Education and Reform

The question I have been asking lately is: ‘Shouldn’t reform be at the heart of all conversations about education?’

People, and certainly all of the contributing authors featured in this edition of Independent Education, usually agree with me immediately, although many balk at the word ‘reform’. Understandably, it has a rather grim Victorian feel to it.

Indeed, the great novelist Charles Dickens spoke often and loudly about the radical need for education reform in England during Queen Victoria’s reign. Authors Brad Beaven and Patricia Pullham, both academics at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, write in Dickens and the Victorian City (Tricorn: 2012):

Dickens cast the school in Hard Times as an institution that turned out life-less factory fodder enslaved to learning facts in a Lancashire mill town run on utilitarian principles. In the character of Thomas Gradgrind, Dickens stigmatises the utilitarian philosophy that reduced children to numbers and education to facts. Mr Gradgrind was the founder of Coke Town School and ‘a man of realities’ and ‘a man of fact and calculations’. In the opening passages of Hard Times, Gradgrind outlines his philosophy behind educating children:

‘Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts sir!’

No matter what word we use – reform, change, revision – it is a ‘fact’ that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the world sees schooling. I can say this definitively, because ISASA members continue to document their COVID-19 ‘stories’, and I have been privileged to be part of binding these stories together for this Winter 2022 edition of the magazine. These schools are literally writing history, recounting their changed practices, ranging from re-imagined curricula to the physical re-arrangement of the school itself.

On page 50, for example, Celeste Krummeck, principal at Headway Pre-Primary School in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, details how the school has successfully made temperature taking a more pleasant experience by installing a wonderful coffee stall in the school driveway. Julien Moodliar, a mathematics teacher at Education Incorporated in Johannesburg, writes on page 26 about his post-graduate research, which indicates that mathematics teachers often marginalise students. Teachers of all subjects can benefit from reading Moodliar’s article.

On pages 38 and 40 respectively, Milner Snell, the Grade 11 class teacher of English Home Language at Hermannsburg School in KwaZulu-Natal, and Heather Kissack, the principal at Redhill Junior School in Johannesburg, have both written about the importance of revisiting the languages of instruction in their schools. Says Kissack:

When asking ourselves what constitutes an approach to teaching and learning that supports transformation and builds community in the classroom and beyond, we at Redhill Junior School in Johannesburg, started to think about transforming our approach to languages, (so often cited as the core to cultural understanding), and what and how we teach them.

I know that all readers will empathise with the sentiments expressed by Kathy Thompson on page 54. Innocent of the disruptions that were just around the corner, Thompson describes how excited they were to open the school in Mbabane Swaziland:

So it was that in January 2020, 23 little people and three motivated and innovative educators, a receptionist, parents, and the chairperson of the board and his directors, began the countdown to the opening of Jabulile School.

We all know what came next. And most ISASA member schools will probably identify with Thompson’s concluding thoughts:

While it is clearly evident that, despite the interventions, the effect of the pandemic will be with us for years to come, our constant re-evaluation of individual lessons within the individual topics of individual subjects is our daily modus operandi.

Our responsibility is to actively continue taking note of global developments in teaching and learning to ensure that when our learners reach Grade 12 they will be ready for the start of their journey to destinations as yet unknown. At Jabulile we have begun with the end in mind.