Amandla Development

Equip. Empower. Excel. Educational solutions for South Africa.

Same Song, Different Dance

Posted by amandladev on January 13, 2014

As the flurry of analysis of this year’s matric results pour forth, there’s a temptation to be either entirely positive in praise of learner achievement or entirely negative about government’s failures in education. But, at the end of the day, most people are just trying to understand what the results say about the state of South African education. Unfortunately, they’re not really meant to be used as such a barometer and therefore fail us in that pursuit. The matric results do, however, tell us something very troubling about the state of education. And therein lies our hint as to how to improve things.

Considering that other countries on a similar developmental trajectory like Brazil and Turkey see 67% and 53% respectively of their students finishing secondary school, a matric pass rate of 78.2% would indeed seem like a cause for celebration. The problem is that the 78.2% is of those learners who make it to grade 12. That essentially means that only about 40% of South African students obtain a secondary school qualification. When looking at the poorest schools, the dropout rate is even higher, and the pass rate lower. So even smaller numbers of students of colour and poor students (almost always the same cohort in South Africa) are finishing high school. Keeping in mind that 2/3 of student attainment is a result of out-of-school factors, it stands to reason that the challenges of poverty play a large role in the dropout rate, in addition to the poor quality of instruction in schools.

So what response does this call for? Amandla Development has been working with a collective of actors in the Philippi community to mitigate poverty’s impact on schooling. Any of us who successfully made it through school mostly likely got the medical care we needed, adequate nutrition, had supportive adults in our lives, and so on. But 1 in 4 of Philippi’s youth report being too hungry to concentrate, and over 70% say they’re scared to go to school. It’s no wonder so many drop out. We simply must deal with poverty and cannot consider schools and schooling in isolation, as if they aren’t part of their communities.

Through our collective of over 120 community actors, including government departments, schools, NGOs, and others in the community, Amandla has been facilitating the alignment of work across sectors to make sure Philippi’s young people are fully supported in and out of school. It’s a process in which the community takes charge of diagnosing and meeting the needs of its youth. We can’t impose cookie cutter solutions to communities that are so different and complex. But we can help them create a context in which they’re empowered to support their young people. That’s something any community can do with the right support. Keep watching this space.


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Where There Is No Vision…

Posted by amandladev on June 26, 2013

There’s a saying that “where there is no vision the people perish.” Without knowing what we’re trying to achieve, our strategy is likely to be somewhat aimless. It’s a very easy trap to fall into in non-profit work: You try to solve every problem that comes up without a coherent strategy that helps you focus your energies with an eye on the big picture.

The Philippi Collective began this year by asking what success looks like? Now that we have a picture of success, we’re that much closer to answering how we intend to help Philippi’s young people achieve it.

The group has been sort of working backwards on an equation, starting with what success equals. Interestingly, the conversation has centred on success in Philippi and wanting their youth to aim for improving the community as they pursue individual success. Generally today, people try to get their kids into schools in the suburbs and hope they’ll go on to university there as well. But that is essentially saying success means making it out of Philippi. What about a vision of success that includes pouring back into the community and making it a place where one would want to stay? Bringing local businesses to the table has helped with that part of the vision.

Internalising this vision is crucial. Although education outcomes are different from health outcomes, they’re definitely linked. And if the role players in the community have internalised the child’s well-being as the unit of measurement and can keep an eye on that big picture, we will have created a very powerful process here.

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Individuals Behind the Numbers

Posted by amandladev on April 26, 2013

It’s so easy to get caught up in our individual organisation or sector’s outputs that we forget there are individuals involved whose lives span those sectors. And if we want holistic improvement, it will require impacts that our individual organisations have little control over. For an individual child it’s not ‘health, nutrition, RDP housing,’ it’s about being too sick to study, or too hungry to concentrate, or having a quiet place to study. So how do we do our work in such a way that we look out for all the needs of the young people without losing focus on our individual outputs? After all, no one thinks clinics should double as libraries.

Recently Amandla convened a sort of mini-collective within the Philippi Collective to discuss collective monitoring and evaluation of service access for the youth. So, for example, when a tutoring organisation becomes aware of a safety concern for one of its learners, how does it meet that need effectively since that’s not what it’s set up to do? What will the referral system within our network look like? We came away with quite a few questions and inspiration to create processes wherein the various obstacles to learning are removed. We’re really excited to experiment!

