Helping children experience early learning success and acquire essential skills by third grade is a crucial part of our school and parenting reform efforts.Our Early Learning Support Project help teachers rediscover the joy of teaching and help children fall in love with learning again. Our material helps a teacher as she works through the challenges of formative assessment and responsive instruction to discover the practices that will help her students succeed. Through our psychosocial support programmes teachers will learn (within the context of their curriculum) how to:
- Set clear, attainable learning outcomes,
- Make teaching responsive to the whole child,
- Monitor student progress toward essential skills,
- Build a truly positive classroom and school culture,
- Collaborate to help young children succeed.
Epworth Children’s Village has demonstrated that by bringing parents and teachers to work together, we can create schools, homes, and communities that help every child fall in love with learning.
Epworth Children’s Village has reached an understanding with the Gauteng Provincial Department of Education to provide education support services to schools in historically marginalized communities and informal settlements. In 2004 Epworth Children’s Village started working with schools from affluent communities of Germiston that could pay concessional fees for educational psychology assessments and occupational therapy. Working with the district education officials the project has spread its coverage to township schools that are experiencing high rates of teen pregnancies, dropouts, absconding, failure, violence and drug and alcohol abuse among learners. These are mostly no-fee schools for children whose parents/guardians cannot afford fees; hence the schools cannot afford to pay for the psychological and occupational therapy services.
2.1 Community Setting
The project runs a holistic education support model and deploys teams of diverse professionals: social workers, psychologists, remedial educators, occupational therapists and childcare workers; who serve as near peer tutors, mentors and role models and deliver highly integrated services to students and teachers. This has come as a response to extensive research which has shown that in South Africa thousands of teenagers fall victim to sexual pressures due to poverty, peer pressure, societal pressures, and the media. South Africa has thus been found to bear the highest statistics of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy in the world.
The research conducted by Love Life; South Africa’s largest youth-targeted HIV/AIDS campaign, indicated that one in three girls have had a baby by the age of 20. It also showed that 71% of pupils at one school in Soweto got pregnant in 2008 alone. Teenage pregnancy and school dropouts are commonest occurrences in Gauteng. Manuel (2011) said of the 1.4million pupils that started school in 1999, 600 000 sat for matric in 2010, of which 67,8% passed, yet only 15% of those that passed obtained matric marks higher than 40%. South Africa is ranked 137 out of 150 countries in maths and science. It spends 6% of its GDP on education but it is one of the bottom 25 performers on the African continent in education. In his preamble to the MGD Report of 2010, President Zuma said, “We are aware that we have a massive backlog of skills and whilst we have achieved the MDG 2 of universal primary education, we remain aware that the quality of our education holds back our route to development”.
South African media is full of news of violence committed by and/or on children. AFP-November 30 reported that, a South African teenager charged with shooting dead a Johannesburg schoolmate he accused of bullying was arraigned and freed on bail pending his trial.
Our project operates in high density townships and informal settlements schools where orphans are concentrated. Schooling in these communities is in crisis. The literacy and numeracy levels there remain very weak. Schools are severely under-resourced and teachers are not supported at all. Enrolment expansion has not been matched with commensurate resource allocations for classrooms, teachers and learning materials. The project supports both staff and children as there are also increasing numbers of vulnerable children in high-density schools. In some of the schools we are working with, an average of 70 percent of learners have lost one or both parents or the primary families have broken down so they live in single parent households where the bread winner is unemployed. Some simply live in child headed households. Most of these families are very poor and in their struggles for basic provisions motivation for further study in children is very low. At the same time post matriculation opportunities are few without further education. Teenagers are uninformed and ill prepared socially and academically for the higher education environment. Most drop out of school and resort to drug abuse, falling prey to teen pregnancies, violence and crime.
Working with schools for the past six years, our project has proved that with the right kind of support these young people will make the best of an opportunity, succeed with their studies, join the economic mainstream and contribute to their families and communities. Due to schools’ awareness of our pool of professional resources and reputable services the organization receive numerous requests from schools to partner with them and help to keep students in school and on track to graduate. Our Community Education Support Project has therefore been designed in consultation with the Department of Education that has the following core elements:
- Attendance Monitoring and Incentive Programmes.
- Behavioural Support initiatives.
- Academic Enhancement especially in Math, Science and English.
