A shining light in the education crisis

NGO making a huge different in the lives of learners—by supporting the teachers

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The SACTWU Edufundi project (formerly Edupeg) was established in 1998 and last year alone offered support to 286 teachers who look after 12 200 learners in 48 schools across four provinces in South Africa. While this might be a drop in the ocean for the South African education system as a whole, Edufundi is making a huge impact in the lives of the teachers they mentor and support, which in turn is creating an incredible ripple effect on the lives of their learners both academically and socially. They are also offering an example for others to follow as private and public organisations battle with the crisis of educating our youth.

“I think corporate leaders underestimate the importance of improving teaching standards, which is a major problem in terms of the standards in education in South Africa,” says Taryn Casey, CEO of Edufundi.

“Many of them focus on learners and improving their opportunities and their access to materials, but it is the teachers who are our change agents in this country. They stay in the system for many years and teach thousands of learners who enter their classrooms and that is where their impact and influence comes in. When people speak of access to quality education for all, they are ultimately referring to the calibre of our teachers as they deliver the content. We need to invest more in our teachers and their training. After all, it’s no secret that the better the education of a nation, the better the economy is for everyone.”

Edufundi believes that mentorship is more effective than other teacher education programmes, especially in terms of standalone workshops.

“Mentorship has been proven to work more effectively. At the same time, we have seen the importance of regular support for the same teachers week after week—that is what I believe is the key for helping teachers fulfil their potential,” says Casey. “What is so powerful about any mentorship process is that so often the mentee becomes a mentor. We have seen a ripple effect in the schools we work with whereby the mentees become mentors to other teachers in their schools and they are happy to share best practice. This is such a positive form of empowerment, as well as a sign of the sustainability of our programme.”

She explains that education needs greater continuity in teaching and practicing techniques, as well as delivering the whole curriculum throughout the year. “There are also massive socio-economic disparities that are entrenched through the system which is a legacy of the past, yet there is also resistance from educators when they assume that partners are there to criticize and not help. And, of course, a huge problem is the incredibly large numbers of learners in classrooms—we’ve seen some teachers who have as many as 100 learners in a single class.”

Casey says that the importance of teacher support is to improve their teaching practice so that they can successfully deliver the CAPS curriculum, keep learners engaged and therefore improve learning outcomes and learner achievement.

“As we are providing a sustainable programme, delivering practical tools that are very concrete, specific, actionable and measurable, the teachers are able to see noticeable change in their learners’ behaviour, engagement and results. This boosts the confidence and self-esteem of both the teacher and learner,” comments Casey.

“Also, having a mentor walk alongside them with constant support and encouragement has made our teachers feel like they are not alone; they have someone who not only understands them and their situation, but who is also there to provide assistance to make their work manageable and achieve their objectives. It also breathes life back into their teaching practice and makes teaching and learning fun.”

She explains that the programme has given teachers huge emotional support, which is important as these teachers often work in very difficult environments with children who live underprivileged areas and have often suffered great hardship or even trauma as a result. This all adds to the huge challenge facing the teachers, over and above just reaching them on an educational level.

“Our mentors do wonderful work when it comes to helping teachers avoid burn-out, which is so important as it is common for teachers to leave the profession due to demotivation, demoralisation and through feelings of having failed in their work,” says Casey.

“The programme also recognises the achievements of teachers through the relationships with their mentors and the feedback they receive from their children. This has left teachers in turn experiencing a greater sense of value in what they have been doing. There have been some examples of teachers (young and experienced) who were considering leaving the profession but through Edufundi’s techniques and support they have continued and flourished even in challenging environments.”

The greatest benefits of the programme are a change in learning behavior and greater discipline in classrooms, allowing teachers to deliver their lessons effectively, ensuring they have 100% participation and are able to reach every learner.

They have also recognized the importance of mentoring and continuous professional development elements in their profession that can occur at any time in their career and that there is always more to learn.

This all creates a conducive learning environment for the learners. They are more engaged, attentive and enjoy their lessons. There have also been reports of reduced absenteeism and learners being right on time for their lessons after break periods.

Edufundi have adopted methodology from the internationally recognised guide to excellent teaching practice Teach Like a Champion (TLAC). The book, by Doug Lemov, comprises 62 techniques that are the tools of the teaching craft. Edufundi uses 19 of these techniques which are appropriate for South African teachers and their environment.

“We have successfully adapted these techniques for the South African context. We have also adapted the training videos using home language (isiXhosa and isiZulu, with subtitles) of the learners to make these training videos accessible for our teachers. The purpose of these techniques is to improve teaching practice. This is done by keeping learners engaged and focused to successfully deliver the CAPS curriculum and therefore improve learning outcomes and learner achievement,” explains Casey.

Schools are provided with the weekly support of a Foundation and Intermediate Phase mentor. These two mentors work with three teachers in each of the Foundation (Grade 1-3) and Intermediate (Grade 4-6) Phases, at each of the schools on each visit. Each teacher is provided with a reflective journal to support them in improving their teaching practice.

Edufundi mentors provide teachers with feedback on their classes in the journal. Teachers are then asked to reflect on and implement this feedback until their mentor’s next visit.

“Edufundi mentors provide teachers with simple tools and techniques to create a suitable learning environment. These techniques are all around creating a classroom culture that is suitable for learning and teaching to take place. Teachers battle with discipline in their classrooms, especially with the large number of learners in our schools,” says Casey.

“Our teachers have noticed that since they have been using these techniques, they are able to better manage their classes and spend more time teaching enabling teachers to get through more of the curriculum more effectively. In turn, learners enjoy a more positive learning experience overall. They actually start to enjoy going to school, have fun in the classrooms and are more engaged with what they are learning,” she concludes.

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