A few of the weightier questions we’re working on are:

-How can we make sure learners get all they need when our individual organisation doesn’t supply a particular service?
-Does this mean that service providers need to be part of the discussion? Or is our goal helping learners navigate the system?
-When the types of learners we currently work with are those who are already more likely to seek out help, how do we shift to the ones most likely to fall through the cracks?

Your thoughts and comments are welcome!

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What is Success?

Posted by amandladev on March 25, 2013

In our recent large group meeting in Philippi we began developing another tool for working together that will articulate the community’s goals for its young people and some of the process for collaborating to achieve it. It’s important to have a guide for which we say out loud where we want youth to end up and how they’re going to get there- what helps do they need? Who’s responsible for those helps? It shows the holistic nature of the journey and helps us organise our goals, assets, and indicators that what we’re doing is working.

Although we began with articulating what success might look like, much of the language people used was the language of challenges. People stated that they wanted their young people to feel safe, to receive a quality education, to have the life skills to be on their own in the world. But rarely was a very complete picture painted. One wonders why? Do people have enough examples of success around them? Do people really feel like success is possible?

We want people to make the connection between the resources they have and the vision they have. So much of the language of NGOs and other “development professionals” that describes communities like Philippi focuses on deficit. But as we’ve seen through our asset map, the people of Philippi have quite a few resources and no shortage of resourcefulness. We feel like a lot of the shortfall in opportunity is one of communication and coordinating resources. Our goal is to provide space and tools, but we firmly believe that the resources and commitment are there in Philippi to support these youth. But we do need a fleshed out vision.

There’s often talk of a need for new initiatives or more money. Maybe people have convinced themselves that surely if all the tools were here we would have solved the problem already. But what if all the resources are there and the issue is how to use them? What if it just takes better coordination and communication? A shift in how people see themselves and what they have?

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Matric and the “Retention Issue”

Posted by amandladev on February 14, 2013

As matric results are announced and a new crop of learners has just entered the system, many important questions are being discussed. What is the purpose of matric? Is it a high school exit exam or a university entrance exam? What really is the value of a 30% pass rate? Also, the timing of this year’s results highlights big questions around what is “decent work” and are South African graduates qualified to demand those wages?

But one question that’s not receiving as much attention is what happened to the almost 700,000 learners who didn’t even make it to their final year? While the low quality of instruction many learners receive is obviously a major problem, the retention issue is certainly just as big. For one, if learners weren’t bringing as much baggage into the classroom, teachers wouldn’t be nearly as burdened and would be better able to focus on teaching. But when you consider what the drop-out rate means in terms of the country’s future, it’s clear how serious an issue it is. Youth unemployment will remain stubbornly high if they don’t have the skills to take up the jobs that are there or the skills to create new jobs. If approximately 1,130,659 million learners enter the system and only approximately 520,000 remained to write matric by grade 12, with only about 348,000 passing. Of the 348,000, only 135,000 attained a university exemption. It’s staggering to think that just over 10% of the learners who entered school qualified automatically for university. And let’s not forget that many entering university won’t finish. That makes the rate of youth entering their 20s with the skills necessary to contribute meaningfully to the economy dangerously low.

So if a key issue is keeping learners in school, what are sustainable, replicable strategies for doing that? What kept you in school through difficult circumstances?

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Our Growing Map

Posted by amandladev on December 11, 2012

It’s too easy to look at impoverished communities and see only the deficits and challenges. It’s also too easy to be patronising with the idea that a community is “rich in other things”; It’s like a pat on the head. But as the Philippi Collective maps its assets it is paying particular attention to community dynamics and how to utilise its strengths. The map is a practical tool for informing collaboration and for giving a voice to individuals and groups working in the community.

While mapping NGOs, schools, and government services, we’re also mapping gathering spaces, businesses, and danger spots. This has helped steer the conversation to how we can help each other align our work in the best interest of the youth of Philippi. It is also an important part of the process of getting a clear baseline of how effective community efforts have thus far been at mitigating out-of-school impediments to learning. As we move beyond intuitive knowledge that out-of-school factors matter a lot and that we must work together to strengthen the web of care, this asset map is going to be an asset in and of itself. We’re currently moving from crowdsourcing knowledge of the Philippi community to verifying what we know with other data sets. We’re getting increasingly excited as the map takes shape!

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Posted by amandladev on September 18, 2012

Maps can tell you where something is for simple interest’s sake. They can tell you where you’re going, or even where you’ve been. But, most interestingly of all, maps can tell a story of how things came to be and how one might go about changing them.

