• Critical analysis

    Instead of simply churning out graduates with degrees, the Henley Business School of South Africa produces cogent thinkers who go on to become agents of change, according to its Dean, Jon Foster-Pedley.

    Critical analysis

    There is a general perception that Africa’s educational institutions are not up to world-class standards. Dean of the Henley Business School in South Africa, Jon Foster-Pedley, puts this into perspective: ‘There are a number of pockets of brilliance in terms of education in Africa, but largely they aren’t being recognised because Africa is still seen globally as being stuck in the grooves of colonialism, corruption, famine and civil wars. They do not see the potential and the power of the African people, who in my experience, are smart and intelligent – and who are now demanding higher quality from their educators and teachers.’

    Foster-Pedley describes education as an activist movement that, as such, requires vigorous change that will stimulate the minds of people in Africa, especially those who feel under-valued, or lack confidence as a result of their varied and different cultural backgrounds or educational suppressions.

    ‘This requires putting humanity at the heart of education, and that in turn requires a new breed of teachers – those who under­­stand how to engage people, how to work on broad-based project education, and how to help children, from a young age, to become critical thinkers. But this means we have to create a climate where teaching is seen as a valuable vocation and pay accordingly.

    ‘We also have to change teacher-training colleges where there is a massive – and antiquated – focus on strictly following a syllabus. When you provide teachers with resources and give them high standards to work with, not only are teaching opportunities transformed but creative thinking is introduced into classrooms. Children will then be able to push their brains and schools will become exciting places.’

    Another misconception that many educational institutions in Africa seem to have is that international curricula are the benchmark. Foster-Pedley does not agree. ‘Each nation has its own regional peculiari­ties,’ he says. ‘On one extreme you see people who insist on teaching African history or African subjects only. On the other is a body of thought that thinks international syllabi and knowledge determine future opportunities. Neither case is entirely right but both are partially good. Instead of roman­ticising the idea that Africa is the continent that will conquer the globe, what if we think about it as a “trans-destination” that is ready to engage with the world, and create world-ready people?’

    By this Foster-Pedley means that Africa needs to develop more future-orientated curricula that allow people to build econo­­mies by embracing the dynamics of what governs international standards, such as economics, art, culture and creativity.

    This is exactly what Henley Business School South Africa presents. Its foundation lies in being part of the oldest business school in Europe, giving it a 70-year-old history and a global presence. The South African arm is, however, the biggest of all the international Henley ventures and has grown by more than 700% since six years ago, when it had a staff complement of just six. The current 50 full-time staff avail themselves of the free study programmes Henley insists they take so that everyone studies while working.

    This is the same offering the school presents to NGOs, 270 of them to date, whereby its MBAid programme offers students and business executives ‘the opportunity to learn the concepts of shared value and responsible leaderships through “hands-on” immersion and action learning programmes. MBAid includes a range of scholarships, learnerships and support for schools and other causes’.

    Foster-Pedley champions MBAid and Henley’s focus on ‘family friendly’ learning, believing that responsible educators should have the will and capability to design learning that does not damage families and relationships. He says that we must understand the difference between thinking well and intelligence. ‘They are not the same thing. We have all the intelligence we need in Africa, so at Henley the experience is to spend a lot of time thinking things through.

    ‘People often haven’t been taught the process of working through work problems [and] how to think critically, and this is what business needs – people who can make quick decisions, good judgements, can analyse properly and learn in action by under­standing the root of problems rather than just supplying traditional answers.’

    The internationally triple-accredited business school (quadruple-accredited with the addition of the Council on Higher Education in South Africa) refers to itself as a ‘design agency for learning’, and its mission is to build people who build the businesses that build Africa.

    ‘Our school is not about slapping degrees on people… We aren’t trying to just give them a corner office. Instead, we want to help those who are looking at becoming the cornerstones of national economic growth and transformation, so that when they qualify, they exit with a sense of purpose,’ according to Foster-Pedley.

    ‘A degree is a mark of quality and significance at the end of a period of study, but if that period of study is not well designed, it hasn’t given you as much learning as you need. Having a degree is one thing but having com­petencies and skills is everything. You are going to be recruited more on those things rather than whether you have a degree or not. A degree is a way to enter the game, but it doesn’t make you win it. That’s down to your skills, attitude and character.’

    By Kerry Dimmer