This is the fourth year that we are providing the English programme content to the Western Cape’s Year Beyond after-school programme, where young volunteers work with learners in the afternoons. FunDza provides an online curriculum, and also books as back-up for when schools are offline. We have learnt a huge amount from our involvement in this programme – and the learning never stops!
One of the major learnings has been that the volunteers need to buy in to FunDza’s approach from the beginning. We need to ‘convert’ them to the belief that reading for pleasure, and writing for meaning, have profound influences on learners’ language (and personal) development, and are not just an added ‘extra’.
In the past, volunteers have seen learners making language mistakes, and think that if they just teach learners ‘the rules’, as they themselves remember from school grammar lessons, then those mistakes will go away. The problem is that this is actually seldom the case. Also, grammar is incredibly hard to teach, and very easy to get wrong!
Thus the first session with volunteers is showing them the research about the power of reading for pleasure, and how it is one of the most significant contributors to learner achievement. This year we have also created a short online course about reading for the volunteers themselves, and have also provided them with links to books on the mobi site for their own reading enjoyment, as they too would benefit from increased reading. It will be interesting to see how many volunteers do complete this (non-compulsory) reading course.
Other learnings from the past are that volunteers need more structured guidance, and also that the best way to demonstrate the FunDza programme is to run it with the volunteers exactly how we expect them to run it with their learners. So this year we have a step-by-step Activity Book they can follow when using the books, and if they do manage to get online early in th eyear, a schedule of how that would work too. And, the first few training sessions were taking the volunteers through the sessions as if they were the learners. Volunteers engaged with the reading, debate, role-play and writing with interest and vigour (proving also that the FunDza material was relevant to them too).
They have now had initial training in books and the online curriculum, and are beginning to implement the programme from this week in their schools.
The YEBO programme can be a challenging one to navigate, as there are many stakeholders and variables, and schools themselves are busy and complex sites. Our sessions with the volunteers have been a pleasure (certainly easier than they are going to experience!). They are committed and engaged, and we look forward to seeing how they navigate this interesting year in their lives.