As many as 98% of companies support education-related projects and 44% of total CSI spend is directed towards education. As companies adjust their interventions to match the needs of the future it is tempting to envision the future classroom as one of high-tech learning where teachers play a minimal role. However, the future classroom is more likely to be a space where teachers, equipped with modern-world tools, focus on building learner resilience to the fast-changing world.

On 28 June 2023, responsible business consultancy Trialogue hosted a webinar on the lessons learnt in developing a future-fit classroom. The webinar unpacked key learnings from Telkom’s Connected Schools programme with a specific focus on enhancing learner resilience through psychosocial support and ICT support for educators. The panellists included Sarah Mthintso (Head of Telkom Foundation), Omashani Naidoo (Executive Director of SchoolNet) and Lynne Cawood (Director of ChildLine Gauteng).

 

A holistic approach to CSI in education

 

Telkom Foundation’s focus on education is based on the principle that empowering young people to become economically active constitutes a relevant contribution to a thriving South Africa. Realising that the foundation’s earlier efforts to deploy assets such as hardware and software were a one-dimensional approach that did not yield the desired results, Telkom developed an integrated strategy that places learners at the centre of change. To have the desired effect on learners, the strategy considered the critical role teachers play, necessitating a strong focus on teacher development.

Rather than viewing technology as the solution to the problem, Telkom infused technology into its strategy as an enabling tool, introducing technology to teachers as well as learners to extend opportunities beyond improving teaching practices and the learning experience.

Mthintso said that, while integrating this technology into its schools, the Foundation realised the importance of engaging and securing the support of school management teams. She explained that although several systems have been introduced by the Department of Education, teachers and school management had not been sufficiently trained to understand or appreciate their value. Consequently, the programme invested time ensuring that school leaders understood technology and data as a currency to improve decision making in schools.

The Connected Schools programme has demonstrated considerable success, but it is the programme’s psychosocial support component that really stands out. “If you had asked me in 2014, I would have thought psychosocial is not the most critical but over time what we have realised is that it is absolutely impossible for children to flourish unless their psychosocial development needs are taken care of.”

Mthintso suggested that it is an ecosystem of interventions, rather than a single aspect, that has been key to the success of Telkom Foundation’s Connected Schools programme.

 

Transitioning to the future classroom

 

The increasing demand for digital skills in higher education, entrepreneurship and the world of work requires that children coming out of basic education possess the necessary skills that are fit for purpose in a post-coding world. Naidoo noted however, that most public sector school learners leave school without this expertise.

She added that the idea of the future classroom is not technology focused, but rather about inculcating technology appropriately in basic education.

“We have a number of fabulous opinions around what we want from the child post schooling, but that inculcation of the art of learning comes from basic education. Part of that thinking must be in the classroom and technology plays a huge role in what that looks like.” She advocates for a hybrid learning model where it is possible to leverage tools to ensure that the content being taught is presented in a pedagogically sound way, while giving learners digital experience and promoting lifelong skills.

 

Building learner resilience

 

Beyond technology implementation, one of the key elements of moving towards the future classroom is establishing learner resilience. Telkom’s Connected Schools programme worked with Childline to address the emotional wellness of learners, positioning social auxiliary workers in schools to run supervised individual learner counselling as well as teacher and parent support groups.

“Research has shown, if a child, no matter how vulnerable, feels that one person in their life really cares about them and pays attention, they can overcome the difficulties and psychosocial structural and economic challenges that are so greatly evident in our communities,” explained Cawood.

She listed the psychosocial challenges the programme encountered to include behavioural problems, substance abuse, trauma and post-traumatic stress symptoms in relation to domestic violence, crime, accidents and death, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect and poverty, grief from loss, historical and generational trauma, teenage pregnancy, as well as mental health issues and suicide.

Cawood said the programme was able to respond to these issues, having a deep impact on the children involved and making the case that establishing psychosocial professionals in schools is best practice for such interventions, developing the necessary relationships with learners, teachers, parents and school management.

“These were the services that we were able to offer and we’re very grateful that we had such extensive exposure to the schools. It is very touching in terms of how children respond so positively when there is someone who does care and pays attention to their difficulties and troubles.”

 

Key learnings for CSI interventions

 

Technology implementation

  • Strong leadership in a school indicates a greater likelihood of programme success, as it tends to rally shared vision and influence greater uptake of ICT interventions.
  • Change ofpractice in the classroom needs to be fostered. To achieve this, teacher training should give teachers the support and confidence they require to use their learnings to effect meaningful change in the classroom, while holding teachers accountable and responsible for implementing what they have learnt.
  • Technology adoption by teachers effects real change, suggesting the need for interventions to drive teacher technology uptake.
  • Fostering teacher and learner understanding of the potential impact of ICT interventions, and providing appropriate training prior to technology roll out could improve the intervention’s uptake and success rate.

Psychosocial support

  • The presence of a reliable professional social auxiliary worker in every school is an invaluable goal for the country to work towards. Access to a safe space for children, parents and teachers to share and begin to heal their emotional struggles makes a positive contribution to the wider community.
  • Learner food insecurity poses a significant and present threat to child development and educational success. Intervention is needed to address not only food security, but nutritional security for the sake of developmental needs.
  • It is necessary to acknowledge the stigma associated with seeking psychosocial support. This can be addressed by creating the necessary conditions for privacy, while also actively challenging the stigma.

Collaboration drives change

In closing, Mthintso emphasised the importance of amplifying the voice of community stakeholders in finding solutions to address social issues. She called for collaboration rather than competition between corporate partners active in the education-related CSI. “We all have the same vision. We want all our learners to prosper. We want South Africa to prosper. It’s not about the money. It’s about how you really mobilise and galvanise your resources towards driving great change.”

 

Webinar participant unanswered questions

 

  • Would it be possible to share the M&E tools that were used to measure the success in the psycho-social space? Was there a direct correlation of this work to the formal education in the classroom?

The treatment tracking tool used assesses emotional health, social behaviour and occupational functioning. It is used to set a baseline at the outset of treatment to establish a baseline from which therapists can assess and track progress. The treatment tracking tool kindly provided by Childline is available here.

The majority of learners showed a marked academic improvement. Where this was not the case, the reasons identified included family dynamics, learner substance abuse, mental health, peer pressure, death, educator issues, limited access to school, poverty or the loss of a breadwinner, trauma, COVID-19, pregnancy, spiritual issues or ancestral calling.

  • Has any work been done on digitilisation being infused into learning materials, so the cognitive learning processes are more active?

The answer to this question depends on what is meant and understood by digitilisation. This response works off the understanding that digitilisation alludes to working with content in digital formats eg platforms as well as interactive digital resources eg. epubs. A lot of work has been done in this area with a number of content providers/developers having digitised curriculum content for South Africa. This includes the Department of Education (Interactive Rainbow Workbooks), Siyavula’s Interactive Maths and Science, as well as 2Enable to name a few. SchoolNet on the other hand, models how teachers can create their own digital content for teaching that is appropriate for their learners and context and is therefore embedded into all our courses and programmes.

 

Watch a recording of the webinar here: