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The ‘School principals as conduits for sustainable livelihoods in agricultural communities in rural South Africa’ research project was officially launched on 22 November at a meeting held at Northdale Primary, Pietermaritzburg

Symphonia for South Africa (SSA), the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and Paardeberg Sustainability Initiative (PSI) Projects will collaborate in a research project that will explore how the leadership development of school principals can contribute to the creation of sustainable livelihoods among learners from agricultural communities in South Africa. This project is one of the first to advance school leadership development as a viable way to improve education through community-based partnerships.

After almost three decades of education reform, secondary school drop-out rates remain high at 40%, and under-performing schools continue to contribute to cyclical poverty among more than 50% of the South African population. Despite the progress made, education that serves the needs of all South African communities, while creating sustainable livelihoods remains elusive. Added to this, the Covid-19 pandemic, with its associated challenges, continues to disadvantage many rural learners.

Kathija Yassim, Associate Professor of Education Leadership and Management, UJ, and Chief Investigator for the project, said:

‘’Post-pandemic efforts to build back education has brought to the fore various considerations for governments, academics and civil society. Chief among these are:

Therefore, this research aims to focus on mind-shift changes from education for university preparation alone, to education that engenders skills development that enables a child to create opportunities for earning a living – even if he or she drops out of school.’’

Professor Yassim is joined by the three co-investigators, Dr Logan Govender of UJ, Dr Bridget Johnson of PSI projects, and Komala Pillay, CEO of Symphonia for South Africa. The project will also integrate the research of three post-graduate students. Funding for the project has been made available by the Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (TESF) Network linked to Bristol University, UK.

Commenting on her expectations of the project, Professor Yassim said: ‘’We hope to co-create a pathway for rethinking education’s purpose and outcome among school and business leaders, while developing a school leadership model that encompasses school leader development, community partnerships and school culture transformation. We will also develop a case study for how to repurpose education, and eventually use this study as a pilot for a longer-term study before going to scale.’’

Symphonia for South Africa, through its flagship programme Partners for Possibility (PfP), will be responsible for maintaining a Leadership circle in the Midlands, KwaZulu-Natal. The circle, which will act as a ‘solutions incubator’, comprises four principals from low-quintile schools in an agriculture-based community, partnered with four business leaders from the same community.

The schools selected to partake in the research are Nyonithwele Secondary, Copewell Primary, Mpophomeni High and Northdale Primary. Together with their business leader partners, the principals of these schools are asked to make sustainable livelihoods a focal point of their partnerships over a 12 month period.

Business Coach, Mentor and PfP facilitator, Penny Shozi, will expertly facilitate the circle.

‘’This research will be the cornerstone in understanding the impact that agriculture has in supporting global developmental goals. Our country and the world is faced with the challenge of food security. As this project is based in schools, which are the centres of our communities, it will play a huge role in meeting the goals set out in the National Development Plan.

This project will also highlight and bring more awareness of the role that schools can play in fighting poverty, and encourage schools to actively support agriculture as a way of building sustainable livelihoods in communities. My hope is that we can create #TheFutureWeWant by duplicating this in other schools,’’ said Shozi.

A component of the project will specifically evaluate the PfP leadership model. The PfP case study seeks to:

PSI Projects is set to support and facilitate the creation of the Leadership Circle, as well as offer workshops to aid school culture transformation and teacher development.

The research project endorses the concept of community engagement for social change, a notion that requires academics to conduct research with, rather than on people, and to perceive them as participants, rather than mere informants or subjects.

‘’This study will build the theory and practice around research methodologies for community engagement in African contexts. As the community engagement progresses, the various interactions may inform an enhancement of current practices,’’ Professor Yassim explained.

The research project is expected to span 12 months, commencing November 2021 and concluding in October 2022.


About Partners for Possibility (PfP)

PfP pairs principals with business leaders in a 12-month collaborative and practical leadership journey. Through these partnerships, principals gain the skills needed to confidently engage and lead relevant stakeholders in order to address the challenges in their respective schools. The programme features the elements of professional coaching, world-class training workshops, practical leadership development exposure in a marginalised South African community and networking opportunities for principals and business leaders.

About University of Johannesburg (UJ)

Vibrant, multicultural and dynamic, UJ shares the pace and energy of cosmopolitan Johannesburg, the city whose name it carries. UJ is a diverse, inclusive, transformational and collegial institution, with a student population of over 50 000, of which more than 3000 are international students from 80 countries. This makes UJ one of the largest contact universities in South Africa (SA) from the 26 public universities that make up the higher education system.

About Paardeberg Sustainability Initiative (PSI) Projects

PSI Projects is an NGO focused on nature conservation in the Western Cape. Its main focus is helping communities with environmental services such as alien vegetation management, wildfire assistance, soil erosion and wood sales.

About Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (TESF)

TESF supports collaborative research to develop understanding of how education systems can act as drivers of sustainable development in India, Rwanda, Somalia/Somaliland and South Africa. Its research addresses the role of education in climate action, decent work and sustainable cities. Addressing inequalities relating to poverty, gender and the status of indigenous knowledge are cross-cutting themes of TESF’s work, as are concerns for foregrounding marginalised voices and decolonising research.

The network is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund through the Economic and Social Research Council Network Plus scheme, and is coordinated out of the University of Bristol, UK.