SA Schools Combat Economic Disadvantage, Discrimination to Help Students Become Their Best

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Howard Dalziel is International Schools Coordinator at The Salvation Army’s International Headquarters in London, United Kingdom. The following was featured in the winter edition of All the World. Learn more at www.salvationarmy.org/ihq/schools.

The Salvation Army is well known for many things, including uniforms, brass bands, homeless shelters and rehabilitation centers. What is less well known is that The Salvation Army is responsible for an astonishing 2,769 schools. More than 18,500 teachers provide an education to 594,229 pupils ranging in age from three to 18, in kindergartens and through primary, junior, secondary and vocational training.

Most students will spend four or five years in a Salvation Army school and a significant number will either board or lodge in a Salvation Army-run hostel. In these instances the Salvation Army school will be their home during term time and everyone looking after the young people will be in a strong position to enhance their spiritual development and shape their attitudes.

This is an incredible mission opportunity, providing a significant period of time to build quality relationships. Equally, however, there is a great responsibility to ensure that each child is given every opportunity to become the best they can be.

Above left: relaxed students at Oda Junior Secondary School, Ghana; top: working hard at Semarang Elementary School, Indonesia; above: pupils at Santiago Junior School, Chile

The United Nations’ second Millennium Development Goal states that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, should be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. This is a laudable goal which will improve the lives of many – but it can put primary schools under pressure where resources do not keep up with expectations. A number of Salvation Army schools have seen significant increases in their admissions without receiving any extra funding.

Each Salvation Army territory and command has a different approach to education and a different relationship with the government, local community and with donors. These relationships are generally determined by funding options, either coming from the state or through private sources. Local laws on school governance will also dictate the role The Salvation Army plays in teacher appointments and application of the curriculum.

The outworking of The Salvation Army’s International Vision One Army, One Mission, One Message – promotes an emphasis on teaching and involving youth and children. However the provision of a structure where education is intended to take place is not in itself sufficient. Quality education needs to be central to ‘reaching and involving’ youth and children otherwise the potential impact gained from having a school is lost.

An open-air lesson at Asuano Kindergarten, Ghana

An open-air lesson at Asuano Kindergarten, Ghana

In recent years it became clear that a framework was needed to support and direct Salvation Army schools around the world as they strive for excellence.

With this in mind, an International Schools Strategy was developed – through consultation with Salvation Army territories, educationalists from around the world and representatives of communities where The Salvation Army provides schooling – setting out key principles and focus areas for Salvation Army schools.

The vision statement focuses on what all Salvation Army schools should try to achieve: ‘Salvation Army schools seek to develop compassionate people of integrity and character with the relevant skills, knowledge and understanding to achieve their full God-given potential. This will be achieved by developing quality, holistic, faith-based, family-focused education prioritizing vulnerable and marginalized children.’

Nine guiding principles put Salvation Army schools at the heart of the community they serve and place importance on social, emotional, cognitive, physical and spiritual development. There is an emphasis on providing a safe and secure environment supported by corps (churches) keeping Christian values at the heart. The strategy’s six focus areas are:

  • Providing quality education which leads to high achievement for all;
  • Relationships and partnerships;
  • Improving infrastructure and maximizing resources;
  • Developing a plan for sustainability;
  • Continually improving the quality of teaching staff and management systems;
  • Developing minimum standards and guidelines on child safety and protection.

All schools should work hard to provide the best education possible, but many Salvation Army schools have to fight against the background of harsh economic realities.

They are often found in areas where there are minority groups who have to work hard to fight discrimination and economic disadvantage; or in neglected and isolated urban areas that suffer from social, economic and spiritual poverty. Some examples of Salvation Army education are found in isolated rural communities where the Church provides health and education to people who are otherwise ignored by the state.

Girls from Batala High School, Punjab, India;

Girls from Batala High School, Punjab, India;

The Salvation Army’s calling to ‘serve suffering humanity’ takes it to these areas. It is in the fabric of the Army’s being, but it does not make for an easy existence, especially in the field of education where resources are limited and more often than not financial advantage goes hand in hand with quality.

To provide excellence in these areas means drawing on other strengths.

Teachers in the United Kingdom are often called on to demonstrate ‘added value’. The aim is to show through the exam system, and teacher assessment, that a child has achieved above what was previously assessed as his or her academic potential and that the teaching they received has enabled them to excel.

In well-resourced schools with supportive parents this is relatively straightforward.

This, however, is not the environment in which The Salvation Army generally chooses to work. We therefore have to draw on other strengths and resources to add ‘value’ – often through the provision of a safe, welcoming environment where young people are given the means to thrive and the tools to improve the circumstances of both themselves and their families.

In all things the priority of The Salvation Army with its One Mission and One Message is to build deeper relationships with the Church, with the community and with God. Salvation Army schools offer a space for these relationships to develop and grow. In this way effective schools have the potential to glorify God and Salvation Army schools – using the International Schools Strategy as a starting point – should always have this in sight.

Commissioner John Swinfen, whose Salvation Army officership included leadership appointments in the UK, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, the Republic of Congo and at International Headquarters, carried out a review of Salvation Army schools in India in 2000. His conclusion is as true now as it was then: ‘Ineffective schools do not glorify God. Effective schools can, and Salvation Army schools should.’