Matildie Thom Wium, University of the Free State; Douglas Scott, University of the Free State, and Lance Phillip, University of the Free State

In the following discussion, three academics explore whether it is the duty of the artist to lend to music’s survival by creating mass appeal. This is a recurring question in contemporary music review, both locally and abroad, and has been the subject of two recent monographs. David Stubbs’ Fear of Music looks at the avant-garde in music, and Alex Ross’ All the Rest is Noise explores the 20th Century in music.

While the present discussion does not aim to resolve the debate, it may give some insight into the dilemma faced by artists as they grapple with the sometimes conflicting goals of acceptance by their peers and appeal to the public.

Lance Phillip: the duty of the artist

Two key questions stand out:

  • Is it the function of organisations to merely provide a platform for performances of compositions of very diverse styles?
  • Is it the moral and artistic duty of composers themselves to ensure the survival of the craft by making music appeal to a wider audience, by means foul or fair?

Is there anything wrong with explicitly stated musical agendas? Or should new music – contemporary music that pushes the boundaries – be left untainted, competing with the canon, to say nothing of the myriad of traditional and popular musics that hold the attention of our audiences before all else?

These positions all have spokespersons that unashamedly profess their virtues. But perhaps new music suffers from perceived elitism because of the continued reticence to define, defend or at least explicate in stronger terms the fantastical, seductive and subjective qualities of much of the music played during the New Music Indaba 2015 in South Africa.

The sheer passion, energy, and magnetism of the various compositions on offer, played so marvellously, contrast markedly with the cold and occasionally resigned view outside the concert hall that it is somehow not proper that “new music” should dazzle and charm as well as impress intellectually.

Even though, thankfully, the quality of the music itself rose above this, it seems that Theodor Adorno’s old Schoenberg-Stravinsky debate is still alive and well.

Douglas Scott: innovation and novelty is not enough

One way to answer these questions is to go back to Milton Babbitt’s famously outrageous (and somewhat misquoted) statement:

Who cares if they listen?

Babbitt was rejecting the notion that the academic study of music should necessarily be accessible. If we don’t judge neurosurgeons or physicists on the basis of their popular appeal, why shouldn’t we judge serious art by the artistic merit alone?

Yet herein lies the problem. A neurosurgeon’s work can be tested against alternative treatments, and the physicist’s against a null hypothesis. What is the composer to be tested against if not the raw appeal of their work? There are the counter-examples of the mathematician and the philosopher. Their works are principally judged by their peers with often only the faintest nod to practical, real world applications.

In the case of pure and applied mathematics, though, the practical and intellectual often collide. Similarly, works such as Ravel’s Bolero and Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals are good examples of the same in music. These “fun” works by “serious” composers nevertheless became the works they are known for by the public at large, much to the horror of the composers.

Popular music, meanwhile, is often suffused with catchy tunes by great masters. At the same time, popular bands such as Led Zeppelin and The Beatles sometimes engaged in rather extreme experiments.

In order to escape the dilemma, then, composers must compose in such a way as to present new and fresh ideas to excite their colleagues – but in a way that is nevertheless palatable enough to excite emotion other than only bewilderment. Innovation and novelty are not enough. Experiments can also be beautiful.

And what then of the audience? Would it be acceptable for a connoisseur to accept boxed wine and a cheap cheeseburger at a fancy dinner? Audiences must be taught to recognise that there is absolutely such a thing as bad music, every bit as much as there is bad food and bad novels.

There is increasing empirical support for the notion of healthy music in this purely sanitary sense, specifically through increased activation of neural pathways in music that lends itself to perceptual processing. More research is necessary though, as always.

Matildie Thom Wium: the connection between taste and morality

I agree with Douglas that some accommodation must take place, but I find I regard the introduction of the concept of ‘bad music as a vice’ with some scepticism. This idea seems to imply a connection between taste and morality.

Roger Scruton is a noted proponent of such a connection, writing in his The Aesthetics of Music that “by displaying my tastes, I display my soul”, and he has written a straightforward defence of elitism – an important issue to explore as far as new music is concerned, and one that clearly underlies the present debate.

I also agree with Lance that a targeted educational approach is needed for events such as the new musical festival recently held in South Africa. This could go some way to mitigating the esoteric perceptions that create distance between new music and its potential audiences.

My view is that it is fundamentally unethical to regard tastes that require expensive education to cultivate as more virtuous than cheap ones. They may, however, be more rewarding than cheap ones, and therefore it is imperative that education and dissemination of new music, next to its celebration and advancement, should continue to be central foci of the events such as the Indaba.The Conversation

Matildie Thom Wium, Senior Lecturer of Music, University of the Free State; Douglas Scott, PhD Candidate, University of the Free State, and Lance Phillip, PhD Candidate, University of the Free State

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

At some point, jazz went from the music of youthful rebellion to that of the cultured elite.

