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From the editor

| June 24, 2014 | 0 Comments

The review on page 96 of this edition of Independent Education confirms that the catchphrase ‘big data’ is trending right now.

We used to call it ‘information’ – but, declared author Caleb Carr prophetically in his 2000 cult novel Killing Time: A Novel of the Future (Random House), “It is the greatest truth of our age: information is not knowledge.”

There is now so much data available at the click of a button or a flick of a screen, that perhaps ‘ignorance is [still] bliss’. Consider this bizarre recent occurrence, recounted on the website: a Dutch student, pre-empting the venal intent of big business to ‘mine’ his personal data for commercial gain, decided to sell the lot at auction.

‘The lot’ equalled Shawn Buckles’ location and medical history, his personal calendar and all his social media data, including his e-mails, consumer preferences and internet browsing history.

The €350 Buckles received at the auction on 12 April 2014 seems a paltry sum if one considers that, for example, some insurance companies are already calculating your premium increase based on data they’ve pulled from your digital footprint, but Buckles has made a significant point, and history.

The mere concept of big data can make one anxious. Yet consider the next stage: the ‘big data mash-up’ – incredibly large databases – designed, explains Lora Fleming from the University of Exeter in the UK, “to share information and accelerate progress across a range of issues.”

Data of any size is notoriously unreliable due to uneven analysis methods. But it’s getting bigger by the minute and demands attention. Says Fleming, the challenge is to “turn it into meaningful findings that will help us to make changes to the way we live”. In no arena is this more important than education (see page 100), where people all over the world are searching for new ways to create the perfect learning environment to ensure academic success.

While the statisticians refine their algorithms, Independent Education brings you big data ‘the old fashioned way’, in the form of a bumper edition. Our format may be traditional, but the question is exactly the same: ‘What makes a good school?’

ISASA’s executive director Lebogang Montjane kicks off the debate on page 12. In his elegant review of the work of Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Montjane makes a crucial observation: “…Goodness in schools is not uniformity… This is the characteristic strength of ISASA’s membership, that our schools pursue their distinct missions that serve their particular communities.”

Carolyn Hancock, who teaches at one of ISASA’s newest members in Howick in KwaZulu-Natal, echoes Montjane’s beliefs. To make – and keep – Tembelihle Primary School ‘good’ despite challenging circumstances, she wants to help “weld together a team that has one vision and mission” (see page 18).

If there’s anything the big data mash-up phenomenon and stories submitted by our member schools can show us, it is that collaboration can create excellence. On page 50, principal Geoff Cohen, telling the remarkable story of United Herzlia Schools in Cape Town, widely regarded as a ‘best practice’ model for inclusive education based on open enrolment, reminds us all that “it is not possible to become complacent, arrogant or smug. There is no chance at all of ‘knowing it all’.” A wide network of supportive partners, contends Cohen, and a “conviction… that the first choice wherever possible is to include [all] children in the mainstream… for them to be part of their communities… and mainstream society” makes Herzlia a ‘good’ school.

Collaboration continues across ISASA schools. The whole-school Positive Behavioural Interventions and Supports (PBIS) programme introduced by Khalil Osiris (page 54) to Vuleka SSB High School in Johannesburg has contributed to a dramatic rise in the school’s academic results. On page 59, art teacher Pauline Constable recounts how the Independent Examinations Board Gauteng visual arts cluster support group is invigorating art teachers, and on pages 62 and 64 respectively, educators at Holy Rosary School and the School of Merit share how they discovered and finetuned for their own specific purposes, two particular philosophical approaches to schooling.

Instead of quibbling ad nauseam about the differences between public and private schools, says David Cutler on page 32, let’s all unearth how to create and sustain good schools everywhere. L.H. Modisane agrees, and many readers will relish his story of the potentially revolutionary government-initiated Quality of Teaching and Learning Campaign (page 72) and its current challenges in Limpopo state schools.

The last word goes to well-known South African education commentator Graeme Bloch, writing for on 14 May 2014:

“South Africa has been chosen as home to a section of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope… can we interpret all the data coming in? Can we keep a satellite in space to send video and data where it is needed?

“We need to find a cure in Africa for malaria, a disease that floors millions of young children. Yet, with the right science, this disease should be easily curable. Similarly, HIV/Aids is now primarily a sub-Saharan disease. We need the best scientists to find a cure.

“So we need the best mathematicians and scientists… we need… a national discussion in every country on where we are going and the kind of education that will get us there.”

Category: Regular Columns, Winter 2014

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