The collective group has embarked upon a project to map the assets of the Philippi area. Rather than taking a deficits approach that emphasises what’s wrong with Philippi, we’re first taking stock of the many resources in the area. We’re also mapping how people interact: We’re noting gathering spaces, danger spots, and the spheres of influence that our various stakeholders work in. The map is a “living” map in that it will change to continue to reflect the work taking place in Philippi. It’s going to be a tremendous resource for educators and families to know how to reach resources for their young people. It’s also going to be highly useful for the organisations and individuals working in the area to reach out to each other more easily.

We’re already seeing how visualising the community’s assets can help allocate resources more efficiently. The map is also telling some stories about community dynamics and priorities, along with which areas of the community are most difficult to work in. As we see clusters of work taking place in some areas and others relatively unreached, it sparks discussion around how can we work together to make sure no child is falling through the cracks.

Maps are often used to chart a journey, and this map is no different. We’re looking forward to sharing it soon.

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Days of Small Things

Posted by amandladev on June 12, 2012

“Do not despise the day of small things…”

The Philippi collective is just beginning its work together, articulating the vision for collaborating and for what success looks like for Philippi’s youth. The more stakeholders from different sectors interact, the clearer it becomes that their work has mutual impact and has an impact on a child’s ability to learn. While it can feel like the most progress comes from large group meetings as the forum grows and as big ideas are discussed, meetings of a few individuals or organisations can make great strides. But such meetings can feel like small things, like tinkering our way towards what needs to be paradigm-shifting change. But getting to where we want to be is a process.

Here are a few things that have been said recently in smaller meetings:

“For our programmes to be successful, we must often rely on inputs we can’t control. Sharing with each other and relying on each other can give us strategic control.”
-Peninsula School Feeding Association

“The kind and depth of the data we’re trying to gather is so useful for my daily practice, because I learn how what I do here affects the kids you work with and how best to allocate resources.”
-Subcouncil 13

When you’re in the trenches, not having the big-picture discussions, but just dealing with the day-to-day and practical minutiae of progress, how do you keep your gaze forward? How do you avoid getting stuck or discouraged that the day of great things may not arrive?

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Collective Impact

Posted by amandladev on March 29, 2012

We recently held our second cross-sector collective meeting for the Samora Machel/Philippi area. As buy-in is increasing we’re seeing representation of sectors increase. Present were representatives from the ward councils, SANCO, school leadership and teachers, several NGOs, local churches, clinics, Department of Social Development, sport clubs, youth from the community, several CBOs, and others. It was inspiring to see the willingness of so many from such disparate sectors to come together to try to understand each other’s work and how they can work together to make sure every child is fully supported in and out of school.

This is collective impact: important actors from across sectors are acknowledging that isolated interventions cannot solve complex social issues. We think in terms of issue areas like nutrition, schooling, health, housing. But to the young person who wakes up hungry and must try to learn at a failing school but is frequently absent because of inadequate healthcare and who also struggles to study at home because there are too many people living in a tiny house, there are no boundaries between these areas.

The group spent time exploring how their work affects the community’s youth and how their work overlaps and lends itself to collaboration. One could see the outline of a common vision for the success of Philippi’s young people. Everyone agreed that this is the beginning of something special. We’ll keep you updated on the followup meetings and the early collaborative efforts taking place.

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Connecting Dots

Posted by amandladev on September 22, 2011

Amandla Development is working with filmmaker Wim Steytler to produce a short film, Connecting Dots, to illustrate the necessity of a collective impact approach to improving education and empowering communities. This film is going to give young people from different communities in the Cape Town area of South Africa the chance to tell their stories. We’ll see how a holistic approach to improving education is so necessary, how these young people, though from very different environments, all need support on many levels. Just one voice describing that complexity isn’t enough.

This film will be a tool for Amandla Development’s efforts to bring people together to solve complex social issues. The work demands collective effort from actors across sectors in a given community. By showing the breadth of challenges and the necessity of many inputs, Amandla will use the film to spark action. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the challenges young people face daily in your community and how the people in the community can support them. Poverty has a massive impact on one’s ability to learn. Until we start tackling that, we’ll keep finding our efforts blocked.

Follow the production of the film on Facebook ( and Twitter (@amandladev) and even support its production with a contribution via Kickstarter ( Then be on the lookout for a screening in a city near you!

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