Adam Gustafson, Pennsylvania State University

Jazz seems to be experiencing a bit of a renaissance among movie directors – look no further than documentaries such as “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool,” which just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, biopics such as “Born to Be Blue,” and recent Oscar winners like “Whiplash.”

While films about jazz are everywhere, evidence suggests that fewer people are actually consuming the music, putting the genre more on par with classical music than with today’s pop artists.

There are a host of reasons for the decline of jazz as a popular music, but the one that interests me as a music historian is the role that academics played.

In our attempt to elevate jazz to the ivory tower, we may have inadvertently helped to kill it as a popular style.

However, all is not lost. While the genre might seem destined for academic obscurity, jazz continues to kick around in popular music – just in subtler ways.

Jazz captivates the country

In the 1920s, during the early years of the Great Migration, waves of black Americans migrated from the South into the industrial cities of the North. Black jazz musicians, particularly those from New Orleans, brought their sound with them. They moved to neighborhoods such as The Stroll in Chicago, Black Bottom in Detroit, 12th Street and Vine in Kansas City and, of course, Harlem. This occurred just as the record industry blossomed and radios became mainstays in American homes.

Jazz was well-positioned to become the most popular genre of music in the nation.

Over the next decade, the genre underwent a transformation. Artists began to amass larger ensembles, fusing the energy of jazz with the volume of dance bands. The Swing Era was born, and jazz orchestras dominated pop charts.

During the Swing Era, the Lindy Hop was a popular dance.

These developments led to a new set of issues. Larger bands meant less freedom to improvise, the cornerstone of jazz. During the 1940s, music recordings became increasingly important, and jazz musicians found themselves frustrated with how little they were being paid, resulting in a series of strikes by the American Federation of Musicians.

By the time these problems were resolved, America’s youth had already begun gravitating toward new styles of R&B and country, which would eventually morph into rock ‘n’ roll:

After that, jazz never really recovered.

From the club to the classroom

Jazz underwent another, more subtle, shift during that same time period: It left the club and went to college.

After World War II, jazz genres fractured and the music became more complex. It also became popular among college students. Dave Brubeck Quartet released several albums in the early 1950s that acknowledged the group’s popularity with the college crowd, including “Jazz at Oberlin” and “Jazz at the College of the Pacific.”

Perhaps university administrators wanted to elevate a distinctly American genre to a status of “high art.” Or, maybe they just wanted to capitalize on jazz’s popularity among college students. Either way, universities started to create curriculums geared towards the genre, and by the end of the 1950s, several institutions, such as the University of North Texas and the Berklee College of Music, had jazz programs up and running.

In the classroom, jazz was explored in a new way. Rather than hearing jazz played while grinding on a dance floor, it became something to dissect. In one of the earliest jazz histories, “The Story of Jazz,” musicologist Marshall Stearns captures this shift. He begins his book by explaining how difficult it is to categorize the spirit of jazz. He then spends over 300 pages trying to do just that.

Popular culture began to reflect jazz’s shifting identity as the music of educated people. The 1953 film “The Wild One” features a bouncing big band soundtrack that underscores the shenanigans of a motorcycle gang led by Marlon Brando.

Just two years later, “Blackboard Jungle,” also features delinquent kids – except this time, they prefer the sound of Bill Haley. In one scene, their math teacher tries to get the kids to appreciate his collection of jazz records. The scene ends with the kids beating the teacher and breaking his records.

‘Music is based on mathematics, and – it’s just, the next class is a little more advanced.’

Jazz had gone from the music of youthful rebellion to that of the cultured elite.

During the 1960s, jazz may have been as eclectic as ever. But academics like historian Neil Leonard continued to push for jazz to be made into a serious subject of academic inquiry, as he argued in his book “Jazz and the White Americans.” Professional groups devoted to the study of jazz education were founded, such as the National Association for Jazz Education.

During the 1970s and 1980s, introductory jazz courses started to reach critical mass and led to the growth of what jazz critic Nate Chinen dubbed the “jazz-education industry.” Playing jazz required a college degree. Jazz had become the music of the educated. It was the music of Cliff and Clair Huxtable, one a doctor and the other a lawyer, from “The Cosby Show.”

Just don’t call it ‘jazz’

In the last 20 years, jazz’s identity as an academic art form has only grown. At my institution, almost all of the non-classical course offerings in the music school are about jazz.

Today, in any given semester on any given campus, you can find college students sitting in classrooms at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday trying to absorb the importance and complexity of a music meant to be heard in a club at 2 a.m. on a Saturday. It’s become brussels sprouts for budding music aficionados: You know it’s good for you, but it doesn’t necessarily taste all that great.

Outside of the classroom, a dwindling audience base has forced traditional jazz venues to play into the notion of jazz as an educated person’s music. The current iteration of Minton’s Playhouse, a club that was once a bastion of jazz energy, now calls jazz “America’s classical music” in an attempt to raise the profile of the genre (and perhaps justify the cost of the steaks being served there).

Other venues have minimized jazz. This year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival will feature decidedly non-jazz artists such as Katy Perry, The Rolling Stones and Chris Stapleton.

