Single-focus, isolated corporate social investment (CSI) interventions cannot deliver meaningful outcomes in South Africa’s education sector. Instead, more holistic interventions are required to address the network of needs and social challenges that affect education.
This was one of the insights for the Telkom Foundation, which has broadened its schools interventions far beyond the scope of supplying technology to schools. Speaking in a panel discussion at the 2023 Trialogue Business in Society Conference, Telkom’s head of corporate social responsibility Sarah Mthintso said, “We’ve learnt along the way, and one of those lessons is the fact that there’s no single intervention that can deliver the sort of outcomes we envisage.”
The panel, which included MH Baloyi Secondary School Principal Stephine Mashilo, Odin Education head Ajit Gopalakrishnan and Deputy National Education Programme Manager at the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) Dr Mzamani Mdaka, considered the different factors required to achieve connected and thriving schools.
Towards holistic education interventions
Telkom has configured its strategy to contribute to addressing some of the systemic challenges that are evident in education, with the aim of building resilient youth, who have strong academic performance and who are futuristic in the way they think. This holistic approach positions the learner as the unit of change. Interventions provide academic support to learners, give the opportunity to acquire digital skills and offer psychosocial support, among other things, while contributing to teacher development and improving instructional leadership.
Mashilo described the profound effect this approach has had on communities challenged by basic needs and social ills such as child-headed households, where interventions such as psychosocial support have become a resource for the whole community.
Holistic interventions can be too expensive for many companies wanting to contribute to education. Gopalakrishnan described the many digital services required for each intervention from hardware, connectivity and security to user profile administration and technical support. This has created the opportunity for a plug-in digital ecosystem that takes care of some of these services and allows companies to channel more of their budget into the desired intervention.
Panel participants emphasised the importance of collaboration in addressing the systemic challenges facing the education system, agreeing that no single entity can address the scope of the issue alone.
Mthintso argued, however, for an authenticity of engagement that looks beyond the desire for competitive corporate visibility and towards a collaborative approach that intervenes in areas where they are likely to have the greatest impact.
Such an approach would benefit from a system of knowledge sharing that builds a repository of interventions and learnings that might guide new parties entering the space to the best advantage.
Mdaka advocated for this approach at district level in the form of an integrated district improvement programme that might spread CSI interventions more evenly, distribute skills and expertise to where they might have the greatest benefit and support coordinated monitoring and evaluation efforts. This would strengthen districts to better deal with policies and programming. Such coordinated support would contribute to the sustainability and strength of the system rather than disrupt it, while increasing the quality and quantity of educational outcomes.
Concluding the discussion, Gopalakrishnan said, “Africa can lead the world in education. we don’t have to catch up. We can lead because everyone is grappling with what the future of education will be. We will have the youth to power the global economy going forward.”