The Case for Wonder-Filled Learning

Hello, my name is Kate Groch and I believe in access to wonder-filled learning.

Not apps or software. Not computers, tablets or phones.

Access to wonder-filled learning.

I am from Hazyview, a rural town close to South Africa’s Kruger National Park and I’ve seen firsthand the introduction of different technologies, all with good intent.

  • An NGO installs computers in a rural classroom, but then leaves the students and teachers to figure out the rest.
  • An organisation arrives to train young adults how to use Microsoft Office, but those same adults can hardly speak English.
  • Just the other day I arrived at a school where tablets had recently been donated. The teachers, unsure of how to integrate, maintain or update the tablets, had started using them to take photos. And nothing else.

Technology is the what.

It’s not the why and it’s not the how.

At Good Work Foundation, since 2006, we have challenged ourselves time and time again not to be distracted by the tech, but to use it to serve our mission to provide access to wonder-filled learning.

We have built a model and not a technology.

Our proof of concept is the Mpumalanga cluster of digital learning campuses.

MpumalangaCluster

Our peri-urban central campus is located in Hazyview and we have two rural satellite campuses in villages bordering the Greater Kruger National Park, with two more planned in 2018.

This cluster of five campuses will eventually serve a community of 26,000 rural children and young adults.

Three different programmes running at each campus support specific learning challenges faced by rural communities. We have the Open Learning Academy, the Bridging Academy and Career-Training Academies, and I am going to briefly describe each one now.

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The Open Learning Academy allows schools surrounding the digital learning campus to outsource their digital learning to the campus.

Our team curates content that is mostly open source and mostly gamified. Always fun. Content is selected to support English and math’s in grades four and five. And the results? The 20 schools working with us have shown an improvement of up to 30% in their English and math’s annual national assessments.

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Open Learning Academy at Justicia Digital Learning Campus

But remember our secret weapon: wonder-filled learning. So behind me check out the children who have just completed their hour of code. Programming robots too. Soccer on heritage day as part of a conservation learning programme. Facilitators being trained on how to be present for a child so that they find joy in learning.

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Wonder-filled learning

The Bridging Academy is a full-time bridge year for rural school leavers. The digital learning campus becomes like a community college, and a holistic programme delivers digital skills training and business English. But it also delivers career-guidance, ready to work skills, media ethics, online learning and personal development. And the results? Since 2012 over 1000 young adults have graduated with skills that allow them access to the new African digital marketplace and economy.

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Bridging Academy at Hazyview Digital Learning Campus

Don’t forget our secret weapon: wonder-filled learning.

Behind me check out a yoga session taking place in between classes. Here is a student accessing an online hospitality lecture. Here is that exact same student now in Portofino, Italy, on a work experience adventure, learning how to prepare Octopus. Not something we do in rural South Africa every day.

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Wonder-filled learning

The Career-Training Academies connect graduates of the Bridging Academy to the specific business needs of the area. In Mpumalanga we have an IT Academy, a Tourism & Travel Academy as well as a Conservation Academy. The result? I’ll use the IT Academy as an example – we have now partnered with T-Systems South Africa creating a rural Call Centre in Hazyview that is employing graduates of the IT Academy. This is a first of its kind in rural South Africa and wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t have the human skills!

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But remember our secret weapon: wonder-filled learning.

So behind me check out these “women in tech” network an office. Or students from our Conservation Academy as part of their internship at a rhino sanctuary.

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Wonder-filled learning

These are our three layers of learning, all allowing multiple stakeholders in a rural community to find real value in the learning that is available.

Each campus is a single centre of learning for the community that it serves, allowing children, young adults, schools, teachers and principals to plug in.

100% of our facilitators, across all programmes, are graduates of the Bridging Academy. And all of them continue to learn in a wonder-filled way as part of our Ubuntu-driven staff leadership and development programme.

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Faces of Good Work Foundation

Each campus and its programmes is run entirely by people from the community that it is located in. And 75% of that number is made up of women. Women graduates, women facilitators and women leaders of a wonder-filled, tech-enabled learning revolution.

In fact, I am proud to share with you that in 2016 our Hazyview Campus won the Pricewaterhouse Coopers Empowerment of Women in the Community Award.

All of this doesn’t mean to say that the tech isn’t important.

That’s why we’re here.

We’re looking at what tech we can curate to create more wonder-filled learning.

We’re looking at what tech we can curate to plug into our model.

A model that is now reaching over 5000 young people each week. A model that we believe can scale to impact all of South Africa.

Before I finish, I want to look at a real story:

Paris

Paris Moeng in 2013

Paris Moeng registered to study at our central campus in Hazyview when he was just 17.

Having never used a computer before, Paris surprised the Hazyview Campus team by completing his Bridging Academy year in record time.

He then went on to enroll in the IT Career-Training Academy where he completed his CompTIA A+ and Network+ training certificates.

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Paris Moeng in 2017

Paris is now a qualified T-Systems South Africa IT Support Engineer. Working from the campus where he studied, Paris provides support to people from three major South African companies.

A reality for Paris is that he is the sole caregiver for his infirm grandmother and moving to Johannesburg or another major urban centre in search of learning or working would not have been possible.

Paris always reminds us to think back to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s question: “Who is looking after our young people?” Our young people shouldn’t have to urbanise. Paris certainly didn’t have the option. So what are we doing as a nation to create opportunities for young people living in rural areas?

As a final note, Paris doesn’t only work in the new Customer Interaction Centre, he was pivotal to the installation as well. Here is a photo of wonder-filled learning in action:

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Wonder-filled learning: Paris Moeng networking his own IT service desk

Like I said, my name is Kate Groch and I believe in access to wonder-filled education. We would love for you to join our community by visiting www.goodworkfoundation.org.

wonderfilledlearning

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