Despite jazz’s distance from its popular roots, a little digging shows that we still like listening to jazz more than we think. We just stopped openly calling it jazz.

Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album “To Pimp a Butterfly” is every bit as much a jazz album as it is a rap album, thanks to Lamar’s collaboration with the saxophonist Kamasi Washington. Washington also had a short film, “As Told to G/D Thyself,” based on his album, “Heaven and Earth,” at Sundance.

Lamar’s album was such a revelation that it inspired David Bowie to feature a jazz ensemble as his backing band for his final rock album, “Blackstar.”

Meanwhile, the music collective Snarky Puppy has become an international sensation by creating long-form jazz works while avoiding any specific labels. Another music collective, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, has found a way to keep the sound of jazz alive – and to embrace jazz’s lighter side – by transforming contemporary pop songs into historical jazz genres.

With academia positioning jazz as art music, the genre is unlikely to experience a popular resurgence any time soon.

But today’s artists are proving that the spirit of jazz is alive and well, and that jazz is much more than its name.

Maybe this is fitting: The earliest jazz musicians didn’t call their music “jazz” either. Instead, they blended their sound with pre-existing pop genres, and, in doing so, created one of the most distinct forms of music in American history.The Conversation

Adam Gustafson, Instructor in Music, Pennsylvania State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Willie Chinyamurindi, University of Fort Hare

Musician Oliver Mtukudzi, who died at the age of 66, was a great cultural ambassador for Zimbabwe. Known to his fans as Tuku, he was a cultural icon for the southern African country. His aura and presence had a global resonance with fans around the world, yet the man remained humble and magnanimous.

I once boasted to some international colleagues that he was Zimbabwe’s gift to the world. But on closer scrutiny, he was the perfect gift for Zimbabweans especially during their tumultuous times.

Mtukudzi died in Harare after a long battle with diabetes, ironically enough on exactly the same day as his friend, the musician Hugh Masekela, who passed away on 23 January 2018.

He was also a businessperson, activist, philanthropist and a goodwill ambassador for Unicef in the southern African region. But it was his innovative music that made him deeply loved. Dubbed “Tuku music”, it was a blend of southern African music traditions,

including mbira, mbaqanga, jit and the traditional drumming styles of the Korekore.

Tuku released his debut single in 1975. As a solo artist, Mtukudzi had his first successes shortly after Zimbabwe declared its independence in 1980. His debut solo album, Africa. The prolific Mtukudzi released his 67th album in 2018 – Hanya’Ga (Concern), saying it was “meant to share a message of introspecting and I’m hoping people learn a thing or two from it”.

Celebrated as “the man with the talking guitar”, Mtukudzi learned by experimenting:

I looked for a sound the guitar couldn’t make in a guitar – that is how I learned to play the guitar. Professional guitarist at the time use to laugh at me. I used to look for a mbira (music instrument) on the guitar strings. I’ve always been experimental. But it was a blessing in disguise because I went on to pioneer a sound that was later labelled Tuku music.

A wide canvas

But Mtukudzi was more than just a popular singer. In his song “Todii” (What shall we do?), Mtukudzi reflects on the challenge faced by communities as a result of the scourge of HIV/AIDS. The song gives cadence and sympathy to those who provide care. At the same time it magnifies how despicable those in positions of authority are for violating their responsibility.

He ends the song with a solemn appeal for help and for ideas in view of this challenge. This is Mtukudzi, the social activist.

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Oliver Mtukudzi.
EPA/Nic Bothma

In another song “Mabasa” (The works) Mtukudzi paints a dire picture of how young people are the first to die, leaving the elderly to fend for themselves. For me this song attests to Mtukudzi reminding us all to be cognisant about how we live.

Mtukudzi also acknowledged the existence of deity and spoke against the attribution of success to luck or happenstance as he did in the song “Raki” (luck).

Conversely, in “Ndagarwa nhaka” (Inheriting) he brought attention to a Shona cultural practice of a widow being married off to the late husband’s elder or young brother. In this song Mtukudzi, using the voice of the widow, appears to praise the status quo as enabling the widow to get solace and protection given her loss.

A stark contrast, though, is found in the movie “Neria”. Mtukudzi crafted the soundtrack detailing the tribulations of a widow trying to survive past patriarchy in all its forms.

Oliver Mtukudzi’s ‘Dzoka Uyamwe’.

In the song “Dzoka uyamwe” (come and suckle) Mtukudzi bemoans the experiences of a person suffering prejudice based on how they look. Given this sad experience, the mother urges her child to come back home and suckle. The song then becomes philosophically charged, reminding us all that the core of all prejudice emanates from the mind and the heart. This theme of a concerned parent appears to reverberate in the song “Chengetai” meaning “to keep”.

This time, a role reversal: children are being urged to take care of their parents.

Some of Mtukudzi’s songs were sources of contention and deemed anti-establishment. For instance “Wasakara” (You are old) was interpreted by some as a reference to former President Robert Mugabe, given that a character in the song was in denial of age creeping up on them. In later years as a consultant, I would use the song in driving home the importance of succession planning for effectual and efficient organisations.

