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Enabling rural schools to promote quality education

With various systemic challenges continuing in high-poverty communities, efforts to address and establish ways of schools to achieve required results despite structural inadequacies, and enabling children to thrive, have been adopted by both the DBE and the Centre for the Study of Resilience, University of Pretoria.

Research on how rural schools may become enabling spaces to promote school-community quality education has been conducted and a research partnership has been established between the two parties. The research partnership will make suitable contributions in establishing how a multi-sectoral approach may collaborate with schools in the development of education for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The research study involved various stakeholders in the Education sector; learners, Foundation Phase educators, school principals and Community Reading Champions (CRCs), Fieldworkers and parents of learners in rural schools in the Mahikeng Sub-District of Ngaka Modiri Molema District of the North-West Province and was spear-headed by specialists in the Education field. Professor Qing Gu, a professor of Leadership in Education and Director of the University College London, Professor Liesel Ebersöhn, Director for the Centre for the Study of Resilience at the University of Pretoria and Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, Dr Phumzile Langa, Director for Rural Education at the DBE, and various research teams from South Africa, the United Kingdom and Australia. These representatives worked with school principals and approximately 1,900 Grade R to 3 learner participants from across ten primary schools in the province. These learners created 306 books in their native language of Setswana, and the study will be used as a benchmark when rolling the project out in other provinces to help improve learner outcomes and better quantify learner performance.

The project aimed at not only at addressing and transforming educational outcomes, but also to provide a psychosocial approach to learning by empowering young minds to enjoy literature and become self-contributing individuals by unleashing their literary potential in becoming authors. Furthermore, it aimed at improving the psychosocial wellbeing of learners and aided as a proof of concept of how teachers and principals can make use of structures within the school system to better aid teaching and learning.

All the relevant stakeholders convened at Future Africa, University of Pretoria on 3 March 2023, to unpack interventions and findings of the study. The event was attended by the Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor, of the University of Pretoria, who addressed the attendees by emphasising that, “there is a strong research-informed belief that school leaders and teachers in rural areas, together with community leaders and participation can beat the odds and enable children to achieve and flourish despite adversity.”

In her address, Dr Langa thanked Dr Keikantsemang Jennifer Mosepele, who headed the project in the North-West Province, stating that, “our Directorate has implemented a number of projects, but this one is by far the one that has yielded the best evidence-based results in such a short space of time. This project will enable us to continue exploring sustainable ways of community building, improving livelihoods and providing employment opportunities”.

Driving the project forward, the Enabling Rural Schools Project (ERSP) partnership strives to develop similar evaluation methods to be used to assess the extent of change in schools and how such change has impacted on children's learning and health outcomes.

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