The Telkom Foundation aims to develop youth resilience through innovation and digital transformation in education. The Foundation was established in 1998, with a budget of R100 million over five years and a focus on improving education by bridging the digital divide in South African schools. In 2017 the Foundation not only doubled its investment to R200 million over five years but also drew insight from its two decades of experience to revitalise its strategy for addressing education and employability.
Telkom Foundation’s overarching strategy aims to develop high school learners’ digital skills, making them employable in the information communications and technology (ICT) sector. The strategy encompasses integrated programmes that will be implemented in three phases, over several years. The strategy recognises the crucial role that the private sector – particularly ICT companies – has to play in improving the quality of education that will contribute to strengthening South Africa’s tech industry and its ability to compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The High School Support Programme
From 1998 to 2017, Telkom Foundation’s flagship Connected Schools Programme (CSP) aimed to bridge the digital divide in South Africa’s education system by providing ICT equipment, resources, connectivity and training to schools and teachers in rural areas. Over two decades, more than R200 million was invested into the programme, benefitting more than 2 000 schools, upskilling over 20 000 teachers and enhancing the education of more than 600 000 learners.
Despite this significant investment, the Foundation began to realise that infrastructural support would not be enough to allow school communities to feel comfortable with using technology, and that more holistic support would be needed to fully leverage technology as a tool to meaningfully impact education and employment outcomes. In response, the Foundation remodelled the CSP and piloted it in five schools in Tshwane West. As the pilots were underway, the Foundation developed a comprehensive new strategy which it decided to build onto the improved CSP.
The High School Support Programme (HSSP), which forms the first phase of the Foundation’s new overarching strategy, provides a spectrum of integrated educational and non-academic support, to ensure ICT-competency among learners and teachers. The programme provides comprehensive support to learners from the time that they start grade eight, all the way through to matric. The Foundation will continue to provide ICT solutions, such as computers, educational resources and internet connectivity, but will also focus on learners’ socioeconomic and psychosocial development, addressing issues such as transport, nutrition and health and wellness. The programme is also geared towards developing critical thinking, introducing learners to the wider opportunities created by technology and teaching them to use technology to solve social challenges.
The HSSP will run until 2022 and is constituted of the following five pillars:
- ICT infrastructural support, including the provision of teacher and learner-dedicated computers, smart boards, computer labs, internet connectivity, educational content and full-time technical support to facilitate the integration of ICT into teaching and learning.
- Supplementary teaching in maths, science and English helps learners improve their performance in these gateway subjects to ICT careers. The programme began by focusing on learner content gaps that are crucial building blocks for mastering these subjects, and it continues to find innovative ways of supporting learners.
- Non-academic support addresses socioeconomic barriers to learning and responds to learners’ psychosocial needs. This includes providing learners at participating schools with social work services and mentorship, facilitating peer support, cultivating learners’ resilience and focusing on the development of learners’ digital skills, cognitive, linguistic and problem-solving abilities, collaborative learning and critical thinking needs.
- Teacher support includes in-depth ICT integration training to enable teachers to maximise the use of ICT resources at their disposal. In addition, the Foundation has also trained and employed local youth as full-time facilitators, to ensure that teachers receive the necessary technical support.
- Leadership development is entrenched in the belief that the quality of school leadership is a determinant of academic performance. To this end, school principals foster collaboration with other schools through communities of practice – a methodology designed to facilitate peer learning and partnerships for improving their schools
Transforming schools from tech ready to tech savvy
The Telkom Foundation opted to work in Gauteng because of the well-documented tech readiness and proactive stance that the province’s education department was taking to ensure the integration of ICT solutions in the classroom. For example, in 2015, the department announced plans to roll out paperless classrooms to 375 schools in townships and rural areas across Gauteng.
To feed into this overarching government strategy, in 2017 Telkom Foundation piloted its refreshed HSSP at five high schools in the Tshwane West education district. All of these schools are close to Telkom’s campus in Centurion and face similar challenges common in disadvantaged schools, including shortage of teachers, poorly equipped classrooms and a lack of ICT readiness. The schools were selected in collaboration with the Department of Education’s district office and through engagement with school governing bodies and parents.
In addition to the five schools in Tshwane West, the programme has also been rolled out to two schools in Port Elizabeth. The HSSP is targeting approximately 2 700 learners and 120 teachers in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape over five years.
Key lessons on supporting teachers, learners, parents and broader school communities
- The HSSP continues to highlight the important role that teachers play in their schools’ uptake of technology. The Foundation has noted that, while improving teachers’ skills in maths, science and English is critical, enhancing their knowledge and levels of comfort with technology is equally important. As a result, the Foundation will prioritise teacher training across a range of areas, including ICT integration and change management.
- Some learners who were already in grade eight were found to have content gaps that stemmed from the foundation phase of their education. Recognising the importance of addressing these foundational needs, there was an initial focus on the provision of supplementary teaching and peer-to-peer learning to improve learner competency and performance. An important lesson has been the need to strike a healthy balance between focusing on historical content gaps while also helping more advanced learners to keep abreast of current subject matter; thereby ensuring that all learners are adequately engaged and remain stimulated and interested. Psychosocial support is also crucial for motivating learners and ensuring their commitment to the programme.
- Parents and the broader school community play a pivotal role in the safety, uptake and sustainability of ICT in schools. When parents understand and communicate the importance of ICT equipment in their children’s educational development, and they communicate this with their broader communities, it contributes to community buy-in and improves the safety of computer labs at the schools.
- The latest iteration of the HSSP was developed with replicability, scalability and innovation in mind. However, for this to be possible, a feedback mechanism is required to allow stakeholders to continuously evaluate their performance, and adapt their activities and approaches. As a result of this learning, the Foundation has begun developing a robust monitoring and evaluation system to assess academic and non-academic outcomes, including issues such as absenteeism, attrition rates and psychosocial outcomes.
Phase two of the Foundation’s overarching strategy will commence in 2022, following the first cohort of learners to post-school institutions. The third phase of the strategy will focus on integrating the cohort into the mainstream economy, either through employment or by supporting them to establish their own small businesses.
Head of the Telkom Foundation www.telkom.co.za
Source: Trialogue Business in Society Handbook 2018.