One of Oliver Mtukudzi’s greatest hits, ‘Wasakara’.

Mtukudzi also continues to give the same admonition to the elderly in the song “Mkuru mkuru” (the elderly leader).

Mtukudzi would also pen “Mutserendende” (the slide) and draw comparisons between two generations. From the first generation, Mtukudzi idolises how life was easy and pleasurable for children, a stark contrast to his generation’s life of toil and hardship in climbing the mountain. The solace, as argued by the song, is continued perseverance and determination.

In “Magumo” (the end), Mtukudzi raises some poignant life lessons on the importance of ideals such as humility. The most important question we should ask in everything we do, Mtukudzi argues, is: what will be the end of this that I am doing?

In the song “Kunze kwadoka” (the sun has set, it’s dark), Mtukudzi presents the questioning parent and the precarious situation of a child who has stayed out on a date for a long time. Giving advice to the boyfriend, “perekedza mwanasikana, perekedza bhebhi iro zuva ravira kunze kwadoka” translated “accompany the girl, accompany that babe the sun has set, it’s dark out”.

Now the sun has set on Oliver Mtukudzi. He leaves the world his greatest prized possession, the gift of song. Thank you, maestro par excellence.

Chinyamurindi is an avid narrative researcher. This piece was written using Oliver Mtukudzi’s Greatest Hits album – The Tuku Years (1998-2002).The Conversation

Willie Chinyamurindi, Associate Professor, University of Fort Hare

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Theo Neethling, University of the Free State

Much has been made about China’s role and profile in Africa and the factors underlying its activities on the continent. Less debated is the spread and depth of Russia’s contemporary presence and profile in Africa.

There was a strong Russian influence in Africa during the heyday of the Soviet Union. The post-independence governments of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda and Benin at some point all received diplomatic or military support from the Soviet Union.

But this began to change after the superpower started to collapse in December 1991. More than a quarter of a century later Russia’s President Vladimir Putin seems to have new aspirations in Africa. This is in line with his desire to restore Russia to great power status.

Putin places a high premium on geopolitical relations and the pursuit of Russian assertiveness in the global arena. This includes reestablishing Russia’s sphere of influence, which extends to the African continent.

Like Beijing, Moscow’s method of trade and investment in Africa is without the prescriptions or conditionalities of actors like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Russia is gradually increasing its influence in Africa through strategic investment in energy and minerals. It’s also using military muscle and soft power.

Increasingly, the pressing question is: is the relationship between China and Africa as good for Africa as it is for China? The same question applies to Russia-Africa relations.

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Angolan President Joao Lourenco and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Johannesburg in 2018.
EPA-EFE/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin Pool

Energy and minerals

Interaction between Russia and Africa has grown exponentially this century, with trade and investment growing by 185% between 2005 and 2015.

Economically, much of Russia’s focus in Africa centres on energy. Key Russian investments in Africa are in the oil, gas and nuclear power sectors.

The fact that 620 million people in Africa don’t have electricity provides Russia’s nuclear power industry with potential markets. Several Russian companies, such as Gazprom, Lukoil, Rostec and Rosatom are active in Africa. Most activity is in Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Nigeria and Uganda. In Egypt, negotiations have already been finalised with Moscow for the building of the country’s first nuclear plant .

These companies are mostly state-run, with investments often linked to military and diplomatic interests.

Moscow’s second area of interest is Africa’s mineral riches. This is particularly evident in Zimbabwe, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia and the Central African Republic.

In Zimbabwe, Russia is developing one of the world’s largest deposits of platinum group metals.

Russia has also been reestablishing links with Angola, where Alrosa, the Russian giant, mines diamonds. Discussions between Russia and Angola have also focused on hydrocarbon production.Uranium in Namibia is another example.

Russia’s current controversial involvement in the Central African Republic (CAR) began in 2017, when a team of Russian military instructors and 170 “civilian advisers” were sent by Moscow to Bangui to train the country’s army and presidential guard. Shortly after that, nine weapons shipments arrived in the CAR.

Interest in the country has focused on exploring its natural resources on a concession basis. The murder of three Russian journalists in a remote area of the country last year focused the world’s attention on what looked like a Kremlin drive for influence and resources.

Military influence and diplomacy

Russia is the second largest exporter of arms globally, and a major supplier to African states. Over the past two decades it has pursued military ties with various African countries, such as Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Military ties are linked to bilateral military agreements as well as providing boots on the ground in UN peacekeeping operations. Combined, China and Russia outnumber the other permanent members of the UN Security Council in contributing troop to UN peacekeeping efforts.

Russia has also been actively supporting Zimbabwe. Shortly after it was reported in 2018 that China had placed new generation surface-to-air missiles in Zimbabwe, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that his country was pursuing military cooperation.

Significantly, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said that his country may need Russia’s help with the modernisation of its defence force during a recent visit to Moscow.

