Independent schools in South Africa do not operate in a vacuum, isolated from what is happening around us. The huge and continuing upheaval in the South African university sector has already had some spill-over into the school sector. This realisation was very apparent at each of the three recent ISASA conferences. The Southern African Heads of Independent Schools Association (SAHISA) Conference in Cape Town in September, followed by the Independent Schools Marketing Association (ISMA) and Southern African Bursars of Independent Schools Association (SABISA) conferences taking place respectively in Pretoria and Port Elizabeth in October, were all addressed by speakers who gave delegates the opportunity to reflect on the current disruption in universities and the potential impact on our schools. In the colloquium that took place at the SAHISA Conference between Adam Habib, vice chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand; Max Price, vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town; and Lebogang Montjane, our own executive director, Dr Price was asked what more independent schools should be doing to prepare our students more effectively for university. Interestingly – and somewhat controversially – he suggested that while many independent schools strive to create a “colour blind” environment and culture within their schools, this can be problematic when their students go on to college or university. In these institutions of higher education, they now meet and interact with students from a range of different backgrounds, places and cultures and are therefore directly confronted with issues of race, culture and identity that they had previously perhaps not had to grapple with. Our schools, Price suggested, should do more to give their students a greater sense of race and identity.
The themes of diversity and transformation are therefore at the top of the agenda in much current public comment, and they are taken up in a number of articles in this edition of Independent Education. The article by Amanda Williams (“Why we should talk to children about race”, pages 22–23) confirms Price’s comments. As Williams says, “…ignoring race does not make it go away,” and “taking a colour-blind approach to race is not the best way to promote equality and reduce racial prejudice”. Our executive director also addresses these issues in his column by focusing on the way in which a greater familiarity with, and understanding of, indigenous languages of South Africa will help to foster greater social cohesion.
One of the speakers at the SAHISA Conference, Di Wilmot of Rhodes University, gave a very measured and down-to-earth presentation on what it means to have a “privileged” education in South Africa and how independent schools (specifically all-girls’ schools) can
advance the transformation agenda. An extended extract of Professor Wilmot’s presentation can be found on pages 16–20.
One of the ways in which independent schools can make a difference in broader South African society and help to “advance the transformation agenda” is through engagement with less-privileged schools in the same area. This process is often referred to as “outreach”, but this term suggests a one-way process; yet, at its best, such engagement should lead to a better understanding of diversity on both sides. There have been many examples of such community partnerships between ISASA schools and other less-advantaged schools in the pages of Independent Education in the past – and we see another example in this issue, in the work done by Roedean School to share its expertise and facilities with up to 100 girls from a local Johannesburg high school.
Diversity is one of the core attributes of ISASA and its member schools – but the term is not just about race or privilege or the lack thereof. Diversity also recognises the differences and unique qualities of children and their different needs and ways of learning. This can be seen in the article about the teaching method used at Auburn House Montessori School, where children learn at their own pace (pages 40–41). We also see echoes of this in the account of the Sinai Academy (pages 56–58), which operates a “child-centric, emergent curriculum approach” where, again, children are able to develop at their own pace.
Diversity also includes catering for the particular and special needs of children. A fine example of the commitment and dedication required to do this is shown in the article about the Footprints Special Needs School in Randburg (pages 46–47), where the focus is on “each child’s individual interests, needs and strengths…”
As this issue of Independent Education is the last one of 2016, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues involved in all aspects of the production of the magazine, and also to thank all of those who have contributed articles about their schools, and the work they do, throughout the year. Independent Education is the flagship publication of ISASA, but is also a proud showcase of the work and achievements of very many schools and teachers across southern Africa. It provides an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the educational sector and to share and learn from the experiences and examples of the best educational practice. We hope that you enjoy reading this issue, and that our readership will continue to grow and provide us with stories and experiences that exemplify our values.
Category: Summer 2016