The impact of corporate social investment (CSI) initiatives in schools may be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of influence in improving education in South Africa. Nonetheless, interventions that are agile, adaptive and flexible, and whose learnings feed into supporting the state education behemoth, have an important role to play in driving systemic change.

Targeting education CSI interventions

In her keynote address on the second day of the 2023 Trialogue Business in Society Conference, Kelello Consulting director Dr Nicky Roberts spoke to three key areas of education that could benefit from CSI interventions.

The foundation for learning – early childhood development and foundation phase – is the first of these. Roberts posits that we require a greater understanding of how South Africa’s multilingualism effects early learning. Companies should support research in this regard, as well as the provision of nuanced, quality African language materials that address South Africa’s complex bilingual needs. There is also a need for digital learning materials that are available on zero-rated sites, particularly in African languages.

Initial teacher education is the second area that Roberts recommends for CSI interventions. As the bulk of South Africa’s current teachers are approaching retirement age within the decade, ensuring quality new teachers are entering the system is of critical importance. Significant resources are being channelled into ongoing teacher development, however, insufficient investment is going into selection, accreditation and qualification of new teachers.

Roberts commented that universities require as much help with this process as the schools that are supported by CSI initiatives. She pointed out that there is much to be gained from an influx of young, better qualified, more knowledgeable teachers, among others, the likelihood of better results from future CSI interventions.

Ongoing professional development, particularly in technology, was the last area recommended for CSI intervention. Roberts reminded delegates of the rapid changes in the field of digital technology and how these skills “are at the heart of what we need our children, our national assets, our agents for change to have access to”.  Working with the education department to actualise existing digital learning frameworks and stages of ICT integration would be helpful.

CSI success factors

Roberts went on to identify the success factors of CSI interventions in education. Firstly, she advocated for a clarity of purpose that aligns with the education department’s existing theory of change and projects that clearly identify and measure against the state’s existing principles. Initiatives should partner with the department towards the goal of active redress, considering the influential factors surrounding the intervention to ensure its effectiveness.

Secondly, CSI interventions should design for the knowledge project from the outset, seeking the advice and support of those working in the sector, commissioning monitoring and evaluation, and working with research and learning partners over the long term. This would allow meaningful assessment of the value of interventions and the opportunity for greater efficacy.

“The knowledge project isn’t just about what we know, but about what we should know. As is getting useable results that can influence our strategies.” As such it is important that knowledge gained and lessons learnt be shared to inform and improve future investments.

Roberts concluded by encouraging delegates to deepen and expand existing initiatives towards strengthening state provision, and to remember that education change takes decades.

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