During its two decades of programming, Telkom Foundation’s Connected Schools Programme (CSP) provided information, communications and technology (ICT) access to more than 2 000 under-resourced schools in South Africa, benefiting more than 600 000 learners and more than 20 000 teachers. Following a strategic review in 2017, the Foundation broadened its CSP model from a focus on ICT training to more holistic and integrated programming that also provides the necessary life skills, psychosocial support, leadership training, infrastructure and resources to adequately enable learners to compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The Foundation has pledged R200 million to this High School Support Programme over a five-year (2017–2021) period.
In collaboration with Department of Basic Education (DBE) district offices and through dialogue with school governing bodies and parents, quantile one to three schools in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape were selected to participate in this programme. The Foundation intends to ensure that all participating learners not only improve their performance but acquire skills that will ready them for the future world of work. Beyond learner-focused interventions, the Foundation recognises that education systems and the introduction of ICT to improve the teaching and learning experience cannot be strengthened and sustained without dedicated focus on teacher and school leadership development.
Responsive learner support programming
Telkom Foundation invests more than 65% of the pledged R200 million into teacher development; supplementary tuition for learners that focuses on addressing foundation gaps in maths, science and English tuition outside of school hours, so as not to interrupt the curriculum plan; and the deployment, integration and adoption of technology. The first group of learners to benefit from the programme were identified in 2017: grade eight learners in five high schools in Tshwane West. The Foundation’s diagnostic assessments found several foundational gaps, especially in maths, among these learners. In the same year, Telkom Foundation also started deploying hardware, software, content and connectivity to these schools.
Schools in Port Elizabeth were introduced to the programme the following year. Diagnostic assessments revealed a similar pattern – that learners enter high school with severe foundational gaps which make it almost impossible for them to excel in their subjects and leads to lower literacy and numeracy rates. These results were key to Telkom Foundation’s engagements with the district offices and the decision to take a remedial approach to teaching and learning, in order to close these gaps and improve overall performance.
Feedback on the results was shared with learners, and customised workbooks were developed specific to learner gaps. Tutors were also trained on the remedial approach in order to effectively support the learners. Post-assessment results found that learners were showing significant improvements in the content already covered. To date, over 3 000 learners have benefited from this programme. Telkom also supports 1 000 learners through supplementary tuition, in partnership with St Mary’s Waverley and Alexandra Education Council, targeting learners from Alexandra.
Facilitating teacher mentorship and support
Similar to the insight that influenced adaptations to the learner support programme, working with teachers since 2017 also challenged some of the initial assumptions that the Foundation held. For example, the Foundation assumed that teachers in the partner schools had, at minimum, basic content and pedagogical skills and, therefore, that the integration of ICT would be a critical enabler for improving the quality and learner experience in the classroom. Regular interactions, however, revealed teachers’ lack of pedagogical and content knowledge. As a result, the programme was adapted to include in-classroom support, mentorship and integration of content and pedagogical skills in the development and support of teachers.
To date, over 200 teachers are benefiting and a network of teachers is being created to collaborate and support one another, through the communities of practice approach. Telkom will leverage the use of technology to break geographical boundaries in its quest to drive collaboration.
As part of the programme, teachers are provided with laptops, mobile data, content and training to support the use of ICT in administration, lesson planning, teaching, learning and assessments.
The intention is to scale the use of technology and zero-rated content for use beyond partner schools, while simultaneously looking at how technology can be leveraged to drive collaboration beyond the current schools.
School leadership development for improved educational outcomes
Embedded in the belief that the quality of school leadership is a key determinant for educational outcomes, the Foundation also invests in developing principals’ instructional leadership through the communities of practice approach. Principals are required to wear many hats and do not always have the capacity or leadership skills needed to drive the vision for their institutions. Recognising this, the Telkom Foundation will continue to work with them through the school leadership development programme to strengthen their capacity to lead.
ICT infrastructural, connectivity and content support prepares learners for 4IR
While ICT on its own will not be able to address systemic challenges in schools, the deployed ICT infrastructure, connectivity and educational content will go a long way in giving learners access to a much bigger world of information and innovative ways of thinking. The provision of devices, smart boards, computer labs, internet connectivity, curriculum-aligned content and training with technical support are part of the wider effort to drive integration and adoption of ICT in schools.
Beyond the formal curriculum, the Foundation also exposes learners to skills such as coding, gaming and robotics in order to prepare them for the future world of work. Learners have not only displayed interest in learning about technology, but have also shown great enthusiasm and curiosity for exploring technological possibilities.
Psychosocial support for learners
Recognising the importance of understanding learners holistically, the programme has been deliberate in integrating psychosocial support in order to address issues that may impact learners from achieving their goals. The lack of discipline, high absenteeism and underperformance that learners have displayed are indicative of socioeconomic challenges outside of the classroom. To address this, the Foundation has partnered with non-profit organisations to provide learners with psychosocial support and counselling services. These organisations also provide psychosocial support to learners’ immediate families.
Through this programme, learners are also provided with value-based leadership skills. Learners are encouraged to engage in community services, peer support and mentorship to cultivate resilience and personal development. They also focus on developing cognitive, linguistic, problem-solving and critical thinking abilities; all crucial for developing a leadership cadre that is crucial for building a promising future for South Africa.
Telkom is already halfway through the journey that it has committed itself to with the schools and has extracted a number of very useful insights that are shaping its thinking on its investments. The Foundation will continue to share these lessons with like-minded organisations. Some of these insights include:
- Holistic school programming: The importance of viewing education as an ecosystem and designing programmes to tackle all parts of the system in order to achieve meaningful and lasting impact.
- Supporting school management teams: Greater effort must go into supporting school management teams in order to improve their instructional leadership.
- Teacher development: There is a system’s bias to teaching and not learning, evidenced by continuous emphasis on the Annual Teaching Plan rather than on the quality of teaching or learners’ ability to grasp the content. This creates educational gaps that learners carry over into higher grades, resulting in poor performance in critical subjects such as maths and science.
- ICT integration and adoption: Technology on its own will not solve system education. Attention should be given to the integration of pedagogy, content and ICT.
- Psychosocial support for teachers: Teachers are expected to go beyond teaching and are expected to show care and support to learners despite not being trained to do so. There is value in exploring provision of psychosocial support to teachers to empower them and ease the pressure.
- Predefining success and how that will be measured: It has become even more important for the Foundation to not only define, but to align everyone and ensure that continuous tracking is done against agreed metrics.
Sarah Mthintso: Head of Telkom Foundation | www.telkom.co.za