From the editor

| March 20, 2015 | 0 Comments

It is fitting to start a new school year with questions in the light of Anthony Lake’s (page 20) recent sober public statement.

Lake, executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), reminded the world that in 2014, more than 15 million children across the globe were murdered, tortured, kidnapped, raped, starved, recruited as soldiers and the victims of terrible illnesses. Are we doing enough to save young lives?, asked Lake of the global community.

Throughout this edition of Independent Education, others have probed further along this line. In its most recent strategy planning session, the ISASA council’s executive committee asked whether the tagline ‘Quality, values, diversity’ still underpins the organisation’s work. In his reflective discussion of the debate that ensued from this question, ISASA executive director Lebogang Montjane declares on page 12:

Central to education is preparing children for a time to come and not a present world… in a world that increasingly has to come to terms with its interconnectedness, it behoves schools to prepare their pupils for a diverse future. […] The importance of hard work, providing opportunities for children to fail and learn from mistakes, whilst taking personal responsibility for their actions, develops future adults who understand their duties as global citizens. A strong curriculum that is not undergirded by values shortchanges students who will be unprepared to be ethical members of their communities, willing to serve others and not solely themselves.

On the occasion of its 25th birthday, the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) also tied its raison d’être to the issues of quality, values and diversity in South African schools. Queried chairperson, Crain Soudien (see page 36):

How do you take a child who dreams in isiXhosa and come to empathise with that child, to the extent of revelling with him or her in the magic of his or her symbolic world and then, simultaneously and deliberately, in the poems and texts that you ask the child to read, open up to that child the equal – not better – beauty of the folktales of another country? As much as the isibongi (Xhosa praise poetry) is an object of admiration, so too must be Byron and Keats.

Questions take us to new places. On page 42, in her description of the work undertaken by the Africa Reggio Emilia Alliance (AREA), co-founder Tessa Browne observes that “[t]hose people familiar with the Reggio approach know that questions and the search for answers lie at the heart of it”. On page 38, Scott Firsing, director at the Aerospace Leadership Academy and school director at the North American International School in Waterkloof Ridge, in Pretoria, does indeed get to the heart of the matter, asking of South African teachers whether they have equipped their students to do the following:

Once one has a certain ‘knowledge’, you then have to be able to comprehend this knowledge, be able to interpret it and then extrapolate on the facts. If you can do this, can you apply this material in new situations? Can you analyse the material and break it down into parts? Can you synthesise the information and assemble the parts together to see or form new patterns? Can you evaluate and judge the value of the material? Okay, done? Now what does all this together tell you?

On page 54, American writer Brooke Havlik puts a scientific spin on things, posing the question, “So, what would more civic engagement look like in a science classroom?” English teacher Andrew Brouard, who is brave enough to plan a trip to the remains of Dachau concentration camp with students from Beaulieu College in Gauteng interested in writing later this year, predicts: “…Dachau will raise the questions: Can you write a fictional story about the Holocaust without trivialising and misrepresenting its horror? Are some events beyond fictionalisation?” And, after a visit to ISASA member Inanda Seminary (see page 24), Professor Jonathan Jansen queries: “What does Inanda Girls [sic] do for young women that thousands of other schools fail to do? It gives them five critical skills.” Read the compelling story about these skills provided to students at this extraordinary school that “shines out into the world”.

This edition of Independent Education shares questions and answers emanating from no less than 20 ISASA schools built on solid value systems. They could not be more diverse. All are quality institutions, defined by website http://www.21stcenturyschools.com as “‘nerve centres’, with walls that are porous and transparent, connecting teachers, students and the community to the wealth of knowledge that exists in the world… laced with a project-based curriculum for life aimed at engaging students in addressing real-world problems, issues important to humanity, and questions that matter”.

John Maselesele, principal at ISASA member Amaria Combined School in rural Limpopo, mistakenly believed that “[o]ur school is not rich… we therefore certainly did not believe we could afford to become a member of ISASA”, until he asked the then-regional director exactly what it would take to join the organisation. The reply certainly took into account Maselesele’s conviction: “Our environment is not an excuse for not delivering the best quality education. Parents have trusted us with their children’s lives. That cannot and should never be taken lightly.”

Category: Autumn 2015, Regular Columns

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