Russia, Africa and the future

Both Russia and China are keen to play a future role in Africa. The difference between these two major powers is that China forms part of the Asian regional economy. This will surpass North America and Europe combined, in terms of global power – based on GDP, population size, military spending and technological investment.

China and India have sustained impressive economic growth over many years. And, their enormous populations make them two world powers of extraordinary importance. Growth prospects for the Russian economy, on the other hand, remain modest – between 1.5% and 1.8% a year for 2018-2010, against the current global average rate of 3.5% a year.

Still, Russia remains a major power in global politics. For African leaders, the key word is agency and the question is how to play the renewed Russian attention to their countries’ advantage, and not to fall victim to the contemporary “geopolitical chess” game played by the major powers on the continent.The Conversation

Theo Neethling, Professor and Head: Political Studies and Governance in the Humanities Faculty, University of the Free State

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Teboho Moja, New York University

Private-public partnerships have become a common strategy for countries all over the world to meet their development goals. In the global north, these partnerships – which bring capital and expertise together – tend to focus on developing infrastructure. That includes energy, ports, rail and fibre networks.

Such partnerships have also benefited some sectors of society in African countries and elsewhere in the global south.

In Africa’s education sector, public-private partnerships have been largely limited to infrastructure developments and the provision of education. It’s time for the continent’s higher education sector to develop its own partnership models that deal with a different currency: knowledge. Public-private partnerships should centre on the production, transfer and use of knowledge for social and economic development.

First, the sector must interrogate why strategic public-partnerships are important. What are the advantages? Who benefits? And, are there accrued benefits for those beyond the partners involved?

It’s also vital to examine partnerships that already exist. Their successes and failures must be interrogated. There is good work being done on the continent. Now the success stories must combine their efforts for greater impact.

The mechanics

Ideally, public-private partnerships in the higher education sector should involve a combination of several actors: the private sector, academic researchers and governments. Other scientific resources, such as science granting councils, have a role to play, too. The National Research Foundation in Southern Africa, National Council for Science and Technology in Eastern Africa, and Programme d’Appui Stratégique à la Recherche Scientifique in Côte d’Ivoire are examples of such councils.

Higher education institutions and research groups must explore and create opportunities to connect researchers. This will allow them to establish collaborative projects with other scientists throughout the continent.

They must also support opportunities and activities that would link researchers with projects at national laboratories and research centres run by governments and the private sector. This would allow experts and leaders from academia, government agencies and national organisations to contribute knowledge to inform transformative science and policies.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that partnerships’ power relations and dynamics must be carefully managed to ensure equal benefit for, for instance, those from the global south and those from the global north.

Who benefits, and how

Academic researchers, including students, get exposure by getting involved in real and immediately relevant research. Private sector researchers are supported with an up to date base of literature to inform their work. This knowledge and skills exchange is beneficial for both parties. Of course, it also benefits governments and nations more broadly by producing solutions to problems or challenges.

International and regional academic partnerships have become the “overriding paradigm” for international development cooperation and policy. As a result, the partners stand to benefit through connecting with global networks and learning from each other.

In addition, African perspectives and those from other parts of the developing world would be included to inform global issues. We live in an interconnected world. Problems and solutions should be addressed together, rather than from one perspective.

Learning lessons

As I have said, there are already networks and partnerships that involve public and private organisations in the research space, and from which lessons can be drawn and models developed.

A few examples include the Global University Network, which consists of 4 500 research institutions across 160 countries; the Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS Research Alliance in South Africa; and the US-based Improvement Science Research Network.

Governments can also be drawn into existing and new partnerships. They could either act as partners, or offer links to researchers through existing bilateral or multilateral agreements in other sectors.

These links can used to create continent-to-continent partnerships; continent-to-country partnerships; partnerships on demand based on regional requests and requirements; and organisational partnerships. This mimics the partnership structures already prioritised by the African Union.

This article is based on the author’s keynote address at the Annual Forum and Global Research Council Africa Regional Meeting in Côte d’Ivoire during November 2018.The Conversation

Teboho Moja, Professor, New York University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Benta A. Abuya, African Population and Health Research Center

Eight years of research in low-income neighbourhoods of Nairobi have opened my eyes to the significant role of school, family and community partnerships. Not only are they crucial for student achievement, they can narrow the performance gap between children in high and low income settings.

My work in Nairobi confirms findings from research that stretches back over two decades in different contexts. For instance, renowned Harvard social analyst Lisbeth Schorr observed in her book that social programmes taken to scale resulted in the transformation of poor neighbourhoods and communities.

The positive results suggest that a host of positive outcomes can be achieved when communities partner with schools.

My research showed that forging a partnership between family, community and school enables parents to take part in the academic success of their children. Parents acquire knowledge, skills and confidence for better parenting. This in turn enables them to improve their economic lot and become better citizens.

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Pupils from Kibera, one of the largest slums in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
Reuters/Noor Khamis

The three-way partnerships also contribute to social capital. Social capital refers to relationships among and between different actors for the purpose of achieving a common good. Therefore, the partnership between family, community and schools improves the interconnections between the institutions. This in turn enriches the relationships between parents and their children for academic success.

Schools can also draw on resources external to them – the families and the community – to bridge any challenges they may face in the way of the children’s education.

As a result, parents are thrust to the centre of this relationship as a resource for the improvement of their children and the schools. Parents cease to be distant observers who are far removed from the education of their children. Families can draw from these new networks to enable their children to succeed in school.

My work over the past three years revolved around the practical application of this paradigm shift in two informal settlements in Nairobi under the “Improving Learning Outcomes” project. The two relatively poor urban settlements of Korogocho and Viwandani had poor learning outcomes at primary school level and low transition to secondary school.

A 2010 study in Nairobi put the transition rate from primary to secondary school in slum schools at 46%. The primary school completion among slum children stood at 76%. The transition rate compared poorly to the non-slum at an average of 72% transition and while 92% had completed primary school. Despite the introduction of free day secondary education in 2008 which was supposed to reduce the cost of schooling for low income groups, 27% of pupils still don’t make the transition to secondary school.

Understanding the reasons for this and designing interventions was a major part of our project.

Parental involvement

The positive association between the involvement of parents and student achievement has consistently been documented by scholars for some time now. Parental involvement includes communication with teachers and others working in a school, helping with school work at home and volunteering at school. Attending school events, such as parent-teacher meetings and conferences is also important.

Children of actively involved parents perform better in school, learn better and have stronger problem solving skills. They also attend school regularly, enjoy their schooling, and have fewer behavioural problems.

The main interventions during our research in Nairobi included:

  • after school support with homework and mentoring in life skills,
  • counselling for parents on active involvement in their children’s schooling, including support with homework. They were encouraged to limit household chores and educated on child labour,
  • secondary school transition subsidies. This was a transition from primary to secondary school, and
  • mentoring of students in leadership, a component that we added in the expansion phase.

We worked with community leaders to encourage a closer working relationship between the community, parents and the school. For instance, the community leaders encouraged parents to support their children’s education, particularly girls. This included encouraging a working relationship between girls their parents and teachers.

Parents believed that interacting with teachers was important because it helped reduce the probability of children becoming truant. They also counted on interaction with teachers to reduce instances of peer pressure.

The community leaders support for girls’ education persisted over the course of our three year work. This was particularly evident in their support to the parental component of the intervention. The community, built a supportive relationship on education and understanding the social change and peer pressure faced by the youth.

The result was improved learning outcomes, particularly in numeracy where girls recorded a 20 percentage point improvement in scores. There is also evidence that girls who participated in the programme had higher educational aspirations, with a substantial proportion of girls whose highest education aspiration was completing secondary school aspiring to acquire university education.

Transition to secondary school rates in Korogocho and Viwandani among the 2013 cohort of girls who participated in the project stood at 68%. This was a 22% improvement over the 2010 statistic of 46% (both girls and boys). Although the rate was still lower than the national average in 2010 by 9 percentage points, it represented a much reduced gap between urban slum children and the national average.

Among those girls who made a transition to secondary school in 2014, three girls joined prestigious girls’ national schools. National schools are the best-resourced and admit the highest performing students from across all counties in Kenya.

In 2015, three girls from Korogocho who qualified for the subsidy to join secondary also went on to qualify for a prestigious scholarship programme which targets gifted but economically and socially marginalised students.

Our findings show that the education outcomes of young people can be improved with targeted interventions. At the centre lies the participation of partners – community, family and schools.The Conversation

Benta A. Abuya, Research Scientist, African Population and Health Research Center

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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General assimilatory practices can leave pupils feeling isolated.

Jerome Joorst, Stellenbosch University

It’s 2019, almost 25 years into South Africa’s democratic dispensation, and racism is still playing out in the country’s schools.

Most recently, a primary school teacher was accused of separating children according to race. Elsewhere, a high school was accused of progressing white pupils who failed while holding back black pupils who’d failed. There have been numerous other stories of racist behaviour, Legal Advice South Africa and instances of schools turning away largely black pupils, claiming their classrooms are full.

This is happening despite legislative changes since the end of apartheid, along with a noticeable change in the demographics of former white and private schools.

The problem is that general assimilatory practices persist. These don’t deal with each learner as an individual. Instead, they expect black students to think, look and speak like their white peers so that they don’t somehow stand out. The attitude of “this is our school, our culture, our language; if you want to be here, you will have to accept and adapt to it” is rife.

Many formerly whites only schools also show little flexibility in accommodating the identities and worldviews of students from other race groups.

There are several ways to deal with these issues, from initiating national dialogues to training teachers to identify their own biases.


First, it’s necessary to establish some parameters. What is racism? Is it the same as prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping? These issues have been widely studied, and useful definitions have emerged.

Prejudice is a rigid and unfair generalisation about an entire category of people with little or no evidence. It often takes the form of stereotypes. These are exaggerated and simplified descriptions applied to every person in a minority group.

