Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 72

Improving schools to improve
life chances
Despite significant advances in education provision in South Africa since
its transition to democracy in 1994, the educational possibilities for South
African students, especially in high-poverty areas, remain bleak. While there
may be improved access to education, deep inequalities remain with regard
to the quality of educational provision; and ultimately, to the educational
achievement of the majority of South Africa’s school-going youth.
“Our trouble is not that South African children don’t
go to school,” says Dr Jonathan Clark, director of the
Schools Development Unit and the Schools Improvement
Initiative (SII). “The trouble is that what they learn
there does not improve their life chances.” There is
global acknowledgement that a university’s destiny
is inextricably linked to that of its community. This
acknowledgement is very much the driving force behind
the SII. While there are a number of school-development
initiatives and programmes across the university, the SII
is unique in that it functions as a conduit to help facilitate
and draw on the university’s broader focus on schooling,
which it channels into its partner schools.
How SII works
The SII, established by Vice-Chancellor Dr Max
Price in 2012, has become a global trailblazer with
respect to school-university partnerships. Making
full use of the resources the university has to offer,
the SII is collaborating with disciplines in the health
sciences, speech and language therapy, library
and, information studies and social development
to develop a more holistic approach to school
development, and to work with those schools in the
context of their communities.
“The SII was always intended to be an action-based
initiative, but that does not mean it is not researchinformed and does not involve research activities,”
says Clark.
The SII formed close partnerships with five schools
in the Cape Town township of Khayelitsha. These
schools were chosen through a careful selection
process based on a number of factors, including
evidence of improved learner performance, and levels
of involvement in teacher development and schoolmanagement improvement. In those partnerships, the
SII set about achieving a number of objectives. Clark
and his colleague and project manager Dr Patti Silbert
stress that the objectives of the SII’s engagement were

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