Start small to bring big change: How feasible are Communities of Practice in poor functioning schools in KZN? — Cathy Bean


“… getting good teaching for all learners require(s) teachers to be highly committed, thoroughly prepared, continuously developed, properly paid, well networked with each other to maximise their own improvement, so they are able to make effective judgements using all their capabilities and experience.” — Michael Fullan

The Khanyisa Inanda Community Project (KICP) is a programme of the Inanda Seminary, the oldest black independent girls’ boarding schools in the country. Khanyisa’s aim and overall purpose is to work within the surrounding community public schools and ‘to improve access and equity in education’. Through a number of different interventions, KICP is attempting to ensure that ‘high quality education and professional development is available to disadvantaged students, teachers and leaders in these public schools in Inanda North and community schools in the greater Inanda area.’

One of Khanyisa’s areas of output is to provide ‘increased opportunities for principals and leaders of the public schools to enhance their leadership’. International research has shown that increasing the professional learning and leadership opportunities available to school principals and leaders is the most effective way of affecting positive change in schools. There are various methods of achieving this, but the establishment of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and Communities of Practice (CoPs) for teachers and principals is reported to be the most successful. By bringing together subject teachers, leaders, heads of departments and principals ‑ educators share ideas, teaching and management practices, issues and successes. These PLCs and CoPs are exactly the kind of ‘professional collaboration’ that Michael Fullan talks about when discussing how to bring about change in schools and enable ‘good teaching’.

BRIDGE, an education NGO based in Johannesburg, was founded on the idea of collaboration and sharing practice and knowledge and they have had success in Gauteng and Limpopo in establishing CoPs with selected schools in these provinces. They define a community of practice as “an inclusive group of people, motivated by a shared learning vision, who support and work with each other, finding ways ‑ inside and outside their immediate community ‑ to enquire about their practice and together learn new and better approaches that will enhance all learners’ learning.” Their experience has shown them that for a CoP to be successful, a greater proportion of average to good functioning schools are required as members of the CoP.

Nic Spaull, economist at University of Stellenbosch, painted a grim picture of the state of public education in South Africa at a recent youth policy workshop. He stated that about 96% of the 12 million learners in South Africa attend public schools, and within that sector there are essentially two education systems – one performing well, the other ‘dysfunctional’. Within KZN, and particularly the Pinetown Education District, within which the Khanyisa Inanda Community Project is working, this dichotomy is highlighted clearly. Pinetown is known as a high-functioning education district, with a 78% matric pass rate in 2012 and ranked 36th amongst the country’s education districts. However, the Inanda North area has some of the poorest and most under-performing schools. Khamangwa Secondary School, one of the schools whose pupils attend the Khanyisa Saturday School programme had a 29% pass rate in 2012 and a 36% pass rate in 2015. Another of the schools, New River, had an 8.7% matric pass rate in 2015.

The divided landscape of the South African public education system brings challenges when trying to establish networks and professional partnerships. Within the well-functioning schools in South Africa, efforts at collaboration, collegial co-operation, sharing of information and resources have succeeded due to motivated and dedicated schools leaders. Educators who have embraced the new policies since 1994 and who have been able to embed them within the policies and codes of conduct of their schools have also played a large role. One such example of collaboration is the South African Extraordinary Schools Coalition (SAESC). SAESC is a CoP that is run by BRIDGE and is made up of school leaders and teachers from schools around South Africa that define themselves as ‘impact schools’. Inanda Seminary is an example of one such school. These ‘high Impact, low fee-paying’ schools provide disadvantaged learners across South Africa with access to high-quality education. However, within the secondary ‘dysfunctional’ tier, there is very little ‘collective collaboration’.

Michael Fullan, in his book Professional Capital: Transforming teaching in every school, highlights the difficulties faced in building networks and practices of co-operation in societies and communities which have historically been downtrodden and disempowered. He explains, “where it is difficult to establish cross-school networks or indeed any kind of professionally collaborative behaviour is in countries that have been, within the memory of one or two generations, forms of despotisms or dictatorships, where fear and corruption were (or still are) widespread and habits of suspicion and compliance are deeply ingrained; or in places where there is a deep-seated political culture of top-down control or competitive individualism.”

The effects of the Apartheid years on South Africa’s education system have been devastating and particularly in schools found in historically black townships and the outlying rural areas. As Nic Spaull states, “many of the inequalities in education overlap. School location, poverty and the language of learning and teaching all coincide to produce vast inequalities in public schooling…unequal education becomes a spiralling poverty trap, and matric is an ‘iceberg’.”

Many of the schools within the Inanda North region can be categorised as poor-functioning schools. There is seldom any professional networking or collegial co-operation and most of the educational workshops are dictated and provided by the District Office. The schools are isolated both geographically and professionally. However, at the same time, the experience of the Khanyisa programme has shown that the teachers and principals are desperate for input and mentoring at the coalface – at their schools.

So how do organisations involved in educational change engage with the teachers and the school leadership in the schools when according to Pam Christie, Professor in the School of Education at the University of Cape Town, there is such a “mismatch between the ideal and the actual?”


Khanyisa means to ‘illuminate’ and we believe that by starting small in this way, we will “shine a light” on the “new story in education” which is “learner-focused, community and socially minded, collaborative and challenging”. Potentially such small, local, community successes will ensure a good foundation upon which to build future communities of practice and collaboration. Through localised interventions, teachers and school leaders are introduced to tools and resources with which to facilitate change within each of their own individual schools. It is only once collective responsibility has been taken for improving the learning within their own schools that the teachers and principals can aspire to external professional learning communities.

Cathy Bean is the Community Project Manager of the Khanyisa Inanda Community Project




1.jpgBRIDGE, in partnership with JET and CIE, is currently working on a project that hopes to effect real and long lasting positive change in the education outcomes of 10 public schools in Sekhukhune, Limpopo. BRIDGE has been tasked to work in the area of leadership development and is currently engaging with 10 principals from the region.

One such principal is Mr Mapea. We caught up with the principal in June to talk about what impact the project has had on him and his school. Read on to learn about his experience.









Word from Wagner_ Week 5 & 6-3BRIDGE’s Sibongile Khumalo has been selected as a fellow in President Obama’s Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. She’s been blogging about her experience from Wagner College on Staten Island, New York in a weekly series titled, “Word from Wagner”. In this final instalment, Sibongile describes her last two weeks in New York and reflects on what the fellowship has meant to her. Read on!

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Word from Wagner_ Week 4-4


BRIDGE’s very own Sibongile Khumalo (Head of Operations) has been selected as a fellow in President Obama’s Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. She’s been blogging about her experience from Wagner College on Staten Island, New York in a weekly series titled, “Word from Wagner”. In her fourth post, Sibongile shares everything from celebrating Mandela Day in the U.S. to seeing the legendary band ‘The Roots’ live. Read on to learn more about her adventures!

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Word From Wagner: Week 3


Word from Wagner A

BRIDGE’s Head of Operations, Sibongile Khumalo, has been selected as a fellow in President Obama’s Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. She’s been blogging about her experience from Wagner College on Staten Island, New York in a weekly series titled, “Word from Wagner”. In the third post in the series, Sibongile continues to share her once-in-a-lifteime experience in the midst of trying times in US politics. Read on!

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Word from Wagner_ Week 2-2

BRIDGE’s very own Sibongile Khumalo (Head of Operations) has been selected as a fellow in President Obama’s Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. She’s been blogging about her experience from Wagner College on Staten Island, New York in a weekly series titled, “Word from Wagner”. In this second installment, Sibongile details the thrills of her second week at Wagner. Read on to learn more about her enriching experience!

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Word from Wagner: Week 1


Wagner College on Staten Island (SI), New York City (NYC), is a host institution for President Obama’s Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, the flagship programme of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). The Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) aims to empower young African leaders through academic coursework, leadership training, mentoring, networking, professional opportunities, and support for activities in their communities. From June 17 through July 31, Wagner is hosting 25 competitively selected young Africans who will participate in a six-week academic institute on Civic Leadership, part of the larger group of 1,000 Mandela Washington Fellows being hosted in 40 programs at 37 colleges and universities across the United States this summer.

BRIDGE’s Sibongile Khumalo is one such esteemed fellow. Sibongile joined the BRIDGE team in May 2015 and works as our Head of Operations. She has worked with after school programmes and is passionate about developing others. Beings@Bridge will be following Sibongile’s story as she moves through the fellowship programme in a series titled “Word from Wagner”. Read on to learn about the beginning of her adventure in the Big Apple!

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