Helen Zille's 4 Ts for improving education

I'm part of an initiative called Entrepreneurs Organization. It's a worldwide initiative comprising 8,000+ members over 130 countries and it's mission is to help entrepreneurs learn.

There are a number of ways the initiative facilities learning. One of the most effective is through events called "In the Boardroom" sessions, or ITBs as we like to call them. We arrange meetings with business leaders in their boardrooms, where they kindly share their experience of business with us. Through these events i've had the privilege of meeting Jannie Mouton (PSG), GT Ferreira (Rand Merchant Bank), Gareth Ackerman (Pick 'n Pay), Robbie Brozin (Nandos) and many others.

The most recent "In the Boardroom" session, held yesterday, was with Helen Zille - the Premier of the Western Cape. She isn't a business leader but she is, in my view, an incredible leader.

I am not particularly political, and so I didn't have an arsenal of questions for her around policy issues and the future of our country. But last year I did have a heated exchange with her on Twitter over some snide remarks she made about a TEDEducation event. I even wrote a blog post in which I probably went a little far in responding to her remarks. So I was looking forward to hearing her speak and interact with her face to face.

She gave an excellent talk in which she described the role of Government in enabling entrepreneurs, highlighting some of the local success stories and sharing her view on the importance of entrepreneurial activity to the future of the country.

Sure, she's a politician and knows how to fill up a speaking slot but her talk was, for the most part, filled with substance and thoughtful rhetoric. She was booked for a 60 minute presentation and ended up spending a generous two hours with us. She spoke intelligently on all the topics she touched on, gently defended her views on sensitive political issues, and sparred with some of us (and won!) on the issue of alcohol advertising and the need for some degree of a Nanny State.

I was particularly interested in what she had to say about the importance of education. She explained that the way to fix education is through a focus on improving four key areas:

  • Teachers
  • Text
  • Time Management
  • Technology

These key focus areas resonate with me in online education as much as they do in face-to-face education. Although i'd probably rewrite the list as follows (I really tried to keep the aliteration, but failed!):

  • Teachers and Administrative Coaches
  • Instructional Materials
  • Time Management
  • Technology

Why the changes?

Teachers are expected to be competent across a range of functions. It's not fair to expect teachers to know their subject matter intimately, inspire students through creative lessons, AND be administrative powerhouses. For this reason, we separate out administrative and subject matter roles at GetSmarter. Every student is assigned a teacher and an administrative coach. This separation of roles allows the teachers to become truly great at teaching. And the administrative coaches can focus on becoming truly excellent at pro-active administration. The result of 94% completion rates for over 5,000 students last year, speaks volumes for this approach.

Textbooks are really effective instructional materials. But in today's digital environment, instructional videos, interactive tutorial systems, and other digital learning tools are outperforming static textbooks. 

The Premier's reference to Time Management makes my heart glad. To achieve any significant project one needs effective time management. We bake effective time management practices directly into our courses so that both students and teachers have a disciplined foundation upon which they can perform on the course. It's painful to tell CEOs that they're not on track to hand in their assignment for a course, but it's effective! 

And technology. Well, this enables improvements across the role of teachers and administrative coaches, in the quality of instructional materials, and in better time management.

I'm feeling pretty inspired by the Premier's enthusiasm for South Africa. And I love her vision for improving the education system. 

You've got my vote, Helen.