Maverick Citizen


Educators stress the need for a ‘culture of care’ at schools

Educators stress the need for a ‘culture of care’ at schools
The Zero Drop Out campaign discussed how to create a culture of care in schools to mitigate against learner dropout rates. (Photo: / Wikipedia)

School culture is about the interpersonal relationships between teachers, learners and parents and what core views are held about learning in order to create shared values, an online audience is told.

‘We learn from people we like,” Merle Mansfield, the director of the Zero Dropout Campaign, told a Twitter audience on Wednesday evening, adding that learners need to feel seen, valued and part of a community. 

School culture is about the interpersonal relationships between teachers, learners and parents and what core views are held about learning in order to create shared values, explained Mansfield.   

She told the audience she had gone to school on the Cape Flats, which she said is a gang and drug-ridden area, where violence spilt into her school — she saw a teacher being stabbed for trying to ensure learners got an education.  

But, despite the violence, Mansfield said there was a culture of care that allowed learners to continue schooling. She gave the example of “my teacher driving me to university to access and submit application forms”.  

On her experience of being a social worker, she said that with learners who needed state support and intervention because of harmful family environments, it was often individual teachers that had played an important role in ensuring that they could continue schooling. 

Nolithando Mqoma, a primary school teacher, told the audience there were practical ways for educators to create and maintain a culture of care such as having a “classroom analysis” where teachers take it upon themselves to know what kind of learners they are dealing with in terms of understanding their different backgrounds and communities. 

Mqoma said learners needed outside affirmation and it was important that they got the necessary support from teachers and schools. 

Speaking as a high school teacher, Ntokozo Sibiya underscored that showing that you care about each and every learner is part of creating a culture of care inside and outside the classroom.  

“They can only feel comfortable to open up to you if they trust you,” said Sibiya. As an example of gaining trust, he said that during breaks, he often walked around the school and was ready to help. 

Schools that see greater learner engagement and community buy-in are able to produce better learning outcomes, said Sibongile Khumalo, the executive director of The Education Trust.  

Khumalo said that a good school culture included frequent and consistent communication with not only the parents but also the broader community.  

Khumalo said in her experience it was often the schools with clean grounds, vegetable gardens, sports grounds and an ethos of developing young people holistically that had a culture of care, and this culture was usually driven by school leadership, like the principal, enhancing a culture of excellence. 

She said it was important to note that if learners lived in an environment of abuse and stress it affected their ability to learn. 

According to a report released by Statistics South Africa on 29 June, there was an increase in the percentage of children that were out of school in 2020 as a result mainly of school closures attributed to Covid-19.

In 2021, close to 3% of 15-year-olds and nearly 9% of 17-year-olds dropped out of school, and 29.3% of learners aged 18 years and 46.3% of 19-year-olds dropped out of school. 

Different genders also reported differing reasons for non-attendance, with female learners saying they had family obligations and males reporting a lack of interest in education.  

The report also revealed an overall decline in the percentage of children under the age of four who attended Grade R and pre-school — from 36.8% in 2019 to 28.5% in 2021. This was prevalent in disadvantaged areas.   

The Zero Dropout Campaign works to ensure that learners are retained in schools by understanding the factors that push learners to drop out of the schooling system. DM/MC


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