UJ departmental head of education and senior lecturer Dr Suraiya Naicker.
The University of Johannesburg (UJ) recently celebrated the graduation of the first group of students to complete the online Advanced Diploma in School Leadership and Management (ADSLM).
The 20-month online programme’s first module was launched in August 2021. While students completed the advanced diploma programme by the end of February 2023, the formal graduation ceremony only took place in October.
Describing the programme and the niche that it fills, UJ departmental head of education and senior lecturer Dr Suraiya Naicker said the advanced diploma has a more practical application than the online Masters and Honours programmes, which are more academically inclined. The programme caters for teaching professionals, with a strong focus on helping educators improve their practice.
“We have a rich wealth of knowledge,” said Dr Naicker, referring to the fact that the programme’s lecturers and teaching assistants had all been selected due to their experience as school principals
As Dr Naicker explained, the programme has been designed to cater for people who work on school management teams and who are at post-level 2 or above. For those not versed in teacher qualification levels, post-level 1 teachers are regular school teachers, while level 2 is for heads of department, post-level 3 is for deputy principals post level 4 is for school principals.
Dr Naciker said that while the majority of those who are accepted into the programme are at post-level 2 or higher, they had also admitted some applicants who had many years of teaching experience but had not officially advanced beyond
This means that the average age of enrolled students was far older than for most university programmes and some of the students had last studied under the apartheid education framework.
Speaking about the background of the course, she said the advanced diploma in its current online carousel format had sprung from smaller short learning programmes that the department offered. Those predecessor programmes were often taught on-site at schools, many of them in rural areas.
Dr Naicker said that the carousel model was proving very popular, thanks to the flexibility it affords students. The ADSML is the third carousel model that they have implemented, having launched an online Masters in 2018 and an Honours programme in 2020. As such, they had already dealt with all the struggles and challenges of adapting a very hands-on programme to a remote learning format.
Dr Naicker added that the advanced diploma is highly sought after by the Department of Education and this claim was backed up by Charlotte Duma, who completed the programme with a distinction.
Duma was the departmental head for Life Skills, English and Afrikaans at Bonaero Park Primary School in Kempton Park in Gauteng. Completing this qualification has quickly led to career progression for Duma, she has been appointed in a permanent position as Deputy Principal of the school, starting 1 January 2024.
Through the course of her work, an educational psychologist from the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) suggested that she study an Honours in educational psychology so that she could work at the department.
While considering where to study for an Honours degree, Duma said she came across UJ’s online ADSML programme. The online format appealed to her as it allowed her to continue with her job and she would not have to spend lots of time travelling to attend classes somewhere.
“When I found out it was fully online, I was like ‘Okay, this I can do’;” she said.
Duma is now a firm fan of online learning, but she admitted that the first module took some getting used to. “It wasn’t easy at all. We are old school. We are used to using books, even if doing distance education. This was very different because we had to do everything on the computer. It was daunting and, at times, we weren’t sure what we were doing, but that was the first module.”
By the second module of the programme, however, she and her peers were getting more comfortable with the online format and the learning management system.
“By the third module we didn’t have any issues at all,” she said.
‘An amazing course’
“What I love the most about UJ is their teaching assistants and their IT people. If you get stuck they are there to help and assist you,” Duma said, adding that if she or her peers didn’t submit assignments on time, UJ’s staff would contact students to remind them and check if they were having trouble with submitting.”
“It helps to have lecturers who are so supportive. I annoyed them the whole time but they were happy to assist,” she said, giving praise to Dr Suraiya Naicker, Dr Parvathy Naidoo, Prof Juliet Perumal, Dr Onoriode Potokri and Prof Kathija Yassim.
“It was an amazing course, out of this world,” she said. “Now when I think about studying, I think of UJ because of the support we received.”
She also spoke warmly of her peers, saying that they had a WhatsApp group that provided a support system for students to help one another out if anyone was struggling.
“It didn’t feel like studying, it felt like a family,” she said. “If someone is feeling lost, someone will pick them up.”
Asked about how she coped with her studies while keeping up with her commitments, she said her daughter was old enough to take care of herself, but that her work was incredibly hectic. “For example, I am department head for English, Afrikaans and Life Skills. I’m also the school-based support coordinator who sends children in need of support to the department. On top of doing all those things, I’ve been acting as deputy principal.”
“When I enrolled, I didn’t have time, but I made it work. I work best under pressure anyway,” she said. “You know what, where there’s a will there’s a way and you make it work.”
‘Go for the programme!’
And make it work she did, completing the course with both a distinction and Dr Naicker’s encouragement to continue with an Honours in education.
“Without hesitation, I am going to do it. You know what, with the experience I had with UJ, I am willing to work with the UJ lecturers again. They are really an amazing bunch of lecturers.”
Asked about advice to future students or those considering the programme, she was full of encouragement. “I would implore people. Go for the programme, you won’t regret it!“
She especially recommended it to those who want to rise to leadership positions, adding that the education department was looking for people with this qualification.
“I gained more skills than I ever anticipated and I am applying everything,” she said, adding that one colleague has already signed up for the same programme after being impressed with the skills Duma had learnt and passed on to her colleagues after completing the programme,
“I cannot wait to apply all of these skills,” she said. “I’m going to go out into the community and apply everything I have learnt to bring the community closer to the school”