Unfair discrimination is any unequal treatment of different groups of people. It can take different forms. An example of fair discrimination in a school would be allocating the front seats in the classroom to learners who are visually impaired. Unfair discrimination could involve allowing the blue-eyed learners to have a longer break than those with green eyes – or grouping white and black kids separately.

Racism, meanwhile, includes beliefs, thoughts and actions based on the idea that one race is innately superior to another. Many of the events that play out in South African schools can be classified as implicit racism. That’s because racism in schools very often emanates from broader structural and institutional racism. This is less easy to recognise from the outside than instances of racist language or behaviour.

Teachers often don’t realise what they’re doing or that they are being guided by bias. For example, a teacher may tell a black pupil, “you speak good English”. This is a derogatory remark masked as a compliment – it implies that black people aren’t expected to speak English well. The teacher in question may be shocked to be accused of racism; such statements become normalised and are not recognised as racist by those who make them.

Racism is also closely linked to structures of power. Teachers, for example, often hold more power – either directly inscribed in policies or codes or indirectly exercised through education practices – than learners in a classroom setting. The way the teacher uses that power can determine the extent to which a learner, especially one who is of a different race group to the teachers, can speak back to that power.

Possible solutions

Legislation alone is not going to ease the edgy co-existence between different race groups that persists in many schools. A mind shift is needed at a national level.

To address the problem of racism in South African schools, the country must first understand its origins. Today’s school racism is the product of a long history of many kinds of inclusion and exclusionary practices that favoured one group at the expense of others.

Exploring this history will provide South Africans with an understanding how the racism seen in schools today forms part of a broader structural discourse of separation based on race. It will also help people to identify how racism shows up in covert and overt ways.

A national indaba (discussion or conference) on racism in South African schools which addresses the concerns of white and black teachers, school managers, governors and learners could also be valuable. This might culminate in a national memorandum of understanding of how schools are to operate in a non-racist way, including dealing with notions like “white people are inherently racist” and “black people cannot be racist”. Accountability and appropriate consequences should be laid out in this document.

Racism is learned and can therefore be unlearned. Teachers can play a significant role in mediating the negative effect of racism in classrooms, schools and society. They are well placed to start conversations in learners’ early lives and to use creative teaching strategies to disrupt the rigid narratives of race.

They can also be trained to interrogate their own implicit biases and consciously work against these, as well as to combat racism. This has been done elsewhere in the world, through various programmes.The Conversation

Jerome Joorst, Lecturer and Researcher in the Department of Education Policy Studies, Stellenbosch University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Early childhood education can equip kids for later learning.

Moses Ngware, African Population and Health Research Center

There has been a big push by countries in sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade to improve early childhood education. This refers to pre-primary schools, which usually caters to children aged between 4 and 5.

Research has shown that participating in early childhood development and education programmes is associated with better adjustment to later schooling, as well as higher levels of academic achievement.

Kenya is among the best regional performers in terms of early childhood development enrolment, as shown in the chart below. But enrolment doesn’t necessarily equate with quality.


So in 2014, the Kenyan government introduced an early childhood education programme called Tayari – a Kiswahili word that means “readiness”. It was piloted over four years in more than 1800 public and private early childhood development and education centres. Tayari reached slightly over 72 000 pre-primary school leaners.

Tayari’s aim was to develop a cost-effective, scalable model of early childhood development and education that would prepare children cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally for primary school. The model had three interrelated components. The first was teacher training and classroom support. The second involved providing teachers and learners with appropriate instructional materials like learners’ work books and teacher guides. The third centred on health and hygiene knowledge, making children aware of why hand washing and healthy foods are important.

Cost-effectiveness was determined by comparing net gain scores on learner assessment to incremental costs of implementing Tayari. This information is important to policy makers in making alternative investment decisions.

So, did it succeed? My colleagues and I at the African Population and Health Research Centre conducted an independent external evaluation to find out. We wanted to assess the programme’s impact, and how cost effective it had been. Our findings were largely positive.

The learners who were exposed to Tayari were more ready to join primary grade 1 compared to those not involved in the programme. The Tayari model provides an opportunity to improve the quality of childhood learning in sub-Saharan Africa. It is flexible and can be tweaked to fit different contexts.

Measuring success

Our study involved a randomised control trial design. This means we created a natural experiment to compare scores of learners who were exposed to Tayari with those of similar learners not exposed. Using this approach, we sampled 600 pre-primary schools from the 1800 centres involved in the Tayari programme. Half of these were low-cost private early childhood development and education centres; the other half were public early childhood development and education centres.

We then compared learner assessment results from the centres that were exposed to learners of centres not exposed. We found that, on average, learners who’d been part of the Tayari programme were about three school months ahead of their peers who hadn’t taken part.

Crucially, we also found that the Tayari programme was cost-effective. By spending an extra US $14 per learner over a period of two years – that is, about US $7 a year – policymakers could enhance learners’ scores in early childhood development and education centres by an average of about 3 percentage points.

