12 February 2016

Letter from the Head – 12 February 2016

Dear Parents

The term is certainly getting busier and more demanding and I am pleased to see that many of the students are learning to manage their time more effectively and are trying to be more engaged in the many activities on offer.  Grade 8s and 9s who do not attend sport and club activities will find that their Life Orientation mark at the end of the year will be seriously compromised. Those who engage with the activities on offer will also find that they will have a rich and varied curriculum vitae.

Our Rowers are currently at the Buffalo Regatta and are faring well and the 1st Cricket Team are playing the special T20 Tournament on Sunday at College. Other summer sporting codes are also demanding time and energy from the various players.

As you all know, Somerset College 2015 Matriculants earned themselves many distinctions.  After requesting re-marks 4 students had their results change rather radically and the number of distinctions achieved has increased by 6.  James Freemantle and Olivia Meltzer each achieved yet another distinction after their re-marks in History were successful. Olivia now has 6 distinctions and Tim Taylor achieved 7 distinctions on account of his re-mark in Afrikaans.  Chris-Jan Kruger’s results changed dramatically as he has now achieved 5 distinctions after obtaining additional distinctions in English, Mathematics and Music. We congratulate these students on the excellence they have achieved and on even better results than originally reported.

The 16 skills for the 21st Century put forward at the World Economic Forum are an excellent guideline for parents and teachers alike.  These are certainly important characteristics that we should all be focusing on to assist our children to flourish better within their world and the world they will soon be entering.

For the purposes of this newsletter I would like to focus on three of the six character qualities listed as these can be encouraged at home and at school:

1. Persistence/Grit:  This characteristic encourages children to work through problems.  We should encourage them to find solutions rather than to give up too soon.  In Finland, a country renowned for educational excellence, ‘grit’ or ‘sisu’ in Finnish, is considered a national characteristic. The Finns pride themselves on their determination to work through challenges and to triumph through hard work. We need to encourage much greater perseverance in our children. Often the tendency is to make the path too easy for them and they then find it too difficult to cope with the reality of life.

2. Adaptability: In Daniel Pink’s words,  the hallmark of our times is volatility, chaos, ambiguity and uncertainty. Our children need to learn that things are neither predictable nor certain. They need to make decisions in a moment and accept that not everything will go according to their plan. They do not have agency over every aspect affecting their lives and railing against life and its vicissitudes is unhelpful. Tests happen at the same time that life happens, for example. Adapting to the given situation is energising and affirming and builds capacity to become evermore competent.

There are many ways we can help our children become more adaptable. First by modelling adaptability and second by not expecting militaristic precision at every turn. We are all part of something greater than ourselves.

Sometimes a healthy dose of stepping back from being too enmeshed in your child’s life is the most enabling gift you can give them. They will learn to be adaptable and to practise adaptability.  People who are adaptable do not expect life to be fair and they can deal with disruption and disruptors to the norm effectively and even with a sense of joyfulness.

3. Social and Cultural Awareness: This key characteristic speaks for itself.  It is very evident that as South Africans we need to be more cognisant of the complexities inherent in our society.  We need to learn about, respect, understand and be enriched by cultural difference. Exposing our children to different cultural and social experiences will enable this characteristic to develop. Understanding the multiple identities enjoyed by some people will allow for greater understandings to develop. Lovelyn Nwadeyi’s words about courage, compassion and complexity can be very helpful.  For those of you who have not seen her address, I encourage you to listen to her speech.  The link is: Lovelyn Nwadeyi’s speech

If we work on building these characteristics in our children; if we start to listen to all the wonderful voices in our country and if we take time to hear the pain and joy of others we will make our country a very special place.  If we all work on these things we will increase the prospect for growth because we will be creating an adaptable people, able to persevere and able to embrace hard truths.

We have an opportunity to practise grit and adaptability with the imminent Independent Quality Assurance Agency (IQAA) inspection.  You will be receiving notification about this evaluation process the College is compelled to undergo. We have already been assessed by Umalusi – the government body that assesses private schools. (State schools are not required to be inspected.)  IQAA, an arm of ISASA, (Independent Schools Association of South Africa) will be conducting a quality assurance process over the course of the next few months.  I will be sending out a letter pertaining specifically to this.  Please will you read that letter carefully and please will you fill in their on-line survey when it is sent to you.  If we engage effectively with these inspections, our College will become a better place and the opportunity to improve is a valuable one.

I hope you have a happy Valentine’s weekend.  I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at the T20 Cricket Matches on Sunday.

Yours sincerely

Meg Fargher