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Partnering to achieve equitable quality education

Giles Gillett
Chief Executive Officer at New Leaders Foundation

Chief Executive Officer at New Leaders Foundation

The recent opening of the United Nations General Assembly also marked the UN Global Goals Week, which focussed on accelerating progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

SDG 4 is Quality Education: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

When I began my journey founding the New Leaders Foundation (NLF) 11 years ago, I was driven by a simple conviction that there was room for innovation to improve learner outcomes and make quality education more accessible in South Africa.

Our education sector is arguably the largest and most complex system in the country, with over 25 000 schools, 400 000 teachers, and 11,4 million students spread across close to 80 districts. The complexity of the sector cannot be overstated and making sustained ground in improving learner outcomes is no easy feat.

At the New Leaders Foundation, we have focussed our contribution on harnessing the power of accurate, timely and transparent data; and the use of actionable insights to improve quality education.

We support the Department of Basic Education  with technology and consulting know-how that enables quality data to be the mirror that drives improved support to teachers and learners.  In the Department’s Data Driven Districts programme this partnership has resulted in 85% of all schools in the country, and the districts and provinces that support them, having access to a user-friendly data dashboard. This dashboard gives timely information on learner results, the attendance of teachers and learners, and a number of insightful reports and tools that both empower and enable educators at a variety of levels to make data-driven decisions. This access to timely, quality data is changing the lives of learners and teachers and inspiring new ways of working throughout the country. Like the Thembisa teenager, where the programme’s early warning drop-out tool notified the school that she had been absent for more than 10 days and was at risk of dropping out, where the school intervened and her family was able to get the support they required to get her back to school.

In the corporate sector, NLF’s data tools and predictive analytics capability help large companies access and track key indicators for the corporate social investment (CSI) projects they have invested in. This assists the corporates and the NGOs they fund to effectively track progress and achieve greater impact and higher ROI on their education-related CSI spend.

In a year of significant turmoil and disruption to education systems, public health, and other sectors, it has also been a period of reflection and introspection. As we collectively strive to attain the realisation of SDG 4 and our own national priorities in education, I am driven by three enduring convictions:

  • Partnerships are critical for achieving developmental goals: The scope, scale and complexity of the challenges require strong cross-sector partnerships.  Deep collaboration where public sector, private sector, and the NGO community work hand-in-glove towards achieving shared developmental goals. In our instance, the openness of the Department of Basic Education to work with us on their vision, and the strategic and financial support of partners such as the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and FirstRand Empowerment Foundation, have been central to enabling the improvements in learner outcomes that we have seen.
  • Committed people are change agents:  We interact with passionate and dedicated educators and Department of Basic Education officials on a daily basis. These individuals both want to and can improve education outcomes for our learners. At New Leaders Foundation, I am proud to lead a team of 50 diverse, talented, mission-driven professionals which include actuaries, data scientists, educators, researchers, analysts, and political scientists. They are all doing this work because they want to see a better future for young people in our country.
  • Fixing the SA education system is possible:  The challenges we face in the sector are complex but not intractable.  There is no quick-fix and systematic change is going to take a long-time, and requires patience and perseverance from all stakeholders.

These convictions give me hope and optimism. It encourages me to continue to find innovative ways to partner and contribute to achieving equitable quality education.