Education is a vital enabler in society – a key that can unlock progress and development on our continent. However, there are numerous factors that inhibit the potential of learners, including a lack of psychosocial support, a shortage of quality teachers, and limited access to technology.
Telkom has long supported various aspects of education, including digital access. More recently it has adopted a whole-school strategy in order to be more more impactful than focusing on specific interventions.
The Trialogue Business in Society Conference will unpack the theme ‘Connected Schools – a Holistic Approach’ in partnership with Telkom. This theme explored whole-school development, how companies can help to build thriving schools, and what lessons Telkom has learnt in addressing the quality of teaching and learning in disadvantaged communities. This article contains summaries of the talks and panel discussions, as well as the video.
Making the most of social investment in education: Dr Nicky Roberts
The impact of corporate social investment (CSI) initiatives in schools may be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of influence in improving education in South Africa. Nonetheless, interventions that are agile, adaptive and flexible, and whose learnings feed into supporting the state education behemoth, have an important role to play in driving systemic change.
Targeting education CSI interventions
In her keynote address on the second day of the 2023 Trialogue Business in Society Conference, Kelello Consulting director Dr Nicky Roberts spoke to three key areas of education that could benefit from CSI interventions.
The foundation for learning – early childhood development and foundation phase – is the first of these. Roberts posits that we require a greater understanding of how South Africa’s multilingualism effects early learning. Companies should support research in this regard, as well as the provision of nuanced, quality African language materials that address South Africa’s complex bilingual needs. There is also a need for digital learning materials that are available on zero-rated sites, particularly in African languages.
Initial teacher education is the second area that Roberts recommends for CSI interventions. As the bulk of South Africa’s current teachers are approaching retirement age within the decade, ensuring quality new teachers are entering the system is of critical importance. Significant resources are being channelled into ongoing teacher development, however, insufficient investment is going into selection, accreditation and qualification of new teachers.
Roberts commented that universities require as much help with this process as the schools that are supported by CSI initiatives. She pointed out that there is much to be gained from an influx of young, better qualified, more knowledgeable teachers, among others, the likelihood of better results from future CSI interventions.
Ongoing professional development, particularly in technology, was the last area recommended for CSI intervention. Roberts reminded delegates of the rapid changes in the field of digital technology and how these skills “are at the heart of what we need our children, our national assets, our agents for change to have access to”. Working with the education department to actualise existing digital learning frameworks and stages of ICT integration would be helpful.
CSI success factors in education
Roberts went on to identify the success factors of CSI interventions in education. Firstly, she advocated for a clarity of purpose that aligns with the education department’s existing theory of change and projects that clearly identify and measure against the state’s existing principles. Initiatives should partner with the department towards the goal of active redress, considering the influential factors surrounding the intervention to ensure its effectiveness.
Secondly, CSI interventions should design for the knowledge project from the outset, seeking the advice and support of those working in the sector, commissioning monitoring and evaluation, and working with research and learning partners over the long term. This would allow meaningful assessment of the value of interventions and the opportunity for greater efficacy.
As such it is important that knowledge gained and lessons learnt be shared to inform and improve future investments.
Roberts concluded by encouraging delegates to deepen and expand existing initiatives towards strengthening state provision, and to remember that education change takes decades.
A holistic approach to building thriving schools: panel discussion
Single-focus, isolated corporate social investment (CSI) interventions cannot deliver meaningful outcomes in South Africa’s education sector. Instead, more holistic interventions are required to address the network of needs and social challenges that affect education.
This was one of the insights for the Telkom Foundation, which has broadened its schools interventions far beyond the scope of supplying technology to schools. Speaking in a panel discussion at the 2023 Trialogue Business in Society Conference, Telkom’s head of corporate social responsibility Sarah Mthintso said, “We’ve learnt along the way, and one of those lessons is the fact that there’s no single intervention that can deliver the sort of outcomes we envisage.”
The panel, which included MH Baloyi Secondary School Principal Stephine Mashilo, Odin Education head Ajit Gopalakrishnan and Deputy National Education Programme Manager at the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) Dr Mzamani Mdaka, considered the different factors required to achieve connected and thriving schools.
Towards holistic education interventions
Telkom has configured its strategy to contribute to addressing some of the systemic challenges that are evident in education, with the aim of building resilient youth, who have strong academic performance and who are futuristic in the way they think. This holistic approach positions the learner as the unit of change. Interventions provide academic support to learners, give the opportunity to acquire digital skills and offer psychosocial support, among other things, while contributing to teacher development and improving instructional leadership.
Mashilo described the profound effect this approach has had on communities challenged by basic needs and social ills such as child-headed households, where interventions such as psychosocial support have become a resource for the whole community.
Holistic interventions can be too expensive for many companies wanting to contribute to education. Gopalakrishnan described the many digital services required for each intervention from hardware, connectivity and security to user profile administration and technical support. This has created the opportunity for a plug-in digital ecosystem that takes care of some of these services and allows companies to channel more of their budget into the desired intervention.
Panel participants emphasised the importance of collaboration in addressing the systemic challenges facing the education system, agreeing that no single entity can address the scope of the issue alone.
Mthintso argued, however, for an authenticity of engagement that looks beyond the desire for competitive corporate visibility and towards a collaborative approach that intervenes in areas where they are likely to have the greatest impact.
Such an approach would benefit from a system of knowledge sharing that builds a repository of interventions and learnings that might guide new parties entering the space to the best advantage.
Mdaka advocated for this approach at district level in the form of an integrated district improvement programme that might spread CSI interventions more evenly, distribute skills and expertise to where they might have the greatest benefit and support coordinated monitoring and evaluation efforts. This would strengthen districts to better deal with policies and programming. Such coordinated support would contribute to the sustainability and strength of the system rather than disrupt it, while increasing the quality and quantity of educational outcomes.
Concluding the discussion, Gopalakrishnan said, “Africa can lead the world in education. we don’t have to catch up. We can lead because everyone is grappling with what the future of education will be. We will have the youth to power the global economy going forward.”