COVID-19 Website Notice. In order to comply with emergency communications regulations, we are required to provide a link to the following website before proceeding:

Understanding and promoting transformation

What can independent schools do?

By Mandla Mthembu

1994 ushered in a new democratic dispensation in South Africa. At this time, education institutions were constitutionally charged with transforming to reflect the diverse demography of the country.

Consequently, interracial conflict became increasingly common in previously predominantly white public schools.1 The majority of independent schools escaped this new reality, because they were not state-owned and government did not prioritise compulsory integration in these schools. Indeed, a number of independent schools decided early on – some long before 1994 – to embrace transformation, and to serve as models of integration.2

Defining diversity

However, the majority of independent schools have lagged behind significantly. Reasons why this is the case are myriad3 but, at the same time, the urgent need for schools to transform into genuinely South African institutions has now overtaken reasons why it is difficult. Independent schools must now demonstrate clear commitment to the transformation imperative by developing a relevant diversity-driven vision and adopting clear and measurable steps to achieve it.

This realisation led the Independent Schools Association of South Africa (ISASA), in 2009, to adopt a vision statement mindful of South Africa’s apartheid past and the concomitant exclusionary practices adopted by many schools (including independent schools) during that era.4 ISASA understands diversity as referring to the variety and range of people and their characteristics as unique beings. This includes race, culture, ability, age, ethnicity, nationality, language, gender, religion, geographic region, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, health status, etc. We define diversity as the celebration of difference and the promotion of inclusivity.

ISASA a catalyst for transformation

Given South Africa’s history and demography, ISASA identified race as central to issues of diversity in the independent school context. The ISASA vision statement clearly asserts that structural racism is insidious, subtle, pervasive and difficult to eliminate. It continues to pervade both the traditional power structures in South African businesses, and religious and educational organisations. More importantly, however, it resides in the hearts and minds of people and is displayed in their attitudes and behaviour. Structural racism is frequently invisible to, and its existence therefore denied by, traditional elites who have benefited from these practices, either directly or indirectly.

Advocating, as it does, affirmation of diversity in a South Africa committed to democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights, ISASA sees one of its important roles as being a catalyst for development and transformation in South African education. As a result, we have made it a key strategic imperative to support and promote diversity within the organisation and its member schools, so that it becomes an emerging strength of independent schooling.

ISASA understands only too well that unless independent schools become increasingly representative of the demographics of their communities, they will lack credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of government, opinion-makers and the public, and they will not be preparing their pupils for the societies in which they will live, work and play. South African schools must produce students who, as global citizens, are capable of contributing to social justice, becoming life-long learners, interacting meaningfully with other human beings, volunteering constructive civic and political involvement, and participating successfully in economic development.5

The Transformation Toolkit

ISASA has an important role to play in helping schools to achieve these goals. To this end, assisted by specialist consultants Kevin Fleischer and Kim Robinson, we have developed a Transformation Toolkit that provides schools with a practical framework within which to work towards transformation and diversity.

The toolkit – soon to be made available to all ISASA members – encompasses two streams of engagement in the transformation and diversity process to be dealt with by an inclusive transformation team from each school representing the board, senior management, staff, parents, alumni, independent experts and learners. Stream A introduces the institutional paradigm shift, outlining the key issues each school must address on its journey to transformation – such as analysis of the status quo, restructuring, communications, goals, team building, progress assessment, curriculum and methodology. Stream B deals with the individual paradigm shift (hearts and minds of people as displayed through their attitudes and behaviour) and covers nationality, attitudes, culture and religion, history, language, curriculum and methodology.

What else can schools do?

Over and above using the toolkit, schools should institutionalise diversity through policy and should provide explicit policy guidelines that set out basic, non-negotiable values, principles and statements of intent, e.g. the commitment to eliminate the use of certain terms or words that are racist and offensive. Schools can also set quotas to mark as milestones on their transformation journeys.

The need for champions of diversity in schools is paramount. School diversity committees and coordinators can design and implement whole school initiatives and monitor progress. Furthermore, school diversity committees can identify tools, resources, successful programmes and agencies to provide additional training for diversity and to enhance awareness. Reports on diversity activities within the school should be a standing item in all board meetings. The diversity committee should also encourage discussions and general dialogue on diversity issues among all stakeholders.

There may be a need for schools to extend financial support and seat reservation to black learners. A school could link this kind of targeted action with outreach and twinning programmes involving schools from disadvantaged or less fortunate communities.

Additionally, schools should explore, develop and accordingly implement succession plans that reflect their commitment to diversity. Such plans may have to include training and mentoring suitable black staff members for future assumption of positions of greater responsibility and power. A deliberate drive to recruit excellent black staff members to provide essential services and to teach challenging subjects like English, mathematics, the sciences and technology would also be desirable to augment the diversity agenda.

Schools must eliminate inequality In conclusion, ISASA believes that it is morally incumbent on all South Africans to work for social transformation. Our schools, as key socialising agents in our society, need to broaden their concept of what constitutes quality to include a school’s commitment to eliminating inequality. Schools that exclude or that do not serve particular segments of the population well cannot be considered to be of high quality, irrespective of their examination results and sporting achievements. While a school may be selective, it cannot claim to be either relevant or excellent if it perpetuates discrimination.


1. See, for example, Alexander, G. (2011) ‘Dealing with the complexities of integration in cultural diverse rural school communities in South Africa.’ Online Journal of Hew Horizons in Education,2 (1) ( January 2011). Available at: 02DEALINGWITH.pdf and Vally, S. (1999) ‘Violence in South African schools.’ Current Issues in Comparative Education, 2 (1). Available at: 2.

Walton, B. (2005) A Survey of Twinning Programmes in ISASA Member Schools. Johannesburg: ISASA.

3. ISASA (2007) ISASA Diversity Report. Johannesburg: ISASA.

4. ISASA (2009) ISASA Diversity Vision Statement. Johannesburg: ISASA.

5. Adams, M., Bell, L. and Griffin, P. (1997)Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice. New York: Taylor and Francis.

Category: Winter 2012

About the Author ()

News posts added for Independent Education by Global Latitude DMA

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *