[ EdTech'94 Contents ]
[ EdTech Confs ]
Physical facilities for an educational system in transition in South Africa
Education: The instruction of a child (or, by extension, an adult) to fit him for the work of life.
The educational policy set in place by Verwoerd assumed that black citizens would always be, and I quote, "hewers of wood and drawers of water". As a result, South Africa now has an inappropriate educational system (and no certainty yet on a new one). The old policy is now history, and South Africa's educationalists are now engaged in developing new, more appropriate directions, in line with the Reconstruction and Development Plan developed by the ANC. Many of the problems still remain, however, and are not going to disappear conveniently if ignored.
Some of the more pertinent problems have little to do directly with the built environment, but may well affect the architectural approach to specific projects. Problems relate to:
1. Teaching staff
Architects respond by providing flexible, multi-use learning spaces where teachers' aides may assist in team teaching, or (to take a specific example, Science laboratories are laid out in such a way that until Science teachers are available the space will not stand idle but may be used for other subject teaching
- There is a shortage of trained educators where, for instance, many primary school teachers have only 10 years of formal schooling and no tertiary education.
- There are imbalances in supply, with some unemployed teachers willing to teach in schools where there are shortages, but being rejected by those schools.
- And there is a shortage of maths and science teachers, because many of the fully trained teachers have chosen to specialise in the "soft option" subjects of languages and religious instruction.
2. General community problems
Only time and an emphasis on the rewards inherent in education will induce a change in attitude. Older students might, in light of the stated limit of free and compulsory education for the first ten years, move out of schools and into a Matric College situation.
- Some children are not well prepared for school. There are differences of opinion on the reason for this, but there is strong support for the addition of preschool preparation.
The provision of Early Learning Centres is being advocated and these may be introduced at all schools.
- There is a high rate of illiteracy coupled with a lack of training in any skills, so the ability to earn is prejudiced and, unless the opportunity to "learn and earn" is provided, young adults may turn to criminal activities.
The use of educational facilities for adult or continuing education is advocated. Planning for access by the community in general demands a multi-use approach, taking into account such factors as the provision of additional administrative office space and security of the non-accessible sections of the complex.
- There is an impaired "education ethic" in some sectors, with little drive towards acquiring an education; combined with a very broad age range, this can create severe problems.
3. Built facilities
- There is a profound shortage at primary and secondary level of suitable built facilities. In many areas schools have been burned, vandalised or razed to the ground, as an often mindless protest action. Here, both short and long term solutions are needed. Where the facilities exist, they may be inappropriate since norms and standards as well as educational direction, are in a state of flux.
As an interim measure, "platooning" (eg. the use of a school for a morning and an afternoon session) is possible; a second set of admin. offices is then needed.
Another option is the conversion of existing building stock to educational uses; this is happening more in the private sector, where a number of "commercial colleges" are springing up in office buildings.
Before the new educational directions can be translated into bricks and mortar, it will be necessary to establish suitable space planning guidelines, to replace the old SAPSE and SAMEP norms, both over generous and presently unaffordable. Since schools will not necessarily be identical these guidelines will have to be broad in scope and approach and flexible in use.
- There is a lack of maintenance of existing facilities. Paradoxically, the older buildings were built to a higher standard and are often in better condition than newer, low cost buildings. Inherent in this is a further problem; that of responsibility and accountability.
Low cost solutions will have to be found, in order to meet present needs. By implication, these will have to be low maintenance in character - a difficult task. (Also, the culture of rejection of responsibility for maintenance will have to be addressed).
- The cash strapped educational departments are in no position to build all the educational accommodation needed, within the near future, or to modify what exists to meet a new set of standards. Most of the departments are in any event about to be absorbed into a new and comprehensive body and are not able to embark on any widespread action.
Present research into "what exists, what is needed, and how to fill the gap" suggests that simple and pragmatic options exist. Almost certainly these will include compromises, including the continued use of existing premises, albeit with modification and upgrading.
A major factor will continue to be the provision of funding by the private sector, for community motivated schools or for such structures as "community education centres" The concept of such centres is not new, but the facilities and level of education to be provided have undergone radical change. It is essential, therefore, that an appropriate brief for use as a planning base should be developed.
- New, community owned and State subsidised facilities - one of the "quick fix" routes being followed - are not always sustainable. In the short term, this may be because no feasibility studies were prepared.
Feasibility studies such as those carried out for commercial projects are rarely prepared for educational projects - but probably should be, especially where long term sustainability will depend on contributions from the users (as in the case of private schools).
Another reason for poor levels of sustainability may be because of the low income level of the communities involved, but is more likely to be the result of a lack of expertise in the field of management; whatever the reason, if educational facilities are to function successfully an answer to this problem will have to be found.
One school which initially had problems appointed both a school manager and an academic principal, who successfully run the school in tandem. This may not be an ideal solution, but in this particular example it works very well. An option being explored is the provision of business training which may be applied to school management.
Most of these solutions to a greater or lesser degree affect the physical accommodation to be provided.
- The critical need to create employment for people living in the community where the building is erected creates a double agenda and usually adds to the cost of the project and the time taken to build it.
Local skilled or semi skilled workers, as well as unskilled labourers, can be employed on a building site; the cost to the project for training alone is estimated to be 3% of the total, and the architect bears a heavy responsibility in terms of site inspections, site meetings and multiple certification.
The double agenda has to be recognised and the necessary allowances made for it, or both the project and the training program will suffer.
4. Learning environment technology
The architect is responsible for both an in depth understanding of local conditions and problems and, where necessary the ability to communicate and persuade.
- Schools are short of materials and equipment; tertiary institutions, with their relatively high fee scales, have less of a problem. Except where equipment and material have been donated or purchased by parents, there is a limit to how much can be supplied. A further problem is securing whatever equipment is available against theft.
One language laboratory donated to a school and still intact has double walls, a concrete roof and a Chubb safe door protecting the equipment. In a nearby school thieves entered by removing roof sheeting. Architects are forced into defensive thinking in their designs, and the measures to be taken are often not affordable.
- Untrained users present a further problem.
Examples of under utilisation are a donated Science laboratory and a number of "skills training centres", all unused because of the lack of suitably trained staff. (Sadly, thieves have made away with most of the skills training centre equipment).
- Long distances, in rural areas where communication networks are lacking and other services are primitive, can also be a disadvantage. Electrical and telephone networks are often rendered useless by the theft of copper wire and water supply lines may be breached.
Appropriate technology provides some alternatives but initial costs, difficulties in operation and maintenance and the possibility of theft are limiting. There are no easy solutions to this problem!
- There are misperceptions about some alternatives. An example is that of a few rural areas, where schools have been provided with water borne sewerage, dependent on boreholes. This approach is more acceptable to the local communities than the provision of pit latrines - but in a dry season all water must be carried in buckets from a distant stream.
The difficulties referred to above are being overcome in a number of ways. There is not just one solution, but a number of options, related to planning, erection, staffing and maintenance, and affected by outside issues of policy, support and finance.
1. State support
The ANC has published a policy document - their "Reconstruction and Development Plan" - which is in effect a statement of intent on a number of aspects, one of the predominating issues being that of education and training at all levels. New directions in education are being investigated, and new educational authorities formed.
While this does not necessarily guarantee action, it at least provides evidence of a real concern and support for the issues involved.
Inevitably, any revision to the system will, and indeed should, be gradual. (One need only look at the situation in Mocambique, where baby and bath water were thrown out together, to observe the terrible result: a population reduced to illiteracy in a generation). But the setting of attainable targets related to educational processes is essential to the process.
Once these educational targets have been decided it will be possible to provide performance based guidelines for physical facilities to accommodate them. (The SAPSE and SAMEP norms referred to earlier addressed maximum space and cost standards, but came to be regarded as a cast in stone standards rather than an "upper limit").
To assist the State in the process of educational change a number of consultative Fora, democratic in the widest sense of the word, have been set up. Each Forum includes various representatives of provincial education authorities, NGOs, training departments, private sector, teachers, organised business. and organised labour, as well as student, parent, teacher, post school and statutory organisations. These fore, cumbersome though they are, are necessary during the present sensitive times; a "top down" approach is presently unacceptable.
2. Private sector support
The private sector supports a number of educational initiatives. READ (Reading for Education and Development) is one of the many organisations already providing support in the way of teacher training, supply of books, literacy programs and outreach actions.
Institutions for tertiary education, engineers, architects, industrialists, mining houses, builders, banks, electricity supply commissions, churches. and numerous non government organisations (NGOs) all support individual educational programs; many have done so for a number of years.
Universities and others are examining large group teleteaching, team teaching, and a variety of electronic aids, each of which could have some specific slot in the system, even if none are in themselves a cure all, and each of which could have some impact on the brick and mortar spaces which they demand.
3. Existing facilities
A range of facilities exists, from the two roomed farm school to the sophisticated urban university. Each of these will have to be re-examined against specific needs, and modified if necessary.
- There is a shortage of Early Learning Centres or pre-primary education of any kind.
The ANC's Reconstruction and Development Program state that the State will have to accept responsibility for these.
- In rural areas the scattered population dictates the provision of very small primary schools, reluctantly staffed, and virtually no secondary schools.
Improved teaching methods and distance tuition with better communication can improve conditions.
- Urban areas on the periphery of towns - the old "townships" - are densely populated, in addition to which pupils frequently come from rural areas to cities, where they board with relations or friends, to attend urban schools. This produces a different type of problem - overcrowded schools, or very closely spaced ones (sometimes with two next door to each other).
- Within the cities there are areas where, as the result of an aging population, schools are under utilised. Bussing children from overcrowded areas into these schools is frequently discussed but difficult to implement; and ideally the schools should be within walking distance of the pupils' homes.
In each of these cases a rationalised overview, guided by a reliable data base can prompt appropriate action, such as the re-allocation of teaching space function and loading, or the decanting of children from under loaded schools and the conversion of the empty premises to other uses.
- There are sufficient tertiary institutions in the country as a whole, each taking financial strain at present, but these do not fall within all of the new subdivisions of South Africa and there are rumblings about each area "having their own".
Empire building without good reason should be firmly resisted, and educational planning should concentrate on true educational needs.
- Numerous private "cram" schools, business training institutions and skills training centres have sprung up like mushrooms, taking advantage of the widespread needs of the disadvantaged. Not all of these have high standards, and many of them are uncoordinated. (Exceptions are those belonging to the Private Schools Organisation, with perhaps the highest standards of all educational institutions).
Standards should be set for institutions such as these.
4. New directions
Some of the issues under consideration are:
- The Division of Building Technology of the CSIR is working together with other interested bodies and communities and taking a new look at built facilities for education. They are addressing the preparation of new, performance based guidelines which will respond to the changing educational needs mentioned above.
- Surveys are being undertaken to establish "what we have, what is needed, and how to bridge the gap between the two". Each of the educational departments has their own data bank, some more accurate than others. The CSIR is engaged in the re-evaluation of sample urban areas in the Central area, while the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) is tackling rural areas in the North of the country.
4.1 Community participation and ownership
Community participation in and ownership of projects is being introduced to an unprecedented extent. In the Eastern Cape, in an impoverished township, 12 schools which had been vandalised beyond repair (even the foundations of some had been taken away) were replaced with new schools - not built on the old pattern - on unfenced sites, fiercely protected from theft by members of the community. In Orange Farm, South of Johannesburg, a teacher too impatient to wait for the new regime converted chicken sheds on a farm to a creditable and active self help school.
In the same area, the dual management system was developed and the community has discovered an indirect system of lease back or buy back, so that an initial donor's money becomes seed money for school after school.
Each of these projects, in its own way, is contributing to better and more freely available education.
4.2 Converting existing building stock to fill needs
A gold mine which was due to close is converting old mine hostels, in close consultation with the nearby community, into an attractive private school; the low cost buildings make fees more affordable.
A central Johannesburg building is to be converted to provide further education at various levels. Where C grade office space is standing empty and there is a reasonably dense population level, there is an opportunity to convert buildings to educational use. Alternatively, they may provide both educational and residential space.
4.3 Alternative ways of providing essential services
The Division of Building Technology has published a "Red Book", a services guideline manual dealing with all the essential services so often taken for granted. It includes information and guidance on:
4.4 Economies of cost, scale and usage
The possibility of a magic solution in the form of some really low cost alternative building method is always around the corner. Numerous low cost options have already been developed and used, (mainly for walling systems).
But the cost of running a school will commonly overtake its capital cost within a three to four year period. The greatest contribution which can be made is, in effect, a high utilisation of everything in and about the school 12 hours a day and seven days a week, if this is possible.
A private primary school in Pretoria with this high level of usage makes its classrooms available after hours to Ikageng, an NGO which provides continuing education, as well as a new administration block for Ikageng's exclusive use. The school Hall is also hired out to other organisations, including a church organisation on Sundays.
A Pretoria high school has built a comprehensive library/ resource/ computer centre, which it makes available to the general public in the same way and for the same extended hours.
4.5 New types of educational facilities
A global view of all schools in the country might, it seems, show that the concept of "what a school is" may be due for revision. The development of "centres for education" which could supplement, if not supplant, some conventional schools, is being investigated by one of South Africa's larger industrialists.
This breakaway from the compartmented thinking of the past centres activity around high usage, high tech areas - science, library, resources, information, craft and music centres - with playing fields and classrooms for all age levels of students clustered around these functions. One aim of this project is to realise the 12 hours a day concept.
4.6 Design for flexibility and adaptability
It has never been more important for buildings to be designed (or converted) to be flexible in use, adaptable to changes in educational policy and teaching methods, and appropriate to their function related to a wide range of users.
The need for a "loose fit", comfortable approach becomes vividly clear in the conversion of old facilities to new uses; without this approach the users are severely hampered.
Without the necessary research, providers of facilities will find it difficult to respond to an educational system in transition in the "new" South Africa, now more than ever a developing society. They may then find themselves stuck in the same old rut or they may resort to "management by crisis".
CSIR is in the forefront of the much needed investigation, research and development in the many faceted field of the provision of physical facilities for education. We live in "exciting times". Watch this space!
|Please cite as: Nation, S. (1994). Physical facilities for an educational system in transition in South Africa. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 178-182. Canberra: AJET Publications. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/edtech94/mp/nation.html|
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[ ASET Confs ]
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