The private sector, government and civil society should collaborate more effectively to drive change in the education sector, and the evaluation of their work should be front of mind. These were the key issues emphasised in a panel discussion at the Trialogue Business in Society conference 2019.
Moving towards greater collaboration
There are currently about 200 formalised partnerships between the Department of Basic Education and organisations working to improve education in the country, according to Given Mabena, deputy director of Partnerships in Education, a unit of the Department of Basic Education. While these partners may be engaging in meaningful collaboration with government, they are not talking to each other, which is an issue many in the sector would like to resolve.
“We talk collaboration but don’t act in that way,” according to Dr Rooksana Rajab, an associate at JET Education Services. “Non-profit organisations (NPOs) are working very hard, but the trust between funders and implementers is not quite there.” Rajab is on a mission to break down these partnership silos. “Funders, NPOs and government are working in silos and are not communicating,” she said. “Everyone vies for the same spot, which results in duplication in easy to see areas, while neglected areas are ignored. Collaboration is required, which means working together with common goals.”
With this in mind, Rajab (and JET) are developing the National Association for Social Change Entities in Education (NASCEE), an association for non-profit organisations that aims to foster greater collaboration. “The association will give NPOs a space to talk,” she said, adding that “in collaborating, we need to ensure there are no power games. Every person must do their bit. Not for themselves, but for the greater good.”
Evaluation crucial if projects that work are to be scaled
Of the R9.7 billion spent on corporate social investment (CSI) in 2018, 44% was spent in the education sector. This, according to Trialogue’s latest round of CSI research, featured in the Trialogue Business in Society Handbook 2018. Compared to government’s allocation of R323 billion, it is evident that the state holds the key to true change in education.
That is why CSI must show objective and measurable outcomes, so that government can see what works and allocate far greater resources to scale projects that work, according to Dr Gabrielle Wills, an education economist and a post-doctoral fellow with RESEP (Research on Socio-Economic Policy) in the Department of Economics at Stellenbosch University. “We spend five times more than Kenya on Education, but they are better at every level than us,” she told the Trialogue Business in Society Conference. This comes down to poor evaluation of projects, leading to duplication and spending of budgets on projects that can’t be scaled to ensure greater impact. “Too often, projects start with no consideration of evaluating effectively,” she said.
“It is not clear what is driving change: is it the intervention, which is what the money is spent on?” she asked. “It might not be programme, but the conditions of that environment. How do we establish whether project works?” Answering this question would require funders and organisations to budget for adequate monitoring and evaluation. Such evaluation would entail setting out a baseline for the study, measuring the outcomes at the start, setting up a control and treatment group, and then measuring the shifts in outcomes.
Process evaluation is also important. Once you see change and are convinced it has been evaluated effectively you would also require knowing why it worked. “Process evaluation is critical,” said Wills, explaining this would ensure projects know what to do better going forward. Wills said these processes can occur quickly if done effectively and sees projects scaling up following a successful evaluation in fast succession. “We need to find solutions fast,” she said. “We need information to show us why and how a project is working. We need to keep scaling and progressively learn.”
Strategic funding with purpose
Another solution to improving better collaboration between funders and NPOs lies in the need for funders to become more strategic and focused on innovation to bring about greater change. DG Murray Trust CEO David Harrison explained how his organisation positions itself as a strategic investor and public innovator. Their mission is to learn together with others, assist their implementing partners, galvanise funding coalitions, and build mechanisms to develop, design and incubate new initiatives.
Harrison described the education sector like a tortoise. Quality education is above the shell, representing 20% of the sector, while the rest is underneath the shell. “The primary duty of government is to move the tortoise, while we (NPOs and funders) need to transform the animal,” he said. “We need to break the deep valley that keeps poorer kids from accessing good education.”
Collaboration was key to this. For example, the NPO sector had a critical role to play in supporting government’s efforts to improve education. “External groups can do and say things that government can’t do,” “We can be the disruptors.”
Trade unions are a key stakeholder that needs to be engaged around more effective collaboration in the education sector. “We need to engage with unions differently,” Harrison said. “Public-private partnerships should be explored to open up a third way for education.” The private sector in turn should ask itself if it is doing enough. “How serious is business about fundamental change,” he asked.
“The private sector is sitting on a gold mine and it could unlock incredible chokes,” he said, referring to logistics companies distributing reading materials or technology companies providing free data for learning, for example.
Early childhood development should have a ministry – Harrison
“The brain is the most receptive to cognitive and emotional stimulation in the first three years of a child’s development,” Harrison said. “That is where the scaffolding is laid.” As such, Harrison urged the Department of Basic Education to create an early childhood development (ECD) ministry within the Department. This follows an announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his 2019 State of the Nation Address that government’s ECD programme would move from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education.
Harrison said if this move was a horizontal one, it would achieve nothing. Real change required the establishment of a ministry, where ECD could get greater significance nationally. “If we imagine this as a true partnership, government should create a single nerve centre, where civic society, unions and business could focus on improving ECD,” he said. “If we could work towards that, it would be transformative for children in South Africa.”
IMAGE: Panel discussion on collaboration in education – Fltr Dr Rooksana Rajab (JET Education Services), David Harrison (DG Murray Trust) and Kanyisa Diamond (Old Mutual Foundation)
Article written by Matthew le Cordeur
Photo taken by Cobus Oosthuizen