To bring the best out of a rural school, building classrooms and providing textbooks are not enough; leadership training for teachers and headmasters is pivotal in unlocking a school’s full potential.

This is what First Quantum Minerals’ Kansanshi Mine in Solwezi has learned over many years. Classrooms and textbooks are the foundation and building blocks of learning, but strategic vision and leadership are necessary to make the most of those resources – and that starts at the top with the headmaster.

“A school is like any organisation – you need metrics, you need information, you need to monitor key indicators that tell you how your school is running,” explains Onward Mandebvu, Head of Education at the Kansanshi Foundation. “So, we provide educational leadership training in education statistics, monitoring and evaluation, coaching and development of teachers and the notion of whole-child education. And we follow up to see that it translates into results.”

The objective of this innovative programme, says Mandebvu, is for headmasters to understand that they need to leave their mark on the school that they are leading. “Previously, if you went into a school and asked the headmaster to show you how well the school was performing, few would have been able to tell you. There’d be no strategic vision. That is now changing.”

David Likashi, headmaster of Mushitala School in Solwezi, is one of the beneficiaries of Kansanshi’s leadership training programme.

“As a headmaster, I’ve undergone a lot of development and training, and so have our teachers,” he says. “They are taught to be creative, to make the most of the materials they have, to develop interesting lessons.”

Thanks to the training, the children at Mushitala are not left to drift aimlessly from one year to the next, but are actively encouraged to study hard and have career objectives. “If you go outside and asked the children what they want to do in life, they’ll tell you – I want to become a doctor, a miner, an engineer. And their parents get to know about it too. Their horizons have been expanded. They have direction.”

Indeed, a walk around the playground rapidly confirms the headmaster’s positive view. Students are eager and happy to talk about their hopes and dreams.

Take 13-year-old Esther Ngoma, who is in Grade 8A. “I really enjoy Mushitala; it’s an amazing school.” What are her favourite subjects: “Maths and science. I want to be a doctor, and you need to be good in those subjects – and, of course, English.” Esther’s ambition seems to know no bounds, as she proudly reveals where she hopes to do her medical studies one day. “New York!”

The children at Mushitala School benefit from the notion of ‘whole-child education’, where the emphasis is on producing a well-rounded individual, and not just someone who can pass exams.

A key aspect of this is Early Childhood Development, where children as young as three or four years of age learn not just the basics of numeracy and literacy, but also how to play and interact together. They spend time having fun in the playground, which boasts swings, tyres and interesting climbing structures. As a result, by the time they enter Grade 1, they are far better equipped physically, emotionally and cognitively for the subsequent learning that awaits them, and progress much faster in class.

Another aspect of whole-child development is sport, which is actively encouraged thanks to Kansanshi’s sponsorship. “There was a time when sporting activities had practically collapsed, and we were lucky if we had one sports event per year,” recalls Likashi. “Now jerseys, boots, nets and goalposts are provided. The children play football, netball and volleyball. As a school, we’ve come first in many competitions. This kind of activity was not provided in the system under the Ministry of General Education.”

It would appear that Kansanshi’s very deliberate, results-focused approach to education is not unlike the hard-nosed approach the mine takes in running its own business. The lessons of the boardroom are clearly expression in the classroom.

See also: No teachers, no classrooms, no power