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House Systems for South African Schools

[Business Day (Johannesburg)]House systems are the school-level counterparts of collegiate systems in universities. (And some colleges and universities, of course, also use the term “house system” rather than “residential college system.”) Both house systems and residential college systems create small, cross-sectional communities within a larger institution so that students and faculty alike can be known one by one, and so the full benefits of individual diversity can be realized.

In a lengthy opinion piece on school reform in South Africa published this morning in Business Day (Johannesburg), writer David Wylde includes the creation of house systems in larger schools among his recommendations:

Create in the schools a sense of belonging through the vertical integration of age cohorts. In simple terms, a house/amakhaya system, which, when properly run, allows older teenagers to mentor younger teenagers. Structure is essential for community building.

A house system creates an easy to implement extramural programme, which stimulates interest and involvement and develops skills such as debating, singing or playing soccer. By expecting participation from all children, you create a sense of belonging.

Amakhaya means “home” or “family” in Xhosa.

Critics sometimes assert that house systems and residential college systems are elitist features of upper-class schools that shouldn’t be replicated at institutions for the less wealthy. This reflexive complaint invariably comes from those who are themselves well paid and comfortable. By contrast, people who struggle on the ground with the daily challenges of school and university reform often have a different perspective. Wylde’s first recommendation for school reform in South Africa is that all schools be supplied with running water; but that’s followed soon after by his recommendation for house systems because he sees them playing a vital role in strengthening the school community, which in turn helps to alleviate poverty in the society at large.

If house systems are good enough for upper-class schools they’re good enough for all schools—maybe even yours.

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