Extended learning support key to closing off 2020 school year

Extended learning support has proven to be critical in addressing the challenges students face in completing the 2020 school year.

School closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have caused severe disruptions for learners who are now entering the last leg of their school year with trepidation.

Challenges such as work overload, a rushed syllabus, teacher shortages, overcrowded classrooms, stress, and anxiety, all contribute to overwhelming pressure on basic education and its learners.

Executive Director of The Learning Trust, Sibongile Khumalo, explains, “The pressure on both teacher and learner at this time is immense, and with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) anticipating the dropout of 38,000 grade 7’s and 18,000 matriculants, immediate interventions are needed.

“Learners are feeling overwhelmed and need all the support they can get, and a lot of this support has to come beyond the classroom. We strongly believe that After School Programmes (ASPs) will play a huge role in recovering what has been lost.”

Khumalo’s concerns are shared by educational NGO programmes affiliated with The Learning Trust.

With first-hand access to vulnerable and poor students, the ongoing inequality in the education system has been highlighted by the extended school closures, and it is only worsening.

Many of the ASPs have stepped in to assist learners with extra exam preparation, matric tertiary applications, and psychosocial support.

The Department of Basic Education reported recently that 20,000 teachers have applied to stay at home due to comorbidities and the department does not have budget to finance replacement tutors.

“The fact that there won’t be adequate teaching personnel to close off the academic year will have a knock-on effect on learners as they progress to higher grades. There will definitely be gaps going forward, which we as after-school programmes will have a major role in addressing,” says Acting-Executive Director of Bophelong Tutoring Programme, Diseko Pooe.

Extended learning support to help learners prepare for final exams

In the months and years that follow the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, academic support outside of schools will be essential.

Phakamani Youth Minds Academy in Johannesburg, who place a huge emphasis on matriculants, is an ASP working hard to support learners at this time.

They have partnered with various organisations and institutions to assist 67,000 matriculants across South Africa prepare for their 2020 final exams.

Done through their #21ActsofGoodness campaign, they run virtual and face-to-face sessions providing learners with academic support in the form of supplementary tutoring, mentorship, homework supervision, exam preparation, plus reading and maths clubs.

The academy also provides psychologists and counsellors to help learners in their programme cope with the  psychosocial impact of COVID-19.

South Africa’s digital divide has never been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learners in under-resourced communities cannot simply turn to the internet or attend remote, virtual classes.

While the minority of well-resourced South African schools (quintiles 4 and 5) have been able to apply COVID-19 safety protocols and continue tutoring online, quintile 1, 2 and 3 schools have not had the same opportunities.

Executive Director, Mthandazo Khumalo, says that Phakamani Youth Minds Academy have been able to make free data available and have raised funds to supplement WIFI at the academy.

“Since the world has become globalised and digitalised, it is high time that all after-school programmes play a role in closing the digital divide and inequality among disadvantaged communities. Lockdown has forced us to relook at how we implement our programme to ensure learners have what they need to devise feasible high school exit strategies.”

Jason Torreano, Executive Director of Inkululeko concurs, “Our learners do not have the same opportunities for success as those from more affluent backgrounds.

“When schools shut down in March, they could not simply go home, pop open the laptop, connect to Wi-Fi and carry on.

“ASPs like Inkululeko support learners by providing access to data and laptops, mentorship, tutoring after school and connecting them to resources to guide them through this exceptionally difficult time in human history.”

Inkululeko has offered high quality academic support to South African learners in Makhanda (Grahamstown) from tutors around the world.

The Emagqabini Education Academy in Khayelitsha, Cape Town has worked tirelessly with schools in the area to support matric students with their tertiary and NSFAS applications as well as provide matric learners with printed questionnaires, data, and food-relief.

“This is a pivotal time for grade 12s, they’ve been robbed of a full matric year, so we have to support them to get their tertiary applications submitted on time. This cannot be an oversight,” says Cindy Mkaza-Siboto, Co-founder of the academy.

Beyond the classroom

Research shows that After School Programmes that include tutoring and homework, e-learning, skills-building, sport and arts & culture, can measurably improve learner success in school.

ASPs also help prevent learners dropping out, which is unacceptably high in quintile 1, 2 and 3 schools.

The Learning Trust’s Sibongile Khumalo believes that tailored extra -curricular programmes with access to tools outside of school, that cater to the learning and psychosocial needs of our youth, can help cultivate holistic wellbeing.

“Poverty, trauma and abuse, lack of adult guidance and resources are just some of the things that can leave young people unmotivated to learn or with limited choices, which can lead to school dropouts.

“In a country where there are still numerous issues to fix at grassroot level, we have to support learners in other ways to ensure school completion and access to multiple pathways of learning and opportunity,” she says.

The challenge for the future is how to support the Department of Basic Education to recover and to close the inequality gap during this rebuild.

Extended learning support through the After School sector will prove vital to the rebuild.

“To bring us back on track with preparing the workforce of the future, it is even more critical now that we innovate around educating the marginalised and underserved majority of our youth.

“Beyond the much-needed provision of technology and devices to aid learning, there is an increasing need to bridge the economic gap by embracing simple solutions and meeting our populous where they are,” concludes Khumalo.