Qualification or Education – what makes for success?


There approximately 7000 Secondary Schools in SA, ranging from the very best to the very worst. As the Joint Education Trust tells us; 5% are ‘World Class’, 15% are functional as places of learning, and 80% are dysfunctional as places of learning.

This year my 13 year old daugher started at a school amongst the 5%, I am very fortunate.

But in the work I have done in 150 under-priviledged schools that are part of the 80% I have come across many that achieve outstanding results, comparable with those of the 5%.

How come?

David Arguile, Headmaster of St.Anne’s explains ‘how’ as he provides some mindful and relevant insights into the purpose of every secondary educational institution. Steuart Pennington

David Arguile, “On a day like this I am mindful of the broader educational picture in our country. I don’t have to remind you that the sad reality experienced by the majority of pupils in this country is far removed from the positive atmosphere so evident here today. I consider myself extremely privileged to be the Head of St Anne’s, a College that I consider to be a very successful institution.

But what do I mean by successful?

Am I basing this claim on our recent matric results? If so, am I referring to our 100% pass rate, to every one of the 77 girls qualifying to study for a degree, to the 12 girls who obtained straight A’s?

Am I referring to those on the other end of the spectrum who obtained far higher marks than they dreamed of when they commenced Form 2?

Parents, you have decided that St Anne’s should be your daughter’s high school. By implication, you should therefore consider this school to be a successful one. What does successful mean to you?

James Henan of the Harvard Graduate School of Education is reported to have challenged a group of principals at a conference with the question, “How do you know when your school is successful?”

What would your answer be?

Henan listened to a number of answers that referred to various specific achievements before he responded with the following:

“These achievements are important but you should be asking yourselves whether your students are going to be happy and productive citizens at age 25, 45 and 65. What kinds of adults will they be? Will they be respectful and honest, and will they work to make the world a better place? These are the qualities we should be valuing and pursuing in our schools. And those are the measures of your school’s effectiveness.”

Thomas R Hoerr, states that reading, writing and computing should form the floor, not the ceiling, of students’ education. Sticking to this image, I believe that matric results at schools such as St Anne’s have more to do with floors than with ceilings. However, the reaction of many good schools and of the press, in general, to the recently released matric results, appears to suggest otherwise.

The skills required for success in school are not necessarily those required for success out of it. Matric results are not an accurate predictor of success at university beyond 1st year level, and certainly not a guarantee of success during adulthood.

Consider the concept of financial success. Research by the Carnegie Institute of Technology showed that 85% of financial success is due to skills in “human engineering”, your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate and lead.

Only 15% is due to technical knowledge.

This serves to reinforce St Anne’s emphasis on holistic education, on the College attaching great importance to qualities not assessed in tests or exams and on qualities specified in ‘Mission’.

Thomas Hoerr refers to these qualities as success skills – skills that will promote success in every arena of life. He goes on to identify what he considers to be the five most important of these and refers to them as the five formative skills. They certainly resonate with me and are the following:

Empathy, Self-control, Integrity, Embracing diversity and Grit.

Encouragingly, he asserts that all these skills are teachable, unlike traditional IQ which is stubbornly resistant to improvement after the age of 8.

Our College’s extensive co-curricular programme that includes sport, music, drama, social responsibility projects, etc., play a crucial role in developing these skills. We have innumerable alumni who are making our world a better place, adding weight to the assertion that St Anne’s is a successful school.

Young ladies, if you want to join their ranks, if you are intent on gaining maximum value from your five year association with this College, you need to diligently tackle your academic commitments but, perhaps more importantly, you must also immerse yourself in our co-curricular programme.

Someone once said, “When I was growing up, plastic surgery was a bit of a taboo subject but these days if you mention botox, nobody raises an eyebrow.” We live in a world where change is one of few certainties.

Parents, the education that your daughters will receive at St Anne’s is very different to the one that you received. It will be a journey characterised by change and will be full of uncertainty.

Your daughter’s journey is bound to be littered with challenges. While St Anne’s is certainly not a perfect school, you can take comfort in the fact that it is well equipped to assist your daughter in dealing with these challenges.

Parents, thank you for choosing St Anne’s. The next few days and weeks may be challenging for your daughter. They may be more challenging for you. You may have to dig deep – you may experience an interesting test of your own grit and self-control.

Your daughter at least has the advantage of having the extensive St Anne’s care network at her disposal.

Steuart Pennington, “I am often reminded of the difference between an education and a qualification and in to-day’s world that holds truer than ever. The manner in which many countries, post-World War 2, have managed to transform their economies, their living standards and their prosperity has been because of a single-minded focus on a ‘relevant’ education.

In our changing world routine jobs are in decline; single, stable careers are in decline; the job market is shifting with robotics and artificial intelligence; on-the-job training is shrinking; self-employment is spreading; and people are taking responsibility for their own skills development.

The requirements of ‘career’ education are changing from school → varsity →job to… life-long learning.

As the Economist reminds (Jan 14) “Life-long learning starts at school, education should not be narrowly vocational, the curriculum needs to teach children how to study and think – metacognition – so that they can learn new skills later in life”.

Successful schools strive to get that right, no matter what their circumstances.