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UJ: Documentary filmmaker, Molly Blank, on how to fix SA’s schools

The majority of South African (SA) learners are underperforming, despite policies, projects and programmes aimed at increasing success rates. Underperforming teachers and challenging socio-economic circumstances are some of the factors hampering quality education.

In the face of these challenges there are success stories. The question: What are these schools doing right?, needs to be investigated to answer our looming national basic education crisis, according to researcher and filmmaker, Molly Blank.

Ms Blank has worked with Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State, on a practical, hands-on guide for teachers, parents, policy makers and the general public on solving the crisis in South Africa’s schools, entitled How to fix South Africa’s schools – Lessons from schools that work.​


Ms Blank inspired the audience at the book discussion, hosted by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on Tuesday, 16 September 2014. The audience which included teachers, academia and students was enlightened by her stories of hope, as she highlighted practical examples from SA schools that work, in spite of adverse conditions.

Says Ms Blank: “It all about passion – passion for education, passion for learner success, passion for nurturing human beings, and passion for changing the face of South Africa’s school education by making a positive difference. As one school principal said, it is about passion for teaching students to be and live their dreams.”

19 successful schools around SA were identified and Blank travelled across the country, recording the schools and talking to principals, teachers and students. Mpumelela secondary school in KwaZulu Natal is testament to the passion she eluded to. “In 2009, with limited educational resources, few class rooms, dilapidated school furniture and no electricity,Mpumelela managed to achieve a 100% pass rate. Key to Mpumelela’s success is how learners met expectations, and the impact of teachers, especially with regards to taking confidence in learners’ abilities.” said Ms Blank.

She stressed that Mpumelela secondary school, do not accept 35% as an individual pass. “The school realises that of the 20% of high school graduates who qualify for university, almost 50% drop out because of a poor foundation and an inability to bridge from secondary to tertiary education,” she said.

In one of the inserts in her documentary, shown at the discussion, Sindhu Mathews, a Physical Sciences teacher at Sol Plaatje Secondary School in the North West commented on teacher motivation. Mathews said: ““Our principal is passionate about instilling a group spirit in the teachers of our school. It requires team effort and group consultation, were the opinions of individuals are respected. As a teacher it makes me feel good that my views are taken into account and my opinions are valued. Once you feel that you are important, that you are key in decision-making, and significant in the success of a school it makes you as an educator proud.”

Ms Blank’s talk was hosted by the University’s Education Leadership Institute and the Department of Education Leadership and Management, in partnership with the UJ Library.

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