The dire SA education situation is being tackled, one school at a time, by innovative business partnerships


King Shaka High School in Umlazi, KwaZulu-Natal, used to be yet another dysfunctional school in SA. The matric pass rate was 38% and motivation was rock bottom. This all changed when logistics and shipping firm Grindrod began sponsoring the school under the Adopt-a-School programme in 2009.

Since then, the entire school has been renovated with an administration block, library and music centre, as well as laboratories for computer and consumer studies. Learners received leadership training and resources such as scientific calculators, stationery and school uniforms. The school’s principal, his management team and the governing body underwent strategic planning, leadership and team-building programmes. In 2012, the school’s matric pass rate rose to 63% and in 2013, it further improved to 71%.

‘There are no words that can express how privileged we are as a school to have Grindrod and the Adopt-a-School Foundation as our sponsors,’ writes the acting school principal in the launch issue of King Shaka High’s newsletter. ‘There’s an unbelievable and remarkable improvement that’s evident in the infrastructural development and improvement of matric results, among other things. Ill-discipline among boys and teenage pregnancy among girls has reduced so much since we were adopted.’

The Adopt-a-School Foundation has 584 schools under its programme. Of these, 410 have been adopted in the Free State by a partnership between Kagiso Trust and the Shanduka Foundation (called Kagiso Shanduka Trust), to which each of the two organisations pledged R100 million. The provincial education department is matching this funding with another R200 million.


‘We are looking for other partners to join us to effectively implement the programme,’ says Nicola Vogel, communications manager at Adopt-a-School. ‘We are striving to develop and test a holistic education transformation model that can also be used in other parts of the country.’

The education crisis in SA is so dire that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) admits to not coping with the delivery of ‘quality education for all’. Its statistics show that half of Grade 3 learners are illiterate, merely 2% of Grade 9 learners achieve above 50% in maths and more than half of Grades 10 to 12 learners have repeated a year. The WEF considers the quality of the SA educational system as ‘very poor’, ranking it an abysmal 146th out of 148th countries in its Global Competitiveness Report 2013–14. The report further states: ‘Raising educational standards […] will thus be critical in view of the country’s high unemployment rate.’

Yoliswa Dwane, head of policy, communications and research at lobby group Equal Education, says: ‘When you look at the education system, there are huge inequalities in infrastructure, teacher knowledge and learning outcomes. There is an important role to be played by companies.’ In September 2013, after pressure from Equal Education, the DBE published binding minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure which, for the first time, clearly define what a school must comprise. For instance, each class should have no more than 30 learners in Grade R and a maximum of 40 in all other grades. In terms of sanitation, there should be one washbasin and one toilet for a maximum of 15 learners.

Dwane said: ‘Companies can help government through their CSI programmes. Firstly by identifying the worst performing provinces – I believe it’s the Eastern Cape and Limpopo – and then by prioritising safety and security issues. Begin with the emergency situations – schools that still have pit or bucket latrines, no running water and no access to electricity.’

As an example, she mentions the preventable death of the Grade 1 boy from Limpopo, who in January fell into his school’s broken pit latrine and drowned.

‘Companies need to align their funding and not sprinkle a small food garden here and leave, but rather form partnerships with the relevant departments and the schools. A concerted effort will yield better outcomes. What we need is a systemic change.’

The National Education Collaborative Trust (NECT) is such a partnership between civil society and government. Founded in July 2013, it intends to mobilise resources and drive the effort to reach the education targets set out in the National Development Plan. The chairperson of the board of trustees and FirstRand Bank CEO, Sizwe Nxasana, says: ‘The birth of NECT is a truly remarkable occasion because of the sheer range of support it represents and the clarity of its priorities. By putting our collective weight behind a few key interventions we believe we will have the power to make some critical breakthroughs towards achieving quality education for all.’ One of NECT’s aims is to offer corporates more strategic collaborative options for their CSI to support a more targeted national effort.

Education already receives more funding than any other development sector, according to the CSI Handbook (16th edition), which is compiled annually by Cape-based consultancy Trialogue. In 2012/13, 43% of the total South African CSI spend of R7.8 billion was directed at the education sector, while the next closest sector, social and community development, only received 15% of total CSI expenditure. The book further reports that most of the CSI education spend (23%) goes into school infrastructure, facilities and equipment, closely followed by bursaries and scholarships (22%). Other popular interventions are additional learner programmes (16%), teacher development (9%) and curriculum development (7%).

The corporate contribution may seem slight compared to the massive R232.5 billion that the government has allocated to education – equalling 20% of the 2013/14 budget – but it can make a real difference. Many companies invest in areas of education that are relevant to their own core business. Rand Water, for instance, improves sanitation in schools as part of its CSI programme and also instituted rainwater harvesting in schools. Cellular providers tend to assist in internet connectivity, for example MTN, which has rolled out 157 ICT laboratories in remote rural schools. Vodacom has established nine ICT centres, one in each province, as teacher training hubs with a computer classroom and internet café.

Cereal manufacturer Kellogg’s, together with FoodBank SA and dairy firm Parmalat, is using its clout for the Breakfast for Better Days campaign aimed at relieving hunger among school children. The campaign will feed 25 000 learners from more than 50 underprivileged schools every school day in 2014, totalling five million servings of cereal.


‘We will have the power to make some critical breakthroughs towards quality education’


Overall, maths and science are the most popular subject areas for corporate social investment, attracting 38% of CSI education spend, reports Trialogue. Nedbank’s Fundisa Maths and Science Programme targets both learners and teachers through infrastructure development, teacher training and classroom-based support. Standard Bank supports the Thandulwazi Maths and Science Academy – a Saturday school that has improved the matric pass rates of between 800 and 1 000 high school learners per year since 2010. 

The FirstRand Foundation, in partnership with the Anglo American Chairman’s Fund and co-funders, has established the South African Numeracy Chairs initiative, a long-term commitment to improving maths education. The objectives are to boost the quality of maths teaching at primary and secondary schools; improve learner performance and maths pass rates; research practical solutions to the challenges of numeracy and maths in schools and increase the dialogue around solutions for the maths education crisis.

However, corporates are increasingly supporting ‘whole school development’ as pioneered by Adopt-a-School. The concept is based on the holistic development of the school and includes infrastructure (basic facilities such as access to water, sanitation and electricity, but also new science labs, libraries and computer centres); strategic planning, leadership and management (for governing bodies, management and educators); teacher development (in all subject areas); learner development (support in language, literacy, maths for all grades); extra-curricular activities (sports programmes, reading and leadership clubs); school safety (physical security such as fencing around the school); discipline and respect (among learners and educators) and social welfare (vegetable gardens, eyesight testing, life skills and support for orphaned and vulnerable children).

The foundation’s executive director, Stephen Lebere, says: ‘We are currently working with over 55 corporate adopters and in the 2012/13 financial year have effectively invested over R28 million in school projects. In 2013 the Industrial Development Corporation partnered with us to adopt 20 schools across the country with an annual investment of between R15 million and R18 million.’

More than 280 schools are on the adoption waiting list. ‘It’s heartbreaking,’ says Vogel. ‘These schools have acute needs.’ However, being ‘adopted’ doesn’t mean an easy ride. Teachers, learners and parents are expected to pull together to meet academic targets and look after the school infrastructure. It’s a long-term contract between the corporate investors and the school community that shows success, as demonstrated by King Shaka in Umlazi.

By Silke Colquhoun
Image: Fredrik Broden/reneerhyner.com