An exchange scheme for lecturers is raising awareness both here and in South Africa. James Sturke reports
This summer, 24 South African teachers arrived in Britain for a three-month stay. They were participating in the fourth year of the pioneering Tirisano Fellowship project. It is part of an exchange programme to improve further education links and understanding between the two countries. Earlier , 24 college lecturers from Britain flew out to South Africa.
The scheme - Tirisano means "working together" in Setswana - started in 2000 so that some of South Africa's most talented FE lecturers could boost their leadership skills.
South Africa is midway through a major college reorganisation programme, with 152 colleges merging into 50.
With a pound;750,000 fund raised by South African businesses, about 75 fellows have travelled to Britain for three months in a link-up with 35 colleges. Each British college appointed a mentor who spent a week in South Africa meeting new fellows and visiting their colleges.
This year is the final year of the scheme. Julia Smith, senior adviser of vocational partnerships at the British Council, told FE Focus that it was looking at ways to run similar schemes with other African countries such as Mozambique, Botswana and Nigeria.
Below, three lecturers who took part in the scheme last year explain how it changed their lives.
THE MENTOR FROM BRITAIN
MENTOR Mike Holliday, 45, director of curriculum and quality assurance at Henley College, Coventry, has been to the run-down parts of Cairo and Rio de Janeiro but found the poverty of South Africa worse.
"It is tin shacks on tin shacks on tin shacks," he says. "Sometimes there were stand pipes. Sometimes not.
"But there is a real drive to improve things. When I saw their enthusiasm, it was amazing.
"We spent the week visiting colleges in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Soweto.
Beforehand, I thought Soweto was a bad place to be. But there were people working and a lot of development. There was even a millionaires' row.
"Sometimes it was surreal. The students had to pass through metal detectors entering colleges. Beside them were signs with a gun in the middle of a crossed-through red circle.
"Some colleges had good computers and some had none. Basically, the former white colleges were well resourced and the black ones weren't.
"The curriculum seemed to be engineering for blokes and secretarial for girls and little else. Now they are making it more practical. Courses such as clothes design are emerging.
"My visiting fellow was Esna Barnard, a 27-year-old mother of three, who came from a small town on the west coast. Coventry was 10 times larger than what she was used to. But within a week she became an active member of the team and began teaching classes.
"We had our Ofsted inspection that term and she became an essential part of the squad preparing for it. It was an opportunity to see how another education system works. We are revising our college procedures as a result of what we learned - for example, the structure of our meetings. We hadn't realised we were having so many meetings until Esna pointed it out.
"I learned a lot. It gave me a true picture of what life was like in South Africa and what it is doing to move forward.
"I am proud to have been a part of Tirisano. Hopefully, in 10 years' time, I will look at what has happened there and say 'I did a little bit of that'."
THE MARKETING LECTURER
DEON Steyn, 37, travelled to New College, Nottingham, from Sedideng College in rural Gauteng.
"As a white male in South Africa, my college rector told me I didn't have a chance of getting selected," he says. "So, of course, I applied and became the first white fellow.
"I had never been outside South Africa before and had little idea what to expect. Everyone said the British were rude.
"I arrived at Heathrow. The immigration hall was boiling and there were enormous queues at passport control. I felt nothing was different from home.
"In Nottingham, my landlady lived in a street with nine pubs. I fitted in but never got used to the fact they closed just as I was getting into my stride. At home the bars close when the last person leaves.
"I was staggered by the college. The buildings were beautiful. At home we had 200 students. New College has 64,000. That was unbelievable. The staff went to impressive lengths with the students. We don't have anything like that.
"I was studying financial resourcing. We do not get any money from the Government. It is raised through fees. In the UK there is an excellent funding mechanism with student financial support services.
"Back home we have started to implement a quality assurance scheme - simple measures to ensure staff do a decent job, such as teacher on teacher assessment.
"At our campus we have two main study areas: business and engineering. The business department embraced the changes. The male-dominated engineering side is not at all interested.
"The mergers have caused confusion and people do not know what is going on.
Nottingham has merged with four colleges and they are on their fourth restructuring in three years. We need one at my college, too.
"The fellowship programme has been a success. Those who have gone to Britain have come back very positive. We know we can make it work because we have seen it. The problem is they expect me to do managerial things without giving me the power or training to do so."
THE BUSINESS LECTURER
JEANAB Morris, 35, senior lecturer in business and IT at Central Johannesburg College for Further Education and Training, went to Hackney Community College in London.
"I was very excited and flattered that my principal had put my name forward. Hundreds applied and only five were selected from Gauteng province. They wanted people who could take on new ideas. I had to show I would implement what I learned.
"South African colleges are going through massive changes. The idea is to share resources. My college previously had 1,600 students. The new one has nearer 10,000. The whole idea behind the fellowship is to learn from college mergers in Britain.
"I was overwhelmed by the size of Hackney Community College, with its 14,000 students. But I felt at home. There's a huge variety of backgrounds in Hackney, just like Johannesburg.
"I was amazed by the level of student support. The teachers all knew the students. We do not really have student support services at home.
"South African students are more formal. We even call each other Mr and Mrs in staff meetings. It's a breath of fresh air to see the British are not so hierarchical.
"But South African students are more motivated. They have to pay 1,600 Rand (pound;120) a term and that makes them work harder.
"In my college, we have begun to implement a student service action plan providing a better library with more computers and a study area. We do not have the resources for a full tutoring system but we are organising a system where students struggling with their subjects can call lecturers out of college hours.
"British colleges can learn a thing or two from us, too. While Hackney had student governors, we have student representatives who are more active.
They even sit on teacher selection panels.
"By being better organised, I've found enough time in my day to start a BA in computer-based education.
"I raised my ambitions. I've got more confidence than before and now I can see myself applying for principal jobs in a few years."