With a budget of US $7 million per year, the government can heavily subsidise the cost of 1 million learners in early childhood education in a way that will improve the quality and make the learners ready to join primary grade 1.

Future prospects

Our results suggest that the Tayari programme could provide a useful model for other countries in sub-Sahara Africa. The typical barriers addressed by Tayari includes inadequate provision of age-appropriate and context relevant quality teaching and learning materials; and, lack of capacity to offer classroom-based teacher coaching during instruction.

Policymakers have much to learn from the way the model was structured, and the way the overall package focused on instructional quality.

Of course, there are still gaps in our knowledge. We don’t know how long Tayari’s social and education benefits will persist; this will need to be the focus of future research. But, based on our study and its findings, we believe the Tayari model is suitable for scaling up by ministries of education and development partners.The Conversation

Moses Ngware, Senior Research Scientist, African Population and Health Research Center

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Fake qualifications are on the rise. How universities can manage the risk

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Fake credentials are becoming more common in South Africa.

Linda Ronnie, University of Cape Town and Suki Goodman, University of Cape Town

Fake credentials have become a global problem. The National Student Clearinghouse, a US NGO that offers a degree verification service, reports that falsified academic credentials are a serious, prevalent and ever-increasing problem. In 2015 the New York Times reported on a billion-dollar industry consisting of 3 300 “diploma mills”. These were fake universities that sold certificates for all levels of degrees, worldwide.

Buying totally fake academic certificates is only part of the problem. Those who have degrees may falsify their academic transcripts. This is made easier by the availability of sophisticated technology. Higher education is highly sought-after and provides a measure of status and improved job prospects. So some working professionals may not be able to resist the temptation of adding or altering a qualification on their CVs.

Fake credentials are becoming more common in South Africa. In 2018, the country saw a sharp increase in the number of fraudulent qualifications reported to regulatory bodies such as the South African Qualifications Authority. Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor revealed that the number of reported cases spiked from just 37 in 2011/12 to 982 in the 2017/18 financial year.

This only represents the number of fake credentials reported. The real number may be much higher. This poses a serious problem for universities and employers. It undermines their legitimacy and reputation and robs honest candidates of opportunities for further education or employment.

Fortunately, there are steps that universities and employers can take to protect themselves. These include the use of verification systems, reference checking and competency-based interviews.


For universities, fake qualifications pose a reputational risk – within other academic institutions and in the workplace. If postgraduate students manage to gain entry on a falsified transcript, their performance will be below standard. Future applicants from that university may be disadvantaged by association.

This also poses a risk to university selection criteria data and policy, as it damages the validity of using prior academic records as a predictor of success.

Another consequence is that fraudulent qualifications may increase the tendency for institutions to hire their own – accepting more students from their own institution for further study, or employment, rather than recruiting from further afield. That’s because students who’ve already been trained by the institution are more easily verified and represent a known entity.

For employers, hiring those who have falsified their qualifications or lied on their CVs can lead to costly exposure to legal action, high staff turnover, lost revenue and public reputational damage which may take years to repair.

For example, in 2012 it was discovered that Scott Thompson, the then CEO of Yahoo, had not earned the computer science degree he claimed. Instead, he had a degree in accounting. Herbalife’s CEO, Gregory Probert, was forced to resign in 2008 after it emerged that he did not have the MBA he claimed to.

Checks and balances

The University of Cape Town, where we work and conduct research, checks the validity of every undergraduate applicant’s school-leaving certificate. Postgraduate applicants must undergo rigorous selection processes. If falsified documentation is discovered, the application is rejected; in some instances, an enquiry or disciplinary process follows.

This approach is available to all universities in the country. South Africa is ahead of the curve when it comes to the ability to verify qualifications. It boasts a fully-automated, centralised online degree verification system, called MiE. This was the first commercial background screening company of its kind worldwide.

The system links higher education institutions to a centralised database where third party queries may be fielded. The service verifies Grade 12 certificates and checks tertiary qualifications. These include short courses, diplomas and degrees, which are checked directly with local and global institutions. The system also checks whether an academic institution is accredited by the relevant governing body.

For employers, and universities who are also large employers, it is imperative to follow due diligence and check references. Developing collegial relationships across institutions and other organisations can facilitate the due diligence process. Employers must do their homework online as well: check candidates’ online presence and across social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

In addition, a competency-based interview can go a long way in alerting interviewers to what may be a falsified qualification. Use the interview process to look for depth of knowledge across the applicant’s field.

Finally, when in doubt, don’t appoint. Additionally, have the courage not to appoint straight away. Even if someone appears to tick all the boxes, there is still a responsibility for due diligence. Re-advertise and continue the search to find other applicants when doubts arise. Taking extra time and care to properly vet qualifications, references and CVs will pay dividends in the long run.The Conversation

Linda Ronnie, Associate Professor, University of Cape Town and Suki Goodman, Associate professor, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.