From the editor

| March 27, 2019 | 0 Comments

In this edition of Independent Education, we feature ISASA member schools that are expanding the transformation agenda into all areas of schooling.
These are schools that understand that the real conversation about redesigning education, “Should be furious, hot and heavy, and full of as much creative fire as we can muster”. So said author and internationally- respected consultant to schools, Thom Markham in a provocative 2017 article entitled “Five Priorities For Transformative Schools”.
In other words, says Markham, this conversation is urgent. On the basis of this understanding, several faith- based school heads recently gathered at St Andrew’s School for Girls, in Bedfordview, Johannesburg, at a conference entitled: “Transformation of Schools through Community Partnerships” (see page 18). On this occasion, it was agreed that imperatives for schools include the need to inform, involve, collaborate with, consult and empower all stakeholders involved in community engagement.
That’s a powerful stepping-off point. The next step, says Markham, is to “Focus, laser-like, on redefining knowledge itself. It’s no longer a packet of facts and concepts; it’s some new blend of knowing and doing that takes account of the transformation in global society.” ISASA is leading the way here, reports CEO Lebogang Montjane. On page 10 he says, “A highly successful MIT/ISASA Africa Summer Seminar on Natural and Artificial Intelligence was held at St John’s College in the first full week of January 2019”. MIT is of course the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the US and the point of the initiative, was, says Montjane, was to try and increase the interest level of girls in science. The seminar was so successful, that ISASA hopes that in 2020, 100 ISASA member school students will participate in a programme that includes focuses on natural and artificial intelligences, as well as design and entrepreneurship, gender in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), applying to universities and building a professional profile.
Markham believes that:
Our beliefs about intelligence are ridiculously out of date. The growth mindset results show that intelligence is malleable; neuroplasticity reveals that the brain changes minute by minute and is shaped by environment; the evidence from positive psychology informs us that emotions and relationships matter – directly and powerfully – to performance. Yet we cling to IQ, cognitive bias, and the 19th century model of the brain as full of wires and little boxes. Moving to a more holistic, whole-child version of intelligence is not just a child-friendly act; it’s a matter of preparing youth for a world that values collaboration, initiative, perseverance, flexibility, empathy, and creativity. That’s a heart-brain endeavour, not just executive functioning.
On page 39, you can read all about this kind of move to “A more holistic, whole-child version of intelligence”. At St Martin’s Preparatory School in Johannesburg, the new head, Thomas Hagspihl, has been so fond of popping into the primary school to see teaching and learning in action, that the curriculum has now shifted to let Grade 4 students tackle various English puzzles, Grade 5s chess, Grade 6s number puzzles and Grade 7s coding. Everyone’s having a cracking good time.
Markham insists that conceiving teachers as a new breed, one utterly different from the 1500s model of the privileged scholar that still drives our thinking, must happen now. As soon as teacher training and ongoing teacher development sets re-envisioning the system itself at the core of teaching, “There will be a surge of creativity, even joy, as learning gets aligned with the global age”. This is happening at The Ridge School, also in Johannesburg, says Nic Diana, deputy head: academics, in his fascinating story on page 41. He says:
It all started in a room above our school hall… where a group of pioneering teachers were looking at making a difference not only in their students, but in themselves, too. They spent many hours putting together, pulling apart and ultimately recreating a curriculum that focused on the application of skills rather than the flooding of content.
At two other Johannesburg-based schools, Dainfern College (see page 44) and Sandhurst College (page 52), management teams and staff have revised the traditional notion of schools, described by Markham as spaces where there are “orderly environments, rows of desks, 50-minute periods, subjects, bells, pacing guides, graduation requirements, and learning objectives. It’s industrial, and it’s old.”
At Dainfern, the new curriculum programme “Xtend-it” is in full swing. Says Karen Cosh, deputy principal: academics, “It comprises four modules of 39 lessons each developed by the staff and designed to develop the skills of collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, reflection and the collection of information and the enhancement of character development”. At Sandhurst, says principal Roger Looyen, “The design of new architectural infrastructure [has] had to ensure that the curriculum offerings appeal to the learner’s rationality in raising a cosmopolitan awareness of the different value systems within a school community”.
Markham believes that “standards mostly have become a laundry list, to be checked off via a high stakes test”. Bearing that in mind, read our cover story on page 32 and its companion piece on page 36.
There’s more good stuff in this issue of the magazine. But if you’ve only got time for one read, then do make it the review of the fantastic book entitled Corporate Social Investment: A Guide to Creating a Meaningful Legacy, by Setlogane Manchidi, the CSI manager for Investec, (see page 70). If you expand your thinking about social investment, Manchidi says, then the question “Why?” foregrounds all education conversations. If you don’t, he warns, “Then don’t read further”.

Category: Autumn 2019

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