CEI SA Launch: Time to re-imagine education in South Africa

July 01, 2013François Bonnici

François Bonnici is Director of the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the UCT Graduate School of Business, the South Africa Hub of the Center for Education Innovations. 

At the launch of CEI’s South Africa Hub at Africa Education Week last Thursday, collaboration was, hardly surprisingly, in the spotlight. As many voices at the event were expressing concern over the crisis in the education sector in South Africa and asking who was to blame, CEI was preaching its message of collaboration.

We believe that taking a step beyond pointing fingers towards greater collaboration – across all sectors – is vital if the admittedly huge task we face is to be successfully met.

Collaboration is a word that is thrown around a lot. Many talk about it but few manage to do it successfully and meaningfully.

John Gilmour, founder of LEAP Schools and Bridge, which is a partner in CEI’s work in South Africa, outlined why this is the case at Africa Education Week.

According to John, a key part of the problem is the strong influence of strict competition principles and rugged individualism which permeates policy-making and too often makes real collaboration synonymous with weakness. Such thinking is even found within the NGO sector, where we compete for scarce funding – elbowing others out the way – to promote our own brand of social progress. We become arrogant, convinced that we see solutions where others don’t and worse, disregard the solutions of others because we do not have the wisdom or humility to appreciate them. Meantime, the crisis deepens around us.

As funding around the world dries up and economies shrivel under the weight of the financial crisis and slow global recovery, competing for limited resources does not make sense.

We urgently need to find new structures that enable effective collaboration. The old ways have failed us. Taking steps towards real collaboration involves building social capital and trust, understanding the obstacles to collaboration (fear, insecurity, lack of effective structures and so on) and lowering these barriers so that people are freed to work together unconditionally towards a common goal.

It is easier said than done. Fortunately, the world of business provides some pointers. Writing in Harvard Business Review Gary Pisano and Roberto Verganti say “In an era when great ideas can sprout from any corner of the world and IT has dramatically reduced the cost of accessing them, it’s now conventional wisdom that virtually no company should innovate on its own.”

The key point here is that collaboration leads to innovation and innovation is what is needed to get ourselves out of crisis.

There are plenty of examples where collaboration among citizens, civil society, business and government has delivered results that far surpass what could have been achieved from someone or some organization working alone. Wikipedia is perhaps one of the best examples of this. The MIT Media Lab is also renowned for churning out groundbreaking innovations by orchestrating collaboration across disciplines and organizations.  

In the South African education landscape, the Bridge initiative and more recently the Extraordinary Schools Coalition are taking crucial first steps towards greater collaboration.

The Center for Education Innovations (CEI) is hoping to take this further and coalesce these “drops in the ocean” into a current of new energy. This will largely be done by aggregating scattered projects and programs working to better education for the poor onto a single platform, so as to spot synergies and amplify successful models. As Edward Owen Wilson renowned biologist and researcher says: “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.  The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.”

It is much easier not to collaborate than to collaborate. Indeed, there is much to be risked when working alongside with others, but we should abandon the need for comfort and embrace the possibilities of collaborative social innovation.  

In words of Joy Olivier, founder of the highly innovative IkamvaYouth program, one the initial 130 programs profiled on CEI’s online platform: “Collaboration brings real learning and this can be frustrating and uncomfortable but that is where innovation happens. We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.”

If all sectors - public private and society - worked together we could achieve extraordinary things. Rather than just fixing education we have the opportunity to re-imagine it. 

See more Low-Cost Private Schools blogs
Low-Cost Private SchoolsFrancois BonniciSouth Africa HubCEIlaunchInnovationAfrican Education WeekBridgeIkamvaYouthLEAP Science and Maths Schools


I loved reading the intentions. I was not present at the launch and would love to hear more and become part of the initiative. We believe that the Umthombo Wesizwe Cultural Diversity Intelligence - in school Programme - could form part of a greater initiative.

How can I get involved?
Wambui Munge's picture

Hi Mignon, Thanks for your interest in CEI. There are several ways you can get involved, most of which are outlined here: http://www.educationinnovations.org/about However, if you have a specific question or comment, we encourage you to fill in our contact form here: http://www.educationinnovations.org/about/contact and someone from the CEI team will be in touch directly.

Good day, Whilst working on our business to be able to launch it in the very near future, I stumbled upon what you and your company have done and are doing our disadvantaged communities. I was further inspired to pursue our Early Childhood Development initiative. I have read on your site about the Bertha Education Initiatives program and would like to know more about the various educational initiatives and how one can get into contact with the relevant bodies. Are you able to assist in this regard please? We are a new South African startup NPO (non profit organisation) in the process of establishing. We are based in Cape Town. We will operate under "Signature Learning". Also attached are a few pictures of the idea of what the truck would look like. It will be equipped with web-enabled tablets, a large LED screen as well as projector. These will enable for a digital classroom environment as well as a research centre for the children. This project will initially primarily focus on early childhood development, in other words nursery school and pre-school children and growing their very valuable skills to enter the primary school career on par with children from more affluent areas. Furthermore, the project will focus on maths and science skills and interest development so as to nurture and cultivate a heightened interest in these areas before the children reaches high school career stage. The truck/bus will drive into various communities in order to bring the classroom to the children, and will have qualified teachers and facilitators (borne of the community) on board. We have approached a company that will build the truck/bus for us. We have liaised with Leap School for Maths and Science and with Fuel Online to collaborate with them in order to utilise their educational tools, as well as other interested charitable organisations (Pebbles, Brain Boosters...) who have indicated their interest in collaborating with out NPO. I have approached Google For Education as well in connection to possibly utilising their chormebooks and they are interested, and we are meeting this week in order to discuss and forge a relationship. We are meeting with the Department of Education in two weeks time as well in order to be established with them. The cost to acquire the bus and construct it in the way it is required will be approximately R750k - R1m and will include kitting it out with the necessary equipment. The NPO will not charge the parents of the children for the services provided, thus income will be relied upon via corporate sponsorships in the form of money, books, tools, equipment, food, etc. Further to this, we would like to receive income by hiring the vehicle out to tertiary institutions to do their roadshows and student recruitment which they will be able to use the truck to showcase the various programmes they have to offer. Kindly advise as to how we are able to work together in order to make this service a reality for our disadvantaged communities. Would your organisation be able to assist with networking that could be used for this cause? If you have any suggestions as to possible synergies we are able to forge then kindly do advise us. We would like to pilot this initiative and project in South Africa, with our vision to take it into Africa. This initiative will primarily focus on early childhood development targeting children aged 2 - 5 years of age, and to instill maths, science and technology skills at this very early stage. Would be awesome if we can collaborate and partner with your organisation to achieve this vision and encourage and equip the children with education. Knowledge is Power! I trust this finds you well. Looking forward to your favourable response herein. Kind Regards, Lauren Julius 0767702127 Skype: lauren.davidse

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