Ground-breaking research delves into school leaders’ role in forging education for sustainable livelihoods

Ground-breaking research delves into school leaders’ role in forging education for sustainable livelihoods
Komala Pillay, CEO of Symphonia for South Africa

As the 2022 academic year commences, ways to sustainably improve education for all children continues to dominate public discourse.

Symphonia for South Africa (SSA), the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and Paardeberg Sustainability Initiative (PSI) Projects are together exploring how the leadership development of school principals is viable way to improve education through community-based partnerships, and how it contributes to the creation of sustainable livelihoods among learners from agricultural communities in South Africa.

Secondary school drop-out rates still remain high at 40% in South Africa, and under-performing schools contribute to cyclical poverty among more than 50% of the population. Despite the progress made, education that serves the needs of all South African communities remains elusive. In addition, Covid-19 and its associated challenges continues to disadvantage rural learners.

Kathija Yassim, Associate Professor of Education Leadership and Management, UJ, and Chief Investigator for the project, said:

‘’Post-pandemic efforts to rebuild education have highlighted concerns for governments, academics and civil society. Among these are:
• Enabling digital access for teachers, and the concomitant ICT skills,
• The need for school and community stakeholders to integrate resources;
• Focusing on the mental and physical well-being of teachers and learners within a values-based leadership approach; and
• Focusing on 4IR imperatives and how education needs to adapt.

This research focuses on mind-shift changes from education for university preparation alone, to education that engenders skills development that enables a child to earn a living – even if he or she drops out of school.’’

Professor Yassim added: ‘’We hope to rethink education’s purpose and outcome among school and business leaders, while developing a school leadership model that encompasses leadership development, community partnerships and school culture transformation. We will also develop a case study for how to repurpose education, and use this as a pilot for a longer-term study before going to scale.’’

Professor Yassim is joined by the three co-investigators, Dr Logan Govender of UJ, Dr Bridget Johnson of PSI projects/, and Komala Pillay, CEO of Symphonia for South Africa. The project will also integrate the research of three post-graduate students, and is funded by the Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (TESF) Network linked to Bristol University, UK.

Symphonia for South Africa, through its flagship programme Partners for Possibility (PfP), is responsible for maintaining a Leadership circle in the Midlands, KwaZulu-Natal. The circle, which acts as a ‘solutions incubator’, comprises four principals from low-quintile schools in an agriculture-based community, partnered with four business leaders from the same community.

The schools partaking in the research are Nyonithwele Secondary, Copewell Primary, Mpophomeni High and Northdale Primary. Together with their business leader partners, the principals of these schools are asked to make sustainable livelihoods a focal point of their partnerships.

Business Coach and Mentor, Penny Shozi, is facilitating the circle. ‘’This research is the cornerstone in understanding the impact that agriculture has in supporting global developmental goals. As a school-based project, it will play a role in meeting the goals set out in the National Development Plan,’’ said Shozi.

The project will also evaluate the PfP programme in terms of how effective its change model is in enhancing the instructional leadership of school principals, and will explore recommendations by school principals on the interventions needed to create education for sustainable livelihoods.

PSI Projects will support the creation of the Leadership Circle, as well as offer workshops to aid school culture transformation and teacher development.

About Partners for Possibility (PfP)

PfP pairs principals with business leaders in a 12-month collaborative and practical leadership journey. Through these partnerships, principals gain the skills needed to confidently engage and lead relevant stakeholders in order to address the challenges in their respective schools. The programme features professional coaching, training workshops, practical leadership development exposure in a marginalised South African community and networking opportunities for principals and business leaders.
About University of Johannesburg (UJ)
UJ is a diverse, inclusive, transformational and collegial institution, with a student population of over 50 000, of which more than 3000 are international students from 80 countries. This makes UJ one of the largest contact universities in South Africa (SA) from the 26 public universities that make up the higher education system.

About Paardeberg Sustainability Initiative (PSI) Projects

PSI Projects is nature conservation NGO in the Western Cape, focused on helping communities with alien vegetation management, wildfire assistance, soil erosion and wood sales.

About Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (TESF)

TESF supports collaborative research to develop understanding of how education systems can act as drivers of sustainable development in India, Rwanda, Somalia/Somaliland and South Africa. Its research addresses the role of education in climate action, decent work and sustainable cities. The network is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund through the Economic and Social Research Council Network Plus scheme, and is coordinated out of the University of Bristol, UK.