Spotlight on our Zero Dropout Champions: Khula

The Khula Development Group (KDG) has four key programmes including the SAgo2school initiative to promote a culture of regular school attendance and support for the value of education.

We have partnered with four non-profit organisations (NPOs) to implement dropout prevention strategies at various schools across the country. Our partnerships are focused on identifying and demonstrating what it takes to help learners stay in and succeed at school. The provision of psychosocial and academic support is central to these models of intervention.

Khula Development Group (KDG) is our partner implementing dropout prevention strategies in Paarl and Stellenbosch. Khula is a registered NPO with the mission to reintegrate primary school children in disadvantaged communities, at risk of dropping out, back into the school system. They have found that due to many different social factors and the manifestation of poverty, children are caught up in a cycle of school absenteeism.

Khula’s programmes had to quickly adapt to the realities of Covid-19 and the likelihood that schools would remain closed for longer than expected. Not only do school closures carry heavy social and economic costs, they increase the risk of disengaged learners dropping out.

Fortunately, with the commencement of Level 4 of the lockdown, Khula was granted essential service status. They continued with home visits while maintaining strict hygiene and safety protocols. This enabled them to provide support to learners and caregivers struggling to adapt to the school closures.

We spoke to Khula’s Communications Manager Bianca Oppelt about their ongoing initiatives.

Bianca Oppelt

BIANCA OPPELT in the spotlight

Communications Manager, Khula Development Group

How does Khula support learners and caregivers in vulnerable communities?

Khula’s mission is to reintegrate primary school children in disadvantaged communities, at risk of dropping out, back into the system.

We do this through our four key programmes, namely reintegration, in-school support, motivating primary caregivers, and our SAgo2shcool initiative. We promote regular school attendance by supporting absent at-risk learners and their families, provide academic and psychosocial support to reintegrated learners in Grade R to Grade 7, motivate primary caregivers to accept responsibility for ensuring their children attend school, and instill a culture of attendance and support for the the value of education. We are active in 23 schools in five areas in and around Paarl and Stellenbosch.

How did Khula adapt to the Covid-19 lockdown?

The lockdown prevented us from accessing our primary place of work — schools. Not only have children been losing valuable learning time for cognitive development, they’ve missed out on a meal they would have received at school. To mitigate the risk to their academic development within our SAgo2School programme, we began promoting the Go2School@home programme. We moved quickly to distribute worksheets, books and educational material during our regular home visits and continue to do this while children remain at home.

As the lockdown restrictions eased, Occupational Therapists, Social Workers, Social Auxiliary workers, and our office staff joined the fieldworkers on their home visits, taking place at least three times per week. While fieldworkers are active in the community five days a week, other staff assist at least three times per week, using the other two days for administration. Through these home visits, we raise awareness about COVID-19, provide emotional support, and demonstrate ways in which learners can continue learning at home.

How do these initiatives help to reduce dropout?

Our aim is to spark learners’ interest in education by fostering a culture of learning at home, so they don’t lose their connection with school life. We also want to show primary caregivers and children that learning is fun. In the long run, we believe this approach will help mitigate the risk of dropping out.

Have you been using digital tools to connect with parents and learners?

We render services in disadvantaged communities where access to data is limited. We prefer to use WhatsApp to communicate with our clients. Communication is sent via this channel to our fieldworkers who live in the communities we work in. They connect with the community and share information.

What changes did you notice during the lockdown?

Before the lockdown, on average we received 26 new referrals per month, but this figure is expected to spike when schooling resumes.

During our home visits, we learned that caregivers had not connected with their schools or tried to access educational material. While some complained that they had not received anything, others were not engaging with their school at all.

The ban on alcohol sales had a positive impact on home life, with caregivers showing some signs of improved physical health. We also noticed an uptick in community charitable giving and support. However, not everyone was adhering to strict lockdown regulations and we noticed many were not wearing face masks.

What advice can you give primary caregivers about learning at home?

Learning can take place anywhere, especially through play and encouragement to read. We encourage families to establish routines and rules at home so that learning is both structured and enjoyable. Building a trusting relationship with your child, showing affection, and giving them positive attention are all important to facilitate learning at home.