Making schools count

Students PIC: PHATSIMO KAPENG
Students PIC: PHATSIMO KAPENG

It is a new year and for basic education, the new academic season has begun in earnest. First term can be quite hectic and overwhelming. Sometimes schools have to begin with less than a full complement of teachers and a shortfall in some critical inputs.

Yet the business of teaching should go forward because education by its very nature cannot stop. And to their credit, teachers do cover for new recruits not yet in post. The new academic season traditionally kicks off with the joy and pride of receiving freshers. The process takes the character of an induction, which entails in the main equipping new students with skills and knowledge that would enable them acclimatise to the new learning institution. Also the new term presents an opportunity to consolidate the gains that returning students made in their previous learning encounters while also offering a chance to close gaps identified. Clearly a new year is supposed to herald a new dawn. But how many schools take advantage of the New Year to move into novel and unchartered territory?

Sadly many schools remain rooted in long established traditions handed down from one generation to the other. Schools have cultures, which they love so dearly. Keeping culture cannot be a bad thing as long as it is not done to the detriment of adopting new strategies. But the reality is that, sadly, culture has been permitted to eat strategy and in the process it is allowed to stifle opportunities to improve student outcomes.

For instance, it is not uncommon for a chronically low performing school to recycle year in and year out archaic and unproductive practices. Typical examples are over-reliance on the lecture method, which is deemed unengaging and recycling of notes developed 10 years back. It should be noted that the one size fits all kind of approach couldn’t work. Notes developed for the 1987 cohort cannot do for the 21st century learner. This means a school's strategy should never be cast in stone. A strategy should undergo mutation to move with the times, but many schools are stuck in the compliance mode. This is just to be seen to be doing the right thing, singing the right tune but not necessarily making an impact.


As term begins in every school, it routinely begins with: the principal's keynote address, induction of new members of staff and students, holding of general staff meetings and subject specific planning sessions. These routine activities are religiously followed from time to time and there is no further scrutiny as to how these could be repackaged to produce desirable impact on learning. If treated as compliance activities and not game changing activities, there would be minimal or no impact on student outcomes.

For example, when the principal delivers what is supposed to be a tone setting and game changing address, how many staff members actually take notes and commit themselves to a new beginning. Does the principal's speech really live to expectations and does the principal in word and actions sound like Moses leading his flock to the New Canaan? These questions raise the need for capacity building. Principals are hitherto thrown into the deep end without sufficient grounding on management roles. It is important that they are equipped with all the tools they need to executive their delicate functions. The one other limiting factor (culture) is that school principals are not involved in the recruitment of teachers. They have to do with what they are given.

But when receiving credentials from new members of staff, school principals should do more than being content with qualifications and certificates that the teachers present. Save for new teachers, instructional background of serving teachers should be subjected to thorough scrutiny. Principals should endeavour to know their new staff well. Data on teachers' instructional practice could assist on appropriate deployment and monitoring. Rachel E. Curtis and Elizabeth A City maintain that high qualification is no proxy for effective teaching.

It is also important to rethink what goes into the induction package of the new students. Why are schools seemly unable to get the new learners into the right gear? Why after induction the new students appear overwhelmed by the existing culture, which does not help teaching and learning? The same goes for departmental planning sessions.

If planning is a compliance exercise, then we should forget about any change towards improving student outcomes. Doing more of the same even though there is no impact on learning is a very bad practice.

If learners don't perform, it is not that there is anything wrong with them. It is because the package they are getting is not appealing. Surely all schools can get into a transformative agenda. The transformation agenda entails one thing - a total and sharp focus on classroom instruction. There should be no agenda that takes precedence over classroom matters.

Editor's Comment
Implement the recommendations Mr. President

The nation is eagerly awaiting this report to have a glimpse of what the recommendations are like, possibly for further debate. Mr. President, it’s our ardent hope that true to your promises, the public will have an opportunity to peruse the report and see if it reflects their interests as the Commission went around the length and breadth of the country collecting views of the people with some choosing to write to the Commission’s...

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