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Partnerships help bridge apartheid gulf;Public-private partnerships;Briefing;International

SOUTH AFRICA

When the working day is done, scores of maths and science teachers from around Richard's Bay, a small town with a big port on South Africa's east coast, head off to another classroom. This time they are the learners.

At a science and maths centre run by Natal University, the teachers, who work in schools attended by black children, upgrade their skills and learn new experiments.

They are able to borrow teaching kits to use at their ill-equipped schools, and some are on part-time education diploma and degree courses.

The Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Education is largely funded by companies committed to improving South Africa's schools. Its work involves academics, business people and education authorities. The project epitomises the business-education partnerships blossoming around the country.

For many years big business, unwilling to work with the apartheid regime, ran education programmes for local communities or for employees and their families.

But this changed radically after the transition to democracy in 1994. South Africa's public and private sectors began working together with the aim of improving a system riddled with apartheid inequities, and maximising the use of hopelessly scarce resources.

The largest catalyst for partnerships is the National Business Initiative, which is funded by the private sector. In education it is helping to develop policy, to form public-private partnerships in 250 schools in three provinces, and to support major further education projects with national and provincial governments involving all the country's 152 technical colleges.

"Our approach is for the state to set the priorities and for business to add value using its considerable resources and expertise," says Dr Glen Fisher, director of further educational and training.

So, for example, companies provide equipment to schools and conduct staff training programmes in those identified as being in great need.

"The key point," says Dr Fisher, "is that companies are not doing things with schools ad hoc, but working with the authorities on priorities and plans."

Unusually, business has been involved in developing national further education policy.

The initiative has also conducted studies into restructuring the college sectors of two provinces, and has drawn up proposals for a pound;12 million privately-funded programme involving business, the government and colleges in efforts to transform the country's college sector.

The Institute for Partnerships between Education and Business in Durban is holding an international "partnership summit" in the city later this month, where case studies of successful education partnerships will be presented.

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