Improving Education in the Southern Cape

Guy Harris

Call for business leaders

“It takes a village to raise a child.” This is African proverb proves to be particularly true for a Cape based NGO, Symphonia for South Africa.

One of the most significant issues facing our future is education. The World Economic Forum’s 2011-2012 Global Competitiveness Report rates South Africa as 131st out of 142 countries for basic education and health. It is rated as 127th out of 142 countries for the quality of primary education. There are only seven countries in the world with education outcomes worse than ours.

When the Dinokeng Scenarios were published in 2009, they presented three possibilities for South Africa’s future: walk apart, walk behind, or walk together.  The scenario team, which comprised 35 of the country’s top leaders, believed it was unlikely South Africans would be able to realise the “walk together” scenario because it was just not in their nature to collaborate across sectors.

The scenario imagines the possibility of business, government and civil society co-operating to create a South Africa that works for all. It seems so obvious: if we work together we will have a much better chance of being able to deal with the significant challenges facing the country. However, this is often easier said than done.

Depending on who you speak to, we have between 19 000 and 25 000 failing schools. There are about 14-million children in the South African school system and less than 20% of them are getting the education they need to secure an economically sustainable future for themselves.

In 2010 Symphonia for South Africa established a ground-breaking initiative called School @ the Centre of Community (S@CC), an initiative aimed at creating thriving schools at the centre of the communities they serve. 

The S@CC project facilitates partnerships between schools and businesses, resulting in positive impacts on those directly involved and the community at large.

Headed up by Dr. Louise van Rhyn, the programme incorporates a very simple idea of partnering business leaders with school principals called “Partner for Possibility” (PfP).

By giving 10 days a year to a local school – less than a day a month –a business leader provides the principal with fresh leadership insights to transform a school and hence an entire community. In return, the leader gets to sharpen their axe by getting hands-on leadership experience in a different environment to their day-to-day.

To date 79 business leaders and principals across the country are involved in the PfP programme.

Guy Harris, the Southern Cape Convenor said “this is a great opportunity to leverage a successful programme locally and help ensure we have better school leavers who are more employable and more vibrant consumers. It is up to us to seize this opportunity. What really attracted me to this initiative, besides the education crisis, is how there can be co-learning for the business involved and at the same time getting the necessary BBBEE SED points and S18A tax deduction”.

“As a ‘school manager’ I was expecting to receive the magic silver bullet ‘to do list’ that were going to get our apathetic, distant community involved. Well, I did receive a ‘to do list’ but of a different kind than one you’d find in a manger’s text book. The ‘to do list’ starts with me: How I am going to be different, more effective, and less self-sure of myself. Paradoxically, the outcome will be what we can achieve together, not necessarily what I want for the community, the process was the start of the ‘to do list. How liberating!” said one of the principals who are involved in the PfP programme, Tony Marshall.

“Through the PfP Programme, I have come to truly appreciate what the education crisis and its context actually means to the community, learners and educators of township schools. I have been tormented at times by the immense challenges but mostly touched and inspired by the many individuals who tirelessly commit themselves to making a difference. I am also seizing every opportunity to create awareness within my own community on the need for the involvement of every South African in building the education system for the future of our country,” said Chantal Du Chenne, Executive Head of Vodacom Group: Wellness, Partner for Possibility to Mike Thobejani, Principal of Iphuteng Primary School.

If you are a principal or a business leader who is keen to know more about the School @ the Centre of Community Programme, you are welcome to attend one of the Southern Cape Information Sessions facilitated by Louise van Rhyn in George, Knysna, or Mossel Bay on the 29th of October: 

Mossel Bay:
Time:                    09h30 – 11h30 (Registration at 09h30, the session will commence at 10h00)
Venue:                 Garden Court Hotel, 1 Pinnacle Point Rd, Mossel Bay 

Time:                    12h30 – 14h30 (Registration at 12h30, the session will commence at 13h00)
Venue:                 Owl & Eagle Room, Fancourt Hotel and Country Club, Montague Drive, Blanco, George 

Time:                   15h30 – 17h30 (Registration at 15h30, the session will commence at 16h00)
Venue:                 Sunday School Hall, St Georges Church, Knysna

If you would like to attend any of these sessions, please confirm with Melissa at  or on 021 913 3507. If you want to talk with someone locally contact Guy Harris on 0448700727, 0825598755 or email him at

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