UKZN’s College of Humanities hosted a public webinar on the topic, Public Schooling in a Post-COVID South Africa: Implications for School Leadership.
The event featured the KwaZulu-Natal secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), Ms Nomarashiya Caluza; the Director: Education Management and Governance Development, Department of Basic Education, Mr James Ndlebe; the District Director, Western Cape Education Department, Ms Landie Diamond; University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Professor Vitallis Chikoko and the University of Johannesburg’s Professor Raj Mestry.
The webinar was facilitated by Professor Inba Naicker (UKZN).
Naicker explained ‘the aim of the webinar is to move beyond the present in terms of the pandemic and to examine what public schools and schooling would look like post the pandemic, while striving to make visible the implications post-pandemic schooling had for the different strata of school leadership.’
During her presentation, Caluza said ‘the pandemic has exposed and exasperated the inequalities in our education system and society in general. The colonial and apartheid regime’s defining of value and opportunities based on race continue to define the education ecosystem and the post-COVID education and society cannot smile at the damage such policies have created.’
She suggested school leadership cultivate staff wellness in order to promote a calm, creative and relaxed learning environment for learners who have been devastated by the pandemic. ‘The leadership should allow the autonomy of educators to lead change because educators are agents for change especially if their professional judgement is promoted and appreciated. It is imperative for school leaders to promote solidarity, partnerships, and collaborative professionalism among and between educators.’
Chikoko noted that the pandemic ‘de-schooled’ societies across the world. ‘In South Africa, where attempts to re-school were made, among a plethora of challenges, the pandemic required resources, thus, the historically disadvantaged schools (those in quintiles 1-3) suffered most.’
He called for a shift from deficit thinking on schools and schooling, towards more liberating approaches in which schools harness their assets to grow and flourish.
Chikoko said the major reason why learning had summarily stopped in the majority of public schools when COVID-19 struck was that learners did not and still do not know how to self-learn. ‘There is a dearth of functional literacy and numeracy among many learners in South Africa’s disadvantaged public schools. Such learners cannot self-learn. This is a social injustice, which must be addressed immediately by school leaders.’
Chikoko suggested digitisation was part of the solution. ‘The 4IR has arrived and there is no going back. Again, schools must start from what they have. The cell phone, simple as it is, will be one such starting point. Liberation School Leadership (LSL), where the school shifts from concentrating on teaching, to facilitating self-directed learning, is required,’ he said.
Diamond explored the approaches that draw on lessons learned from the different waves of COVID-19, and the best way to use them to help schools realise their vision, regardless of challenges they are faced with. ‘The pandemic has brought many challenges that are also eye openers for the sector and which in turn, if addressed properly, will enable our learning institutions not only to see this global pandemic as a challenge but rather as a catalyst for change,’ she said. Diamond also focused on psychosocial support for both learners and staff.
Mestry accentuated the importance of professional development for principals. ‘This pandemic has undoubtedly exposed the weaknesses of our educational system as well as the unpreparedness of principals to lead and manage change effectively. Most principals have very little training in leadership and management, and, more especially, in crisis leadership.’
He argued that ‘principals need to be provided with professional development so that they can be empowered to deal effectively with pertinent leadership and management issues as well as confidently confront any unexpected crisis that may emerge. While Change Management is an important component, there should be rigorous professional development programmes for principals in the areas of Instructional Leadership, Entrepreneurial Leadership, and Crisis Leadership.’
Ndlebe further highlighted that the COVID-19 era called for adaptation and planning. ‘Educationally, we are preparing children for a world that no longer exists and need to equip them for a world that is emerging. We are training them for jobs that do not exist as yet. This is what the Americans call a VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) moment. This has implications for the Education Department and school principals,’ he said.
Ndlebe said principals should be given more administrative powers to make autonomous decisions during the ever-changing schooling situation. ‘School principals need to find convergence of ideas, values and principles to create new meaning for each learner in the school if the system has to produce the expected product that is adaptable to the changing world.’