Strong Schools have Strong Visions
Africa is a unique continent with rich cultural heritage and an unparalleled sense of community. Schools that are designed and built on this very fundamental understanding have the greatest chance of not only surviving, but of thriving in the long term. However, there is a lot of mistrust in many of the existing educational systems on the continent and unfortunately state schools in many Sub-Saharan African countries are seen as not delivering an education that is suitable for the modern world, let alone for the prevailing culture within the countries that they are in.
But there are some real gems out there, better in some cases than schools we may hold in high esteem in the developed world. One of these schools is the Jacaranda Foundation in Malawi. Jacaranda is a school that embodies an education as it should be, culturally appropriate, educationally excellent, and socially integrated and embedded in the community which it serves.
So often in leadership discussions we hear talk of the importance of a strong vision but we seldom get the opportunity to see, or talk about, specific examples of this. What does a strong vision look like? What is the effect of having a strong vision that is shared by everyone who works in the team?
Over the past twelve months it has been an absolute privilege working with one of the most progressive schools in Malawi. Jacaranda Foundation represents the model of education that African schools should be aspiring to. And if you scratch beneath the surface you will find that what holds it all together, and continues to drive their progress, is the strength of vision that they hold.
One of the key elements of their vision is that they are fundamentally community focussed. The senior leadership of the school recognise the importance of attending to the needs of their community as a primary function of their school. They understand that to make their education a success they need to make sure that the basic needs of every child at their school are addressed before children stand a chance of learning.
There are many examples of where they have demonstrated this but perhaps the most striking one is in their realisation that several orphans in their community suffer from Cerebral Palsy and other mobility challenges, making it difficult for them to attend school. In recognition of this the Foundation invested in the establishment of a physiotherapy clinic to help them. The clinic has become so popular that they now even attract referrals from the local hospitals and have even taken on a small teaching responsibility for trainee physiotherapists. Jacaranda’s vision of providing opportunities for all children to succeed through the provision of the right tools to do so, is perfectly exemplified in this example.
There are many such examples at Jacaranda, and as their vision for the future remains strong, and as they continue in their belief that all children, if given the right tools, can achieve their goals and realise their dreams, so the message of Jacaranda spreads. Recently this is highlighted in the rapid spread of their libraries, which are now opening up all over the local area, and becoming small satellite Jacaranda centres where children go to read and gain exposure to books. In this way Jacaranda is no longer simply providing excellence for 400 students, but now they are starting to reach upwards of 10,000 students.
Many schools could take a leaf out of their book. Building a strong and communal vision will give the organisation as a whole, something to work towards, together. Once you can be certain that this is the case and that this is built into the culture and expectations of your school community, you will be in a position to provide not only excellent learning opportunities for your students, but a model that takes hold due to the belief that the students, staff and community have in its vision.