Take your partners

16th September 2005 at 01:00
Alan Mills of the Specialist Schools Trust looks at how schools in South Africa and the UKcan create and maintain effective links and partnerships.

The Khanya Project in Cape Town, South Africa is an innovative scheme providing technology facilities to well over 300 schools in the Western Cape. So far, these resources have taken the form of ICT labs, fully equipped with air-conditioning and the latest networked computers with high-speed connections. When I visited the project in 2003, the contrast between schools that were devastatingly poor, with classes of up to 70 learners, and the pristine labs was stark. But South Africa is a land of contrasts. Khanya offers the chance to enter the "global classroom" through the provision of ICT to match anything found in the UK.

The Specialist Schools Trust (SST) has formed a strong link with Khanya and supports the forging of partnerships between our schools and theirs - as a facilitator. The link is between schools and they decide the nature of the relationship. In any professional working environment, it is the relationships between people that will be the catalyst for success. Finding people to trust and a structure to work in are crucial. Our value is that we offer a structure to belong to, and we help make the links work.

Our first conference, in September 2003, was the launchpad for partnerships - 21 UK principals met their South African counterparts to discuss and develop curriculum-based projects to bring leaders, educators and learners together. That immensely successful event changed many lives. UK delegates began to understand the issues confronting South African schools and how they could learn from the solutions they had discovered. Without ICT, the regular demonstration of partnerships would have been impossible. A second conference, in Cape Town in July 2005, was equally successful.

All the partnerships managed the sharing of data and information exchange through email. As this developed, the disparity of resources between the two education systems led to equipment and other donations being sent from the UK students. With the opportunity to share photos of students and their environment electronically, the UK schools realised they needed to help their South African partners with the donation of digital cameras. This was not charity - it provided equity to allow for real curriculum sharing, and UK schools relish the chance to bring Africa into their students' world.

Our schools learnt so much about how to manage resources. These are finite everywhere, but especially so in South Africa, where limited ICT meant skills had to be learnt which maximised its use. Khanya has developed an amazing method of training educators to use computers in their lessons. Many of them will only start to use the computer at the same time as the learner, but a Khanya facilitator is there to assist both in that process.

As more and more schools look to advance and enrich their curriculum through the development of international partnerships, the infrastructure to support these initiatives becomes more important.

Achieving an early success is often highlighted as a key aspect of promoting the partnership both internally and externally. Simply "playing" at partnerships is a recipe for failure - these relationships are long-term commitments that require planning and evaluation as well as a considerable amount of patience. You can't just drop out. Progression, needs to be an integral part of the plan. Both sides need to be involved in the process and must be happy with the route chosen. Evaluation is another clear requirement, and it needs to be honest.

As well as regular communication with your partner school, you will also need to talk about the value of the relationship to your own school continuously. The disparity of resources can make UK schools feel that they are always giving. This must be resisted. The time and energy committed by African schools, where teachers have little free time and enormous class sizes to manage, is immense.

In one of the schools I visited I met some learners who had started using computers only a week before. I asked these 12-year-olds what they liked best about using them. They were looking at email from an English school. They loved the brand new room, its air-conditioning and its shiny machines but the comment I treasure is from one of the boys. He told me that he did not expect ever to be travelling far from where he lived but he knew about the world and the people who lived out there because of these new additions to his school: "They're bringing us all together."

Alan Mills is head of affiliation network with the Specialist Schools Trust.

Key points

* Don't bite off more than you can chew: a project that succeeds, however small, will do more for the partnership than a dream that turns into a nightmare.

* Choose your subject areas well: does the project add value to the work of the curriculum area?

* Let the whole school share the benefits (and the problems).

* Look at what you did and constantly check that what you are doing now is a benefit - stop the project if it is not working but don't throw away the partnership.

* You would never let a friend down - would you? Get to know someone at the other end really well.

* Use organisations on both sides to help. ICT is only good enough if both partners have access.


* Blogging www.blogger.comstart

* Free voice communication www.skype.com

* Messaging http:messenger.msn.com

* Free internet resources


* Internet literacy resources


* Teachers' International Professional Development http:info.specialistschools.org.uktipd

* Specialist Schools Trust www.specialistschools.org.uk

* iNet www.sst-inet.net

* Khanya www.khanya.co.za

* British Council GlobalGateway http:globalgateway.org.uk

* ePals network www.etwinning.netwwenpubetwinningindex.htm

* BBC World Class www.bbc.co.ukworldclass

africa * LINK Community Development www.lcd.org.ukuklsp

* Gemini + http:zygzag.ultralab.anglia.ac.ukgeminipages

* DfID Global Schools Partnership www.britishcouncil.orgglobalschools

* Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council www.cyec.org.ukexchanges.asp

* Alan Mills alanm@specialistschools.org.uk

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