- Educator Support initiatives.
- Parent Motivation and Support initiatives.
2.4 Lessons Learned from Similar Activities
We have worked in 13 schools over the past 6 years. The teachers and parents respect and value our services. We have gained considerable ground in increasing school adherence and pass rates in schools. We have also reduced drug and alcohol abuse, bullying and teen pregnancies significantly. In so doing, some teachers and parents have abdicated their parental responsibilities to us.
We have thus, learnt over the years to include parents and teachers in comprehensive training programmes to avoid over dependency on us. Our training is meant to empower parents and teachers to become a team that forever cooperate in the interest of the children.We also provide training for Learners Representative Councils in an effort to grow positive peer leadership in schools.
2.6 Situation Expected at the end of the Project
School adherence and attendance improvement: Learners will be motivated to stay in school to finish their grades with minimal, reasonable or no absenteeism at all. The ratio of children completing grade 12 and matric will be drastically improved.
Behavioural improvement: Tendencies such as bullying, absenteeism, outright neglect of school work and obsession with intimate relations will be brought under control as learners get focused on psychosocial support programmes and the purpose of coming to school.
Academic Enhancement especially in Math, Science and English: Learners will be assessed and effectively focused on their specific areas of competencies. Remedial classes will ensure that all learners who have potential are properly supported. Specific improvements will be noted and rewarded. There will be a culture of hard work and generalized improvement in pass rates with greater learner motivation.
Educator motivation: Through effective training teachers will be equipped to deal with erstwhile challenging learner behaviours. Support from parents and learner cooperation will make teaching interesting and motivating. The acknowledgement by senior education officials and local authority representatives will spare teachers on. Teachers will go extra miles and a supportive culture will prevail in participating schools.
Parent Motivation and participation: Parents will be motivated to participate in school activities and support school initiatives to enhance learner attendance and pass rates. Their presence at school activities will be improved and the interaction between parents and teachers will be significantly improved.
3. PROJECT DESCRIPTION
Effective funding will help us to cover more schools and enhance our presence at project sites. The project’s five major objectives are:
- Empowerment of members of School Based Support teams and other teachers in most deprived schools in discipline management, learning and crisis management and produce a practice manual for school based support teams concerned. The training focuses on linking the school to the various local resources and services, and increasing teacher sensitivity to the needs of the children. It refreshes, sharpens and operationalizes educators’ skills and knowledge in areas such as assessment and identification of barriers to learning, learning support, life skills, guidance and counselling, inclusion of learners; to strengthen ‘peer-support’, and inclusion of parents and skilled members of the local community; to strengthen collective learner support. The project staff and teachers will also coach students towards behaviours and attitudes that reflect a strong, purpose-driven character through general instruction, psychosocial support, mentoring and establish incentive programmes. This raises schools’ teaching standards.
- To run workshops for parents and/or guardians and increase their support and participation in the education of their children as demonstrated through increase in the numbers of parents present at school meetings, consultation days, school functions, sporting events, and participation in fundraising activities. This should result in improved relationships and communication among teachers and parents/guardians to strengthen attendance monitoring. The result will also be an improved attendance through targeted communications to parents and guardians.
- To run learner leadership development seminars for Learners’ Leadership Council members and psychosocial club leaders to equip them to help form and lead motivational clubs in schools. The students will be trained in peer support, group dynamics, purpose-driven leadership, setting boundaries, goal setting, role modelling, and material content pertinent to particular groups of their choice. This aims to produce a group of exemplary learners to help influence positive behaviour in the generality of the students and increase retention and completion. A school based newsletter will also be launched to influence writing and reading.
- To facilitate the formation of learners’ motivational thematic clubs on issues, such as Leadership Development, Science and Maths, Community Health, Interact, Readers, Newsletter & Creative Writing and other developmental issues and support teachers and student leadership in running them, meeting at least once every week. Students will be directly responsible for planning and running their group activities. This will also strengthen peer support and develop leadership skills among children. The school becomes an attractive place for growth where children’s contribution is valued.
4.2 Local Participation
Local participation is evidenced by the involvement of community leadership, members of school governing boards, parents, learners and schools management. The project is wholly community managed. All Epworth does is skills transfer and empowerment of local leadership. Thus, the project trains and empowers teachers, parents, student leadership councils and facilitate project sustainability.