SAOU General Secretary
Leadership Collective of SAOU
Members of SAOU
It is my singular honour and privilege to deliver a keynote address on this august occasion, namely the SAOU Annual Principals' Symposium.
Let me thank the leadership of the SAOU for the invitation to join and address you in this symposium. We really value the strong ties between the Basic Education Department and your union. We are aware that the Deputy Minister and the Director-General have previously addressed your symposia, and this is an indication of how seriously we take your endeavours to improve the state of education in the country in particular at the management and leadership levels.
Education scholars have long concluded that there is causal link between school leadership and improved learners’ achievement. It is considered that a capable school principal with zest for knowledge and heightened leadership ability has a direct effect on the improved performance of learners.
Thus, good leadership can certainly contribute to school improvement by abetting the motivation, participation, and coordination of the teachers. Recent studies have widened the range of action of school leadership research to the various organizational levels: school managers, department heads, coordinators, teachers (Goldhaber, 2002; Harris, 2004). In this regard the principal remains the central source of leadership influence. He/she is at the coalface of the school’s fortune.
Indeed school management and leadership is faced with new demands in the ever changing education environment, and more so in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.
Hence, the demands on school management must evolve fast and swift. We need principals with a long term vision to inculcate within the school communities issues of innovation and integration of the information communication technologies (ICTs) for both learning and teaching. Traditionally, we needed a dynamic principal with emphasis growing on managing learning, safe, diverse, integrated, and challenging, school environments appropriate to a 21st century progressive African country. However, the Fourth Industrial Revolution brings with it the technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.
This new shift brings with it dramatic changes in what public education needs from principals. They can no longer function simply as building managers, tasked with adhering to district rules, carrying out regulations and avoiding mistakes. They have to be (or become) leaders of learning who can develop a team delivering effective instruction. According to the Wallace Foundation research, the New York based philanthropy foundation that works nationally to improve learning and enrichment for disadvantaged children, concluded that successful education managers must focus on five key responsibilities:
- Shaping a vision of academic success for all learners, one based on high standards.
- Creating a climate hospitable to education in order that safety, a cooperative spirit and other foundations of fruitful interaction prevail.
- Cultivating leadership in others so that teachers and other adults assume their parts in realizing the school vision.
- Improving instruction to enable teachers to teach at their best and learners to learn to their utmost.
- Managing people, data and processes to foster school improvement.
For me the fifth responsibility of managing people, data and process is at the heart of the new principals that we need. As you might be aware basic education systems around the world are migrating to evidence based decision making processes. This means dealing with multiple sources of empirical data, and the principal’s job is to distil from the data the best possible course of action. In a sense, we are in dire need of new principals who honesty believes in rational thought and rational action, whose thinking is not linear but exponential. This new principal must be technologically savvy, and a lifelong student with multiple skills set. The current cohort of principals will do well to reinvent themselves if this sector is to survive the demands of the 21st century. It is ladies and gentlemen no longer business as usual. As the Department, we are ready for the revolution in school management and leadership brought forth by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
As we know it is not easy to be a principal in the South African context where external factors weigh heavily of the shoulders of principals. Schools in South Africa more than any other part of the world are truly the microcosm of society. We have the urban-rural divide. We are culturally, socially and politically diverse. These challenges demands of the principal to be dynamic and responsive to a culturally and economically defined contexts.
Compounding the above challenges is that our schools cater for a variety of leaners: teen parents, learners from child-headed households, orphans and children from well-heeled homes. As a result learners have varying education levels, health needs, wellness status (mental, physical abilities), and socio-economic status, religious and cultural beliefs.
School communities reflect this diversity, both within and between schools.
We therefore need principals with the ability to interpret the demands of their jobs and determine how they will perform their function within the context of national development thus fostering social cohesion without compromising academic standards. The principals need to tap into the full potential of themselves and the rest of the school community, while seeing their job within the context of improving teaching and learning in the school through the adoption of ICTs and other innovations.
To produce such a principal requires the collaboration of all stakeholders, unions such as yourself being key in the whole equation. We need to develop leaders with appropriate administrative skills and professional education management competencies if we are to remain relevant. We together need to build the ability of our principals to work in a holistic way, bringing in staff, community and other partners in a supportive manner while integrating ICTs learning in a safe, diverse and integrated manner.
What we all have to do now is to upskill the current corps of principals and make them relevant to the current changes in our global village society. Tailor made, relevant, and on time capacity building programmes are a must in this new era. The development of such is a joint responsibility between the Department and yourselves as we have demonstrated in the development of the training programmes for principals under the Teacher-Union Collaboration initiative.
I am aware of how the SAOU and the DBE’s management and governance section have jointly been conducting training programmes for principals across the country. I am aware that one of such a programme is currently taking place in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. That is the way to go.
The next step will be how we prepare aspirant principals to take over the challenge when the time comes. This should be calculated move of introducing preparatory programmes long before principal vacancies become available. Obviously this must be preceded by a well-defined talent identification programme for those who have the capacity to become good school managers after proper mentoring and coaching by relevant experts in the sector. We need proper succession planning where we lay down the new attributes and competencies for deputies and middle level managers.
We have to improve of the recruitment and selection procedures for the appoint of the new cohort of principals if we are to ensure that only the best are appointed to leadership positions as the National Development Plan (NDP) demands of us. It stands to reason that the use of interviews alone is not adequate as only selection criterion for the appointment of principals. The NDP calls for the introduction of competency assessments in the appointment processes of principals to ensure that only competent teachers become principals.
Given these realities, principal selection, demands devoting more time and resources to uncover the right talent for the position. Selecting the right people to lead schools is a process worthy of investing time and money.
The appointment of principals must be followed by a comprehensive induction programme which should prepare them thoroughly for the envisaged challenges.
The promulgated Policy on the South African Standard for Principalship will play an important role in providing guidance for the selection process and capacity building programme for principals.
What is encouraging is that regardless of these many challenges experienced in our schools today, we do have to a large extent some visionary and proactive principals who are able to rise above every obstacle and turn around our schools to become what they ought to be. Notwithstanding the granular strides made in improving efficiency and equity in the sector as demonstrated in the 2017 SACMEQ IV report, the overarching “bugbear” of improving quality in the sector to desired levels still remains. To improve the quality of education we offer our learners and empower them with a higher skill set and values, we are increasingly prioritising interventions, policies and strategies that target an improved quality of learning and teaching, and implementing accountability systems to ensure that quality outcomes in the basic education sector are achieved. To this end, principals become the pivot of the change we want to see.
I thank you.