Will the COVID-19 ‘New Normal’ Result in a ‘New Normal’ in Education?

Global South Africans Newsletter

By Steuart Pennington


Everyone is talking about the COVID-19 ‘New Normal’ and that nothing will ever be the same again. It seems that just about everything we do will change. It’s my sense that education, more than many other spheres of life, will be fundamentally impacted. In this newsletter I review the book “Partners for Possibility – Stories of Impact”. I think it genuinely shows that in education we can make the ‘New Normal’ a better place for our children, for our schools and for our communities. But first some background.

The past 3 months in Education

The most fundamental impact of COVID-19 has been the closure of schools. Simultaneously the Black Lives Matter movement has resulted in the issue of racism re-surfacing, especially in those schools considered to be elite. #yousilentweamplify has been doing the rounds with a number of schools being accused of racist practices; pupil on pupil, teacher on pupil, teacher on teacher. Those commentators who believe that racism has little global context, is confined mostly to South Africa, and is invested in by all whites are having a field day.

The re-opening of schools has likewise re-surfaced the level of inequality and dysfunctionality that persists in our schools. The challenges of transport, social distancing and the ever present threat of COVID-19 exposes this and the DoE’s struggle with planning. Many schools have still not re-opened as positive infections rise. Water is a problem, overcrowding is pervasive, lack of COVID required hygiene standards ubiquitous.

The bigger picture

In the bigger scheme of things COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus a number of additional social ills; the conduct of the military and the police; the corruption of officials in dealing with the distribution of food parcels; gender-based violence; the irrationality of some of the lockdown regulations and legal action in that regard; the direct relationship between alcohol consumption and domestic violence; the loss of jobs and the suffering in particular of the informal sector. Many social commentators trace many of these ills back to education.

On the upside, the manner in which civil society has rallied to assist the less fortunate is unprecedented on a global scale.

Nevertheless, the ‘New Normal’ presents many challenges, many questions!

Is there any light at the end of the COVID tunnel for Education?

In SA we often talk of the triumvirate of inequality, unemployment and poverty. I often wonder what the world would look like if there was universal equality. Would all schools be the same? Would all hospitals be the same? Would all citizens have the same level of social services? Our Constitution confines its definition of equality as ‘Equal before the law’ and ‘protection against unfair discrimination’. No wonder, ‘equality’ has been described as the constant challenge of democratic progress.

In respect of education specifically, our Constitution states the universal right ‘to a basic education, to further education which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible’.

While the Constitution deals with the issue of Access, it is, in my view, unnecessarily silent on the issue of standards, the facilities to be provided at schools, curriculum competence, teacher training, and principal development.

Herein lies the challenge, to-day, 26 years after our first democratic elections, we have an estimated 30,000 schools (23 000 primary and 7 000 secondary). We have more children attending school that ever in our history. We have made commendable progress in respect of access, BUT, according to the Joint Education Trust (JET), 5% of our schools are ranked with the best in the world, 15% meet the required standards of being functional as places of learning, and 80% are dysfunctional, under-resourced and marginalised. (School functionality is defined as meeting appropriate standards in respect of instruction, infrastructure and management)

As we emerge from the shut-down can we conceive of a ‘New Normal’ in Education, an improvement in our schools as functional places of learning?

I believe we can, this incredible book explains how.

PARTNERS for POSSIBILITY – Stories of Impact

Partners for Possibility (PfP) partners business leaders with principals in marginalised schools primarily to improve their leadership capacity and thereby raising the bar in terms of the school’s functionality as a place of learning. The PfP business model is comprehensive; focusing on nation-building, leadership development, cross-sector collaboration and giving ordinary South Africans the opportunity to contribute to more just and equitable society.

As Tom Peters says “it is a must read, full of inspiring success stories about the most important issue facing humanity”.

Nick Taylor, Researcher at JET in his review writes “Into this depressing field Partners for Possibility (PfP) shines a brilliant new light on the concept of leadership, where the idea of ‘mentoring’ replaces the dead hand of monitoring. A simple change in spelling reveals a different world, in which seasoned leaders work with Principals to solve the myriad of every day glitches that hamper the work of teachers. PfP demonstrates to Principals that leadership is much about inspiration as it is about perspiration, and it is this twin approach which assists Principals to lift the work of their schools to new heights.”

21 Chapters

With 21 chapters of inspired reading, a well thought through balance of ‘where is the challenge, what needs to be done, how best to do it, and who’s done it’, this book will truly lift your spirits if you have any interest in education or in making a contribution to South Africa becoming a more just and equitable society.

I can bear witness to that, I have been a ‘partner’ with PfP for the past 18 months, it has been the most rewarding experience of my life.

Steuart Pennington and Silas Munyoro – Asithuthuke School, Zenzane Village, Balgowan, KZN

The book is available through KR Publishing 011 706-6009

ISBN 978-1-86922-846-0

eISBN 978-1-86922-847-7