Sparrow Schools throughout Corona
impressions from the project
Challenges in the pandemic
2020 was an incredibly tough year filled with lots of tough decisions and a lot of growth which was ultimately fruitful. When South Africa entered into a nationwide lockdown, we were very stressed. The people we serve come from incredibly vulnerable positions, where access to food and WIFI is limited. Therefore, to ensure none of our learners were left behind, we used WhatsApp as our primary medium of delivery in both the schools and college – we sent out weekly learning packs which were accompanied by videos of both our teachers explaining the activities and other instructional videos.
For learners without access to a smartphone, we set up delivery points where our drivers dropped off learner packs and picked up completed ones. For many of our learners, we were also aware that their primary meal comes from school. We, therefore, had food parcels delivered to families in certain areas but also made plans to ensure, as soon as our learners could return to school, they did. Our teachers were aware that for many, school is a safer environment than home. As a result, we put Covid safety measures in place that allowed our schools and college to open. These still exist within our organisation and include mask wearing, temperature checking, sanitisation of individual’s hands and classrooms and social distancing.
Improving digital methods
We have also raised more for bursaries than ever before, ensuring as many learners can return to school as possible. The lockdown forced our teachers to reassess the way they view teaching and learning, many of which still exists in their delivery methods today. For example, our Foundation School teachers have continued to use lots of video content in their lessons to keep the learners engaged and our Combined Technical Skills School teachers still make learner packs for each week meaning they have to break down their lessons and come up with interesting ways of delivering the content. Our FET College also shifted its delivery methods. The pandemic showed us the importance of online teaching. We are, therefore, in the process of converting our programmes to a blended learning method of delivery. This will include a combination of online and offline instruction. Students will come in 2 days a week for practicals and will spend the rest of the week doing online lectures and work through our online platform, Sparrow Portal. We have piloted this programme with great success. We are ultimately working to move a number of our programmes fully online, which would make them more cost effective and would allow us to reach more unemployed youth.
Finally, the pandemic has and continues to provide a lot of stress for the people we serve and so we have put systems in place to ensure that anyone struggling has help available to them. Our HR department has connections with external psychologists and our students have access to the student wellbeing department. Here they can receive in house counselling but can be referred in more serious cases. The wellbeing department also provides food parcels for any of our students in need. Protecting the mental and physical wellbeing of both our staff and learners is essential and has been the focus of our organisation during this challenging time. We have had a long year of breaking down what we do to its core, reassessing and building it up again. We have been challenged and grown in ways we never expected and are now on an incredibly fruitful journey – we look forward to seeing where it takes us.