have an impact on the school. I also believe that teachers feel comfortable to discuss any challenges they encounter and to express their need for development. We also network with teachers from our high-performing neighbouring school.”

Khanyisa also faces challenges of many rural communities such as high levels of illiteracy, poverty and social deprivation. Despite their poor socio-economic backgrounds and the associated impact on the learners, Miss Langa says that there is something unique about their school and that the levels of misbehaviour among pupils is very low, and that the teachers also honour their lessons and work as a team.

Her vision is to make a difference in the lives of learners and colleagues under her care. Langa wishes to produce learners who are able to uplift not only their own lives, but their communities as well, thus giving back and ensuring sustainable community development.

How did she do this?

Langa was one of 50 school principals selected to take part in the 2009 pilot of the Principals Management Development Programme (PMDP), an eight-month development programme to equip school principals with practical skills and individual coaching to enhance their school management outputs while building leadership capabilities.

Says Langa, “I would recommend inclusion of other school management team members in the PMDP skills development and management training opportunities that have been available to principals in KwaZulu-Natal.”

School leadership is key to creating sustainable community development


The Principal Management Development Programme (PMDP) addresses the need for upskilling management competencies with rapid skills development for both primary and secondary school principals as well as for district or ward managers who work closely with these schools. PMDP was designed by a public-private partnership consisting of the Department of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal, PricewaterhouseCoopers and performance improvement organisation Performance Solutions Africa (PSA).

Following the success of the KZN pilot in 2009, KZN extended this school management skills development programme to 1,200 schools over three years from mid 2010. From 2009 to 2011 there was an annual average improvement in matric pass rates of 7.4% which is well above the provincial average.

A further 600 schools are planned in the near future. The desire is to deliver PMDP nationally to address educational challenges and raise school management standards and pass rate levels across all provinces. Discussions are underway with the Eastern Cape, Free State, North West and Mpumalanga in this regard.

From SA – the Good News – some bald stats on education (Steuart Pennington was asked to write this for a Business publication).

Last year approx 580,000 students wrote matric, up from about 380,000 four years ago. This is roughly half the students that enter first grade (approx 1,000,000). The pass rate was 71% or approx 411,000 students. About 23% of those that have passed achieve matric exemption and the opportunity to enter university, i.e. approx 94,700 students. That means approx 485,000 matriculating students don’t have any hope of going to university. At university the first year drop out rate is approx 60% (this varies enormously between universities)

We have 23 universities in SA. There are 20,000 globally. We have five ranked in the top 700 (3.5 %) and 10 ranked in the top 1400 (7%). The remainder are all ranked in the top 10,000 universities globally, we have none in the bottom 10,000.

We have a couple of structural problems:

The first is the obsession with university and the reluctance to attend technicons/university colleges. In Germany for example about 20% of matriculants go onto university and 80% onto some form of technical education. In SA it is the other way around.

The second is with secondary schooling. We have approx 7,000 secondary schools and 23,000 primary schools. The Joint Education Trust (JET) reckons that 80% are dysfunctional as places of learning. Dysfunctionality relates to the regulatory environment, how well the school is managed; the infrastructural environment, how well the school is resourced; and the instructional environment, how well learning takes place. It is estimated that 5% of our schools are world class, 15% are competent and the balance dysfunctional. Currently there are 3,000 schools with no access to electricity, 800 with no class rooms and about 1,500 with no sanitation or fresh water

Thirdly, our maths and science ranking in the Global Competitiveness Report is at 138/142. However our business schools rank 13/142. For tertiary education enrolment we rank 93/142.

Having said that, there is extraordinary transformation taking place in our universities. At UCT 50% of business science students who graduate are roughly evenly divided between black, coloured and Asian, with the class being 50/50 male/female. 10 years ago this class was exclusively white and mostly male. Engineering faculties cannot deal with the demand from black students, and they are succeeding.

Our biggest single challenge remains the ability of school principals to lead, the competence of teachers to teach, the work ethic of teachers to be at school every day and on time, and the militancy of SADTU.


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