History teaches the importance of fighting injustice – and these lessons have particular pertinence at Roedean School (SA) in Johannesburg. Gender parity in education has yet to be achieved in many parts of the world, but even at Cambridge University female students were denied the honour of graduating right up until 1948, as the Lawrence sisters, who founded Roedean’s two sites in England and South Africa, knew from personal experience. “Our philosophy has always focused on empowering young women,” says Executive Headmistress Mary Williams.

Today, Roedean teaches over 800 girls aged five to 18 and has a reputation for academic excellence. The school nurtures critical and creative skills across a broad, integrated curriculum, but prioritises maths and the sciences, with pupils benefitting from a hi-tech maths centre and recently rebuilt science facilities. “Our strategy is designed to challenge traditional thinking that says girls can’t really succeed in those subjects,” says Williams. “We’re moving beyond those stereotypes, building confidence, encouraging our girls to learn by taking risks and making mistakes.”


Independent thinkers

Progressive in its approach, the school is a global member of the holistic Round Square movement in education, and has been accredited as a “Thinking School” by the University of Exeter. “We want our students and staff to be independent in their thought,” says Williams, “able to challenge, problem-solve and engage as informed and interested citizens.”

Williams is also conscious of the need for Roedean to learn another vital lesson from history. “South Africa is still recovering from the absolute aberration that was apartheid, and we still sometimes grapple with issues relating to racial tensions, so it’s wonderful to have a teaching and learning environment where we can challenge and question our own behaviours,” she says, adding that 45 per cent of Roedean’s girls are of black, Asian or Indian heritage. “It’s a very enriching environment where we are able to increase awareness and cultural intelligence.

“One of the hallmarks of Roedean,” she concludes, “is that we are a highly traditional school with a modern, relevant and dynamic curriculum. Founded upon the four values of ‘Truth, Honour, Freedom and Courtesy’, we gear young women towards leading a significant life where they can create the societies that are so sorely needed.” That Roedean’s girls are able to learn from the past is key to unlocking a better future.