The school infrastructure we need and why we don’t have them

In South Africa, we do spend an awful amount of money on building schools and we are building them based on the view that the best learning takes place when the teacher stands in front of the class and deliver education to students sitting in neat rows. To be fair, the newer building projects of post-apartheid South Africa are aesthetically more appealing, compared to what we had before. But, while the buildings look different, the structure is still the same – teacher in front, students in neat rows.

This is not the only problem. There are more students than space available to teach them. This is aggravated by migrations between provinces as parents, for obvious reasons, seek greener pastures for their children. Some provinces are perceived to do a better job in providing good education than others.

Also, the complex interchange between the life of the school and the burdens in the community are inhibiting Principals from thinking of the school buildings as multifunctional facilities. High crime levels, for example, deter a Principal from opening the doors of the school to the community. Many well-intentioned development initiatives ignore this reality and show little appreciation for the Principal’s deep concerns.

Lastly, young teachers who exit teacher training colleges with bright innovative new ideas find structural obstacles to their newfound and 21st century pedagogical ideas. They find no sympathy or help in the existing physical structure to implement all the new high-tech, disruptive and blended learning frameworks that excited them in the lecture at college or university. Consequently, they quickly revert back to ‘chalk-and-talk’.

What then are the conditions for future infrastructure planning?

Planning for 21st century infrastructure in South Africa will have impact if:

  1. Infrastructure solutions and its design involve more than just the department of education. Schools exist in broken and pained communities where multiple factors contribute to its fragmentation.
  2. The department of education decentralized the design of the structure to allow forward-looking and creative Principals to influence design decisions. The Principal must cease to underestimate the difference her insight can make and government must aggressively solicit knowledge and skills from Principals.
  3. Curriculum design was modified to connect learning with current needs and realities. This will include students as collaborators for infrastructure solutions. Imagine if school was the place where students’ knowledge and skills are immediately put at use in the design and construction of infrastructure?
  4. Teacher training and development is transformed to strengthen young teachers’ capacity to creatively modify strategies in favour of the best learning.

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