This year FunDza has been involved in a very interesting online project based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo, organised by Sumbandila, an educational NGO in the area. Initially it was conceptualised as a Maths and Science support programme. However, as most teaching there takes place in Tshivenda and Xitsonga, and exams are written in English, it became clear in the design of the project that there was a need to improve English language literacy. This is when FunDza Literacy Trust came on board.
This year was the pilot project: 781 grade nine learners in three rural schools received entry-level smart phones with SIM cards and a small amount of monthly data. Other organisations