Dr Nadeen Moolla
Research and Development Manager
PEARSON MARANG EDUCATION TRUST
Pearson Marang Education Trust (PMET) embodies community psychology in action in its focus on schools as social settings that influence groups and individuals within them. PMET was established in 2008 to develop and support under-resourced and underperforming schools. PMET is based in 6 provinces around the country, in 8 selected districts working with 4 high schools and 16 primary schools in each province. The schools are under-resourced in terms of physical infrastructure, finances and materials, but they also often lack knowledge and skills to promote physical, emotional and social health. PMET works with schools to explore the intricate relationship between the personal, the professional and the organisational, emphasising the dynamics of power and communication and the influence thereof on the well-being of individuals and the broader community. Through this approach, which emphasises collaboration and co-operation amongst all stakeholders including principals, school management teams, teachers, school governing bodies, learners and district officials, schools are supported to become self-managing and achieving organisations.
In PMET, the focus is on understanding how schools, as systems, can help to enhance the health and well-being of the individuals who work and learn within them .The schools are studied and analysed to understand risks and opportunities for growth, and interventions are then engaged in to facilitate development. Engagement with individuals and sub-systems within the school, allows for researchers and facilitators to collaborate with community members in the design and implementation of interventions. These interventions include workshops, small group sessions, one-on-one mentoring and coaching and classroom support.
PMET’s support model is grounded in systems thinking emphasising the interdependence of various aspects of individuals’ lives and the systems within which they function. PMET facilitators adopt a psycho-social approach to school development that intervenes at the level of the personal, the professional and the organisation. Rural schools, which generally have limited access to resources, are supported to enrich the culture of their organisations, to develop structures and procedures that can achieve strategic goals, to enhance inter- and intra-personal dynamics and improve professional practice in order to meet policy expectations set by the National Department of Basic Education.
Systems thinking contends that more comprehensive, complex, and holistic understandings of situations, issues and experiences are obtained when exploring the interrelationship between the elements of a system. Facilitators in PMET engage with schools as systems, where roles are defined, clear boundaries are established, patterns are understood, and change is embraced. Through action research, learners, teachers, principals and education district officials are encouraged to observe, reflect, plan and act in order to effect change at the level of the organisation and the individual. Action research is apparent on various levels, characterising meetings, classroom-practice, relationships between teachers and learners, and management and teachers. Every individual is encouraged to view themselves as a change agent in their own lives and their own organisation. What gives power to interventions is that the schools and the players within them, experience themselves as facilitating the change, rather than relying on outside agents to make the shifts.
Educational change in South Africa has tended to focus on structural and policy change as drivers towards success, with far too little emphasis on the need for “people change”. The PMET approach emphasises the intricate interconnectedness between school development and personal development. It argues for a psycho-social approach to be adopted at all levels within education in South Africa to facilitate effective change in classrooms and schools, because it is hearts and minds, passion and attitude, which make structures work and mediates and implements policy. The focus, therefore must be with those who are the core of education, learners, teachers and parents.
Our work in the field has often focused on helping schools to claim power in seemingly powerless situations. Policy directives are promulgated by national departments, often with the effect of paralyzing teachers and schools. An asset-based approach, grounded in positive psychology, pushes the boundaries and enables schools to believe that they can act, allowing them to shift attitudes and behaviour in order to achieve. PMET mediates policy and supports schools so that, rather than feeling paralysed, the individuals, groups and the organisation feel empowered to use their knowledge to act and change their situation.Shifts on the inside, at the level of intra- and inter-personal, facilitate shifts on the outside. Understanding is deepened and this translates into ownership of change, which is what makes for sustainability, which within community psychology, is often a challenge.