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 finish school. The provision of psychosocial and academic support are central to these models of intervention.
Our partnership with the National Association of Childcare Workers (NACCW) aims to prevent dropout by providing school-based services to meet the complex needs of vulnerable adolescents in KwaZulu-Natal. The NACCW is an independent non-profit organisation (NPO) providing professional training to promote healthy child and youth development.
In their Isibindi Ezikoleni model, child and youth care workers train and capacitate Learner Support Agents (LSAs) employed by the Department of Basic Education. They in turn provide support to at-risk learners through mentorship programmes. Learners are enrolled in a mentorship programme if they have a history of absenteeism, show a lack of interest in school, and display antisocial behavioural traits.
The NACCW 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.
We spoke to Kuhle Ntintili, an NACCW staff member who coordinates the Isibindi Ezikoleni programme about how their initiatives adapted to the school closures.
Isibindi Ezikoleni programme coordinator in KwaZulu-Natal
That lockdown has taught me a lot about the importance of flexibility. In order to ensure that none of our beneficiaries were left destitute during this time, we needed to transition from providing direct physical services to providing virtual services. The lockdown has also provided an opportunity to explore new grounds and develop new ways of working to ensure the continuation of care.
We initiated digital reading clubs as part of a broader virtual initiative by the National Association of Child and Youth Care Workers (CYCWs). The virtual initiative gave CYCWs a platform to continue providing services to children and youth.
The Isibindi Ezikoleni KwaZulu-Natal team chose WhatsApp to connect with groups of learners because many of them were already familiar with the platform.
In these WhatsApp groups, learners could access a range of programmes and activities. They could also play chess, access study programmes, sessions from the Vhutshilo sexual and reproductive health curriculum and My Life My Future and Lifebook activities.
Once a virtual group was set up, learners were told to add FunDza as a contact on WhatsApp and they were shown how to access stories on the platform. As a group, the learners would decide on the story, blog, a poem or essay to read. The facilitator would then come up with discussion questions based on the story. During the discussion, learners respond via text or audio note.
Other activities stemming from the reading club include debates, spelling bees and poetry writing. During debates, learners split into groups and deliver points for or against a topic. Spelling bees are facilitated through the use of audio notes, while poetry writing is done through texts, audio notes or videos. We launched seven virtual groups reaching approximately 60 learners.
Initially, we experienced challenges with access to data, however, the NACCW was able to raise funds that provided data to learners. This way, learners were able to remain connected to the virtual programmes.
One of our biggest challenges was that a number of learners did not have access to a smartphone. Learners without any phones were encouraged to make use of their caregiver’s phones so that we could contact them. We were able to provide them with information regarding Covid-19 and the different educational programmes available on radio and TV.
Learners enjoyed taking part in the group sessions and said they no longer felt bored at home. They were also eager to take ownership of the groups and some did not rely on the mentor or CYCW to introduce topics and discussion points. Learners outside our schools also said they wanted to join our groups after learning about them from their friends. The success of the groups are attributed to the CYCWs who bring a unique set of skills guided by four developmental quadrants in the circle of courage: belonging, mastery, independence and generosity.