Passion and planning: meet Lebogang Montjane, ISASA’s new executive director

| March 14, 2014 | 0 Comments

The year 2014 dawned with a new executive director at the ISASA helm.

W hilst Lebogang Montjane may yet have to get to know particular protocols and procedures, many aspects of the job will find him in familiar ambits.

For a start, Montjane is what some may cheekily call a ‘Jozi’ lad.1 Born at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, he spent part of his early life in Crown Mines in Johannesburg, where his father, a curate at St Mary ’s Cathedral, ran a chaplaincy. When the posts of rector of St Stephen’s Anglican Church and chaplain at Baragwanath Hospital called, the family moved to Diepkloof, Soweto. A bigger move was on the cards: in 1984, the Montjane family went to the United States when Chaplain Montjane accepted a fellowship at Yale University.

Montjane junior was first schooled in South Africa, at Bapedi Primary School in Diepkloof and then St Peter’s Preparatory School. “Af ter my sister finished her matric year at S t Mary ’s School, Waverley, we then moved to the United S tates, where I went to boarding school at the Stony Brook School in Ne w York,” he recalls.

Great grounding

Montjane earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in government and history and a Master of Arts degree in comparative educational systems before returning to South Africa, where he completed a Bachelor of L aw degree from the University of the Witwatersrand ( Wits). His hard work in higher education served as superb grounding for his future. “Prior to attending Teachers College, Columbia University, I was an interschool intern at the St Thomas Choir School in New York City. St Thomas Choir School is the church school of St Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, which is a boarding middle school for the boy choristers. I taught histor y, geography and current ev ents. I then worked as a research assistant at the Education Policy Unit at Wits.”

Montjane also gathered valuable experience in the constitutional, regulatory and dispute resolution spheres of law at an international level. “ Prior to serving my articles and being retained at Bowman Gilfillan, a leading African corporate and commercial South African law firm, I clerked at the Constitutional Court for the former Chief Justice, Pius Langa. As an attorney, I then went on to specialise in competition law. My legal training has also resulted in me ser ving as a commissioner on the Confidentiality Commission of the United Nations Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The organisation was awarded the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.”

Twin passions: law and education Montjane can also add experience in good governance practice and advocacy to his impressive resume. “I was a director at Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), an advocacy organisation representing the chief executives and the chairmen of South Africa’s largest corporations. This role required me to advocate at the highest levels of government on behalf of BLSA.”

Clearly, Montjane has been adroit in gathering a wide array of skills and experiences thus far. This fact alone is something all students at ISASA schools can learn from. He himself mapped a career path under the influence of powerful mentors. “Even though I did not know what I wanted to do when I grew up, what I knew was that I wanted to teach at some stage in my life and that I wanted to go to law school. The people that I admired growing up came from these two fields.”

A lifetime of judicious planning was aided at just the right time by a random occurrence. “My wife had been badgering me to return to education on a full-time basis,” smiles Montjane broadly as he talks of his love for the subject. “During one of these conversations in December 2012, I mentioned to her that the one job I would love to do would be to head up ISASA. As fate would have it, as I talked to her I looked at the ISASA website and the post was available.”

Maintaining choice and quality Montjane clearly has the tools for the task ahead. He’s also grateful that ISASA has been so carefully nurtured. “Due to Jane Hofmeyr’s leadership, I inherit a well-run organisation which offers the most comprehensive services of any schools association on the African continent. My task is to keep up the great momentum that ISASA has built over the past decade.”

Part of maintaining that momentum is to defend the right of independent schools to offer learning programmes of their own choosing. Montjane is already well versed in what that implies. “That choice may be based on the educational philosophy provided or the religious instruction given by a school. A right for independent schools to exist is enshrined in section 29(3) of the South African Constitution. As ISASA, it is imperative that we continue to ensure that our members’ right of existence, at a practical level, is a substantive right. Without substantive independence, our member schools will be unable to fulfil their distinctive missions.”

These sage words will bring relief to those concerned about a change in leadership. They can rest assured that Montjane will continue to ‘hold the line’ where quality is concerned. “The only way that an independent school may remain registered is if a portion of its mission is the provision of a high-quality education. The Constitution requires that in order for an independent school to exist, it must at a minimum meet the standards of a comparable public educational institution. In the case of ISASA, all our schools meet a rigorous quality assurance standard. We must continue to guarantee to the public that if a school is an ISASA member, they can be assured that such a school provides a high-quality education.”

Promoting partnerships

Montjane is also keen to strengthen even further the relationship between the departments of education and ISASA. “At the 2013 ISASA conference, it was heartening to hear Angie Motshekga, our Minister of Basic Education, indicating that she sees ISASA as a partner in the provision of education for South Africa’s children. Even though its primary rationale for its existence is its member schools, ISASA is aware that it functions within the broader education system. This being the case, ISASA will engage, within its resources, with any initiative that will benefit the quality of South African education as a whole.”

Engagement is fast becoming an integral part of everyday conversation for Montjane as he plans for the future. “Even though we should continue to expand in South Africa, we need to have as members most of the high-quality independent schools in the southern African region. ISASA must also continue to be the centre of expertise for educational analysis to ensure that new policies do not unnecessarily hamper independent schools in fulfilling their missions. In terms of partnerships, ISASA, as it always has, will seek to work with any organisation that advances its mission of advocacy for its member schools.”

Widening the scope, Montjane adds: “Internationally, ISASA enjoys great standing amongst the global associations of independent schools. In fact, in order to honour Jane Hofmeyr’s retirement from ISASA, the associations of Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand, Scotland and the United States came to South Africa to hold an associations’ alliance meeting. We have now established a formal alliance and will be meeting periodically to learn from each other’s challenges. In the inaugural meeting, we found that we shared many similarities.”

Ready for the challenge

Montjane is aware that the road ahead may at times be rocky, and his task onerous. “The biggest challenge faced by ISASA and its member schools is that due to the devolution of responsibility to provincial departments of education, the implementation of policies as well as laws is provincially uneven. This complicates the regulatory environment for independent schools. Many of our schools often encounter officials who misunderstand the law and their powers. In its initial approach, ISASA must seek to resolve these matters individually with the official in question, failing which the provincial Joint Liaison Committees must be requested to raise the issue with the relevant education department. However, if the law is not being complied with, ISASA must in principle reserve its legal rights to seek relief from our courts.

“Another hallmark of ISASA member schools is that they are quality assured. I view the quality assurance process provided by the Independent Quality Assurance Agency (IQAA) to our schools as a vital component of justifying our substantive independence as a sector. The challenge that we face is that the state quality assurance agency, Umalusi, also goes through an accreditation process with our schools. In order to reduce the regulatory burden on our schools, we have to work to see how accreditation and quality assurance can be combined into a single process.”

What’s cooking?

If you’ve gathered that Montjane is determined to succeed in his mission to lead ISASA into a new ara, you’ll have understood that this man devotes equal passion to what some call the simpler things in life. “My greatest joy is spending time with my family. We also live with my father. To relax, I read books and love cooking. With the acquisition of an iPhone, I have discovered podcasts, which I listen to whilst driving.” It’s clear that Montjane will “protect the good thing that has been placed in [his] trust”.2We invite our readers to enjoy the regular columns he will be contributing to Independent Education.

References:

1. ‘Jozi’ is an affectionate nickname for Johannesburg. See, for example: http://ecosportdiscover.co.za/johannesburg-city-of-gold/.

2. 2 Timothy 1:14 (Common English Bible).

 

Category: Autumn 2014, Featured Articles

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