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Finding our own answers:  The role of Community in School Governance 

A “Lekgotla” in South Africa refers to a meeting of leaders in Sesotho or a get-together. It is based on the traditional concept of elders gathering to deliberate on issues. 

The idea of Trevor Noah Foundation (TNF) hosting annual Lekgotla’s came about in 2019 after meeting with school leaders and realising they had different ideas about the state of their schools. These Lekgotla’s present an opportunity for the School Management Team (SMT) to speak with the School Governing Body (SGB) in one voice. Lekgotla’s give individuals the resources and space to define their place in the school governance system.  

As a result, at the beginning of each fiscal year, TNF hosts primary and secondary school Lekgotla’s for three communities we have partnered with on our Khulani Schools Programme (KSP) namely, Ivory Park, Eldorado Park and Braamfischerville. Lekgotla’s are aimed towards capacity building and planning for SGB’s and SMT’s to kickstart the year.  

During these workshops, Gauteng Department of Education officials, educators, our project partners, and SGBs chart the course of basic education and share ideas on implementing deliberate programmes and interventions for quality learning and teaching.  

This year, our Lekgotla’s had a slightly different approach; instead of focusing solely on the governance aspect of the school, we tried to incorporate more tangible community development tools, linking to our overall goal at TNF to develop the communities in which we work. TNF set its own new record history of eight workshops in three communities in just four weeks! Approximately 150 individuals were in attendance.   

An essential element of the workshops was to define TNF’s Community Liaison Officers’ (CLOs) roles in the respective school communities and how CLOs can support the schools and communities.  

The KSP Secondary schools were also introduced to sustainability planning as they initiated their journey to self-reliance and fundraising ideas to supplement their budgets.  

“We should not undermine what we are doing with these Lekgotla’s” – Ms Daniels said, “I have never had an experience whereby we are all in one room with the SGB present, getting the support we need. People usually come into our schools for reports, not offering any form of support or helping hand. This has never happened to us. All principals and SGB members from all schools are in one room?! For me, this is history in the making”. 

Lekgotla learnings 

When the Lekgotla started, all schools were asked to develop a set of expectations and to map out what they expected from the workshops. A recurring theme in all these expectations was a clearer understanding of the roles and responsibilities of SGBs.  

Because TNF partners with quintile one to three schools, most of their funding comes from the Gauteng Department of Basic Education, with the biggest fund depletion line item being Learning and Teaching Support Material (LTSM) and school maintenance. Infrastructure in the schools remain a challenge with dilapidating and extremely outdated facilities, impacting teaching and learning within the schools. Infrastructure remains the most significant fundraising driving point across the schools.  

Schools noted that they need assistance with Governance and overall organisational culture, which will make for a better functioning school. Increasing interschool and intercommunity engagements will increase impact and reach. 

Schools further highlighted the importance of asset management i knowledge transfer and information, sourcing or getting help local businesses in their immediate surroundings; sharing of good practices among schools; and the importance of sustainability (and technology) which will assist schools in journeying themselves to self-reliance.  

Another major learning was the role of cross-community engagement. Each community shared lessons and provided possible resolutions to other communities’ challenges.

“My biggest takeaway was seeing how schools have solutions within themselves. It’s easy to negate the impact of social and human assets, but hearing how schools have reached within their network is pretty inspiring” – Elekeana Nyirenda, Junior Programme Analyst. 

Joining hands from within – The Eldorado Park experience

According to Statistics SA, in Eldorado Park, only 40% of residents are employed, and poverty is rife. Only 31.2% of households have access to the internet, making the search for jobs even more difficult. 36.5% of community members have completed matric or higher, lessening their chances of employment. The Eldorado Park community was also identified as a hot spot for drugs and substance abuse in South Africa. With all these challenges, where do young people go to find employment opportunities?  

Eldorado Park, commonly known as “Eldos”, is part of Soweto, although people often refer to it as outside Soweto. The community is predominantly known for its social ills, which are highlighted by obstinate gangsterism, drugs and unemployment. If you run a quick Google search on Eldo’s, keywords such as “gangs”, “drugs”, and “unemployment” pop up. Despite these challenges, the Eldo’s community remains committed to actively addressing the challenges and seeking solutions and opportunities for the youth. TNF has committed to partnering with schools within the community because we try to instil hope, as we believe education is the seed from which everything grows. 

“In Eldo’s, the high crime rates are caused by youth unemployment. The culture is that you have ‘made it’ in life if you have matric. Learners do not strive beyond attaining matric even though they have the potential” – Amanda Tlotlisang Mokoena, TNF Community Liaison Officer, Eldorado Park.  

Coming into the Lekgotla’s, primary school SGB and SMT members drew their Tree of Expectations, and surprising enough, none of their expectations were monetary. All they needed was support and guidance to navigate through their challenges and hold hands from within the community.

“We didn’t expect a lot in terms of monetary support from Trevor Noah Foundation. Despite the negatives that cloud our community, we still work incredibly hard to make a difference. All we need is motivation and support,” said one of the SGB members present. 

Following the Lekgotla’s, most schools implemented the fundraising plans proposed during the sustainability workshop. Mr Banks approached our CLO to pitch a fundraising campaign called “Operation Ukhukhanya” ‘Ukukhanya’ meaning “light or brightness” in IsiXhosa/siZulu. Operation Ukukhanya is a joint fundraising initiative by all the schools who were present at the Lekgotla’s to raise funds to address some of the school’s needs.  

Schools constructed from asbestos, debilitated building structures, no feeding scheme etc, all joined hands to launch Operation Ukukhanya. They wrote and appealed to different businesses in their community for support. Businesses came back to say they would like to be involved. The Eldo’s community came on board and Operation Ukukhanya was successfully launched. The committee is currently raising funds to run a kitchen in one of the schools for their feeding scheme.  

Very often, we sit and wait for things to come our way. We get demotivated.  One thing Trevor Noah Foundation has taught us is that you will not get the help you require unless you get up and do something. So, I did some introspection and thought to do something, despite the non-cooperative parties, we joined hands with those who wanted to come on board and make a difference. There was a wonderful outcome and response, and with that, Operation Ukukhanya was born” Mr Banks – Kliptown Primary School Principal 

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