Marang Education Trust, in partnership with Pearson, supports capacity building within the education system. The Trust does baseline assessments at schools to identify specific support needs in the areas of community, leadership, learner performance, teaching and assessment. The Trust focus on the whole value chain of the education cycle and therefore pre-school, primary, secondary and tertiary levels. It offers a full three year, comprehensive, under-graduate bursary to those who qualify for tertiary education.
You will not find their teams in the green lawned, swimming pool dotted neighbourhoods of suburbia, because they go deep. Deep rural, that is. The teams focus on deep rural areas where the need is the biggest and the Trust works with schools on a four year long cycle. It involves not only the education side of things, but also the nutrition programmes and infrastucture, thus, the school buildings. PMET does not send teams into an area to do hostile take-overs of schools and Dr. Veronique Genniker, the Trust Director, explains clearly that “we don’t just assume that the schools want to work with us. So, we have conversations with the school and everybody involved in the school. You have to have conversations with the headman, the chief in the village and any other community leaders that there are and also with the teacher unions. So, we firstly find out if they want our support and secondly, we agree to do a needs-assessment, because we are a research-based organisation.”
PMET focus on developing the language of learners and the language of learning because children only learn in their mother tongue up to Grade 3. The language switch is difficult for learners and teachers alike. Leadership and management is also a focus, but it is not just about leadership and management development, but also personal development. Dr. Genniker firmy believes that a teacher has to have self-belief, “you need to have confidence to teach and that makes personal development important. It lies very close to my hart. We have an integrated approach of personal and professional development.”
The need for staff arose as the work of PMET grew. Veronique did not want fly-by-nights, or as she calls it: the seagull effect (quick land and lift-off). She wanted to find strong and capable people, people who wanted to learn and so she suggested to find people in these rural areas. The Trust suggested to do the work themselves and not entrust it to another party as Veronique spells it out, “we do not outsource any of our work, because you cannot quality assure your work or the work that is put out. Relying on reports is feeble.” The Good Doctor loves to do the work herself, but says, “my focus is to get in and establish relationships, but then get the local people to do the work. Because then you get the buy-in on the schools and community leaders.”
Teachers are often overwhelmed by everything they have to take on. Sensitive issues are often avoided because teachers are not comfortable with some of it and therefore, prefer not to address the learners regarding these matters. So if it is about teenage pregnancy – PMET gets the Health Department in to do the talks. If it is about drugs – the Trust will involve the local police forums. If it is about moral issues – bring in ministers and priests, etc. The school is very much part of the community, so why not involve the community?
PMET works against the dismantlement of family and social structures by involving members of the community and getting parents involved with the children. Parents can be involved in classrooms for practical support to the teacher. In deep rural areas where school infrastructure has to be upgraded, as an example, the Trust will ask the Department not to bring in outside contractors. There are builders, bricklayer, painters, etc. in that community. Let them do the work and earn money for the community. They will also take pride in the school because it is their project; it is their building now and they will look after it. The ability of a school (and related activities around the school) to help reunite a community should, never be underestimated.
Let the community school be self-managed. Give people dignity. Let them take ownership and let the school be a symbol of pride. At the Marang Education Trust, says Veronique, they know that “we can’t save South Africa, but we are playing our part and we are making sure that the most needy are connected with.”