Investing in education without investing in classrooms

11 August 2014 | Opinion

Basic infrastructure is essential to any school, but even perfect facilities go to waste if educators do not have the skills to use them.

Investing in education is first and foremost about investing in people – investing in teachers, as well in the young lives that will flourish if given the tools to do so.

Photo courtesy of Temari 09

There can be no education without educators – if children are to learn well, there must be teachers with the skills to teach well; and if a school is going to be run effectively, there must be people with the skills to run it.

The FirstRand Foundation recognises this, and has put its weight behind teaching teachers. The FNB Fund Primary Education Programme, an initiative of the FirstRand Foundation, is designed to help improve education by improving human resource capacity. The fund hopes to achieve this by following three main courses of action.

The first is helping management in schools to become more effective; the second is helping teachers to develop their skills; and the third is helping teachers to identify and support students with learning barriers, and how to and where to refer these students, if necessary.

According to Phillip Methula, an education specialist at Tshikululu, it is possible to improve the effectiveness of education simply by managing time effectively, even without changing any other factors.

This means that merely ensuring that both students and teachers begin and finish lessons on time will helps students’ results improve.

The task of ensuring that a school runs on time can be achieved by effective management – as can many other vital roles that benefit the education of pupils and the functionality of schools.

In a situation where resources and skills are limited, it becomes even more important that management uses what it can to its optimum efficiency. The Primary Education Programme is helping to teach education management staff the necessary skills to run schools effectively.

The effectiveness of teachers can be enhanced by good management, and the effectiveness of education can be enhanced by good teachers. Improving the skills of teachers is the second focus of the Primary Education Programme.

The programme aims to help teachers to be more effective by improving their knowledge of the syllabus content and improving their pedagogical knowledge.

Steps one and two are closely related, and Methula says that “you need to tackle both issues at the same time”.

The third goal of the programme is to equip teachers to support students with learning barriers.

Methula explains that this does not just mean physical barriers, such as physical disabilities: “There are some [learners] who experience invisible barriers; for example, learners who can’t concentrate because of hunger, learners who, because they come from poor or violent backgrounds, have some kind of psychosocial barriers that prevent them from learning.”

The programme aims to train teachers to identify such students, as well as assisting them in what they can do to help these learners, and how and where to refer them if necessary.

The key to helping learners in these situations is to engage the parents and caregivers in the process. According to Methula, there is a “joint responsibility between parents and educators in supporting children to learn”.

It is hoped that by identifying individual students for special attention and contacting their parents directly, teachers will manage to get parents more involved in their child’s education.

Methula explains that for a parent, there is “a lot of meaning” in knowing that their child has been identified out of a whole class for help, and this helps them to also take part in the child’s education.

Methula also stresses that what is often referred to as parental “apathy” may in fact not be a lack of desire to help their children, but rather a lack of knowledge of how to help them. A mutual partnership between the parents and teacher can be enlightening and educational for both parties, and of great benefit to the students.

The FNB Fund Primary Education Programme is currently working in partnership with 20 schools in the Free State, and another 20 in KwaZulu-Natal.