Focus on Education.


The latest edition of Focus, the journal of the Helen Suzman Foundation, is now available at

Focus 68 is devoted to education, examining Innovation and Overcoming in an educational context. Here is an overview of the articles, and the argument they make.

Too often, we discuss education in South Africa as a series of deficits: an absence of textbooks, or teacher skills, or curriculum coverage. We try to intervene by adding things from the outside, until the gap has been filled up.

This issue of Focus has taken a different approach, finding examples of things which are already happening, of problems which have been overcome, and innovative methods which have been applied in schools and universities in South Africa and elsewhere. Once we know what’s working, we can do more of it. The issue includes personal perspectives, as well as expert opinions, because education should be understood as muchthrough the lived experience of learners and families as through policies and theories.

This Focus also emphasises the Arts, an increasingly neglected weapon in our armoury against both ignorance and exclusion. Rangoato Hlasane (p16), and Lali Dangazele and Lalu Mokuku (p25), describe how the arts are being used to achieve inclusion and provoke debate and critical thinking among disadvantaged learners. Simangele Mabena (p13) picks up the theme of the Arts as a tool of inclusion, and outlines how this could potentially be used in Deaf education. Mabena further challenges the reader to abandon a deficit model when considering the education of the Deaf, and view Deaf learners as a separate, and under-served, cultural and linguistic group. We the readers are challenged to be innovative in our own thinking and categorisation, as well as simply finding innovative solutions to problems defined in the same old way.

Barbara Dale-Jones, in her article on communities of practice as drivers of innovation, (p 50) reminds us that innovation doesn’t just mean designing or importing something new. Innovation can also mean deepening and combining what already works.

Therefore we can define bringing people together, for learning or support or both, as innovation. Said El Namrouti (p43) describes the community support that kept the Islamic University of Gaza alive through extremely difficult years. Graham Dampier (p29), Bongiwe Gambu (p35), Taku Mkencele (p68), and Mathakga Botha (p39) all look at the roles of community and family in providing support to both learners and teachers. They also look at what happens when this support is absent. Dale-Jones and Louise Smit (p46) both describe communities of principals learning from one another, and learning to innovate.

Increasingly important as a source of virtual community and of innovation is ICT. Brewer and Harrison (p60) have used ICT resources to decrease the cost of private schooling. Their research has produced a useful figure: R22 091 per learner as the Cost of Schooling at the lowest level. This minimum figure helps us to expand the debate into where this money comes from for each learner?


O’Hagan (p55) stresses the importance of creating conversations round technology that include all stakeholders. This edition of Focus is a contribution to such a national conversation.


An important part of a new national education conversation is finding realistic measures of our progress. Van der Berg (p6) offers a different measure for success of NSFAS students at our universities. As sometimes happens when we change the measuring-stick, the picture of our progress changes from bleak to rosy.


Education is primarily about numeracy and literacy, critical thinking skills and employability. But it can never be only about these things. El Namrouti and Mkencele remind us that it is also about identity, development and re-construction. It is, in Dampier’s words, about “the continued effort to establish a more equal, transparent and cohesive society.”