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ISASA’s founding principles prevail

| March 23, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Lebogang Montjane

At the end of last year, the executive committee of the ISASA council, together with council representatives, undertook a strategic planning session for ISASA’s next three-year strategy cycle.

As part of this reassessment, every aspect of ISASA was examined including the founding principles of quality, values, diversity. After considering whether ISASA’s underlying code should be amended, it was established that they should be retained, since they remain relevant to ISASA and its member schools for the foreseeable future.

Why does our tagline ‘Quality, Values, Diversity’ retain its pertinence?

ISASA attracts quality schools

The United Nations Millennium Development Goal 2 set a target that by 2015 all countries should have universal access to primary schooling. Five years ahead of schedule, South Africa achieved this enrolment target, but still slightly falls short on the goal of “children everywhere, boys and girls alike . . . [completing] a full course of primary schooling”.1While South Africa must be applauded for providing universal access to schooling, student retention and educational quality are now the key scholastic issues that our country must address. The 2013 South African Millennium Development Goals Country Report cited the 2010 Country Report, which “encouraged the government to maximise the gains made (in achieving universal access to education) during the preceding 15 years by translating this achievement into educational transformation and improving the quality and functioning of education”.2

This systemic educational imperative for quality education does implicate the independent school sector and has historically been, and is, the hallmark of what distinguishes ISASA schools within the South African schooling system. This dedication to quality consistently results in ISASA schools producing the best educational outcomes, by any measure, in South African education. The national need for more quality schools and our members’ proven record of educational quality, must continue to determine who is permitted membership. ISASA is unwavering in its commitment to attract quality schools to its membership and to work with schools that aspire to meet its quality criteria in order to gain membership.

Distinctive philosophical perspectives

Another emblematic characteristic of ISASA member schools is that they adopt distinctive philosophical perspectives grounded in sound ethical practices. Many of our member schools have a faith base or universal humanitarian guiding principles. At root, ISASA expects its member schools to conduct all their affairs in the best interest of each child. A school that lacks durable values will fail to instil sound discipline in its charges, or challenge its pupils to develop highorder thinking skills that will enable them to apply the curriculum to their lives in societally enhancing ways. The importance of hard work, providing opportunities for children to fail and learn from mistakes, whilst taking personal responsibility for their actions, develops future adults who understand their duties as global citizens. A strong curriculum that is not undergirded by values short-changes students who will be unprepared to be ethical members of their communities, willing to serve others and not solely themselves.

Diversity a driving force

Central to education is preparing children for a time to come and not a present world. However, in a world that increasingly has to come to terms with its interconnectedness, it behoves schools to prepare their pupils for a diverse future. According to Kwame Appiah, “[A] world in which communities are neatly hived off from one another seems no longer a serious option, if it ever was. And the way of segregation and seclusion has always been anomalous in our perpetually voyaging species. Cosmopolitanism isn’t hard work; repudiating it is.”3

Even though we live in a world in which a greater number of people appreciate the necessity of diversity, it is important to understand that cosmopolitanism does not mean plural monoculturalism. Amartya Sen draws this distinction. He argues that “[t]here are . . . two basically distinct approaches to multiculturalism, one of which concentrates on the promotion of diversity as a value in itself; the other approach focuses on the freedom of reasoning and decision-making, and celebrates cultural diversity to the extent that it is as freely chosen as possible by the persons involved.”4 For Sen, the former approach which negates individual choice is properly characterised as plural monoculturalism.5

Living examined lives

The comprehension of diversity in this fashion, has the danger of creating a world of “sequestered segments, with citizens being assigned fixed places in predetermined segments”.6 It hinders the “capability of children to live ‘examined lives’ as they grow up in an integrated country”.7 For ISASA, diversity calls for cosmopolitanism, as cosmopolitanism serves an important educative purpose. As Appiah says, “Cosmopolitanism is about intelligence and curiosity as well as engagement.”8 If present learners are to be truly intellectually engaged in their world, then this calls for them to be cosmopolitans. This means that schools should be communities that enable children to interact and learn from peers, as well as adults who look and think differently to themselves. Nonetheless, the encouragement to engage with our diverse world must avoid ascribing assumptions to individuals based on the supposed community from which they hail.

The right to be different prevails

Beyond ISASA’s envisioned purpose of diversity for students, diversity is conceived broadly for membership purposes. As the largest and most inclusive schools association in southern Africa, ISASA stands for the right of schools to be different and for them to be permitted to pursue their distinctive missions. South Africa is best served by an educational system that provides choice for families and for children to find schools that fit their individual needs. Thus the principle of diversity in terms of types, size and ethos of schools shall endure in this strategic cycle.

An excellent education takes full account of the quality of pedagogical practice within a value-based community. Yet, in the 21st century, if diversity is eschewed in educational institutions, such a school’s claim to educational superiority is likely to be questioned. That is why ISASA is recommitting itself to ‘Quality, Values, Diversity.’

1. See: “The Millennium Development Goals – Country Report 2013: The South Africa I Know, the Home I Understand.” Available at:
2. Ibid.
3. Appiah, K. A. (2007) Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (Issues of Our Time). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
4. Sen, Amartya (2007) Identity and Violence – The Illusion of Destiny (Issues of our Time). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Appiah, K. A. (2007) op cit.

Category: Autumn 2015

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