20170719_104641During the July holidays FunDza ran refresher training for the youth volunteers who run the Year Beyond (YEBO) programme. FunDza has been part of YEBO since its inception over three years ago. YEBO trains youth volunteers who run extra-mural online English and Maths support programmes in under-resourced schools.

FunDza supplies the content for the high school English component of the programme with the aim of helping change attitudes to reading and introducing learners to exciting, local and relevant texts. The more that young people read the faster they acquire the language skills for learning and life.

We have learnt so much from our involvement with YEBO. Given that the programme is intended to be delivered online, we’ve learnt that there are many things that can go wrong with using computers and the internet! Connectivity has been a huge issue, with volunteers facing varying problems such as cable theft, intermittent internet access, and labs being locked in the afternoon.

Luckily we have had our print books to draw on that volunteers can use, and these have generally worked well. We still keep on hoping that all the eight schools’ computer problems will eventually be sorted out and it seems that this might even happen by the end of this year!

We have also learnt the importance of having the volunteer facilitators understanding and believing in what they do. If they themselves don’t believe in the power of reading, and the benefits it gives, then they are likely to try to teach grammar themselves (often not accurately) in the belief that this is what will improve their learners’ language abilities.

So our preparatory training has now incorporated far more learning about how people learn language, and advocacy around the proven benefits of extended reading for enjoyment.

Another lesson gained that has influenced all of FunDza’s online courses – and our print anthologies – is the need for variety and shorter texts. Volunteers have asked for short pieces that can be completed in an afternoon, and also for a broader range of material, not just the short stories (which is what our first course consisted of). We now source poems, commission non-fiction articles and blogs for inclusion. This has benefited all of FunDza’s readers, as these new essays and opinion pieces are loaded on the site as well.

Finally we have been reminded of the importance of active fun! Volunteers have requested more and more games to play with the learners in the afternoon. Sonja Kruse, our workshop facilitator, introduced volunteers to some ice-breakers and language games at the beginning of the year. And, as part of the winter school refresher programme she worked once again with the volunteers.

Volunteers were enthusiastic and loved learning a new set of games. Sonja said that the interaction was amazing and noted how the volunteers had grown in confidence in the last six months.

As each of the eight high schools has its own set of challenges and constraints, I took the opportunity to meet with each school separately to try to help them in their way forward this term. This worked well, and it was good to spend more individual time with the volunteers. They are generally committed and interested, and it is a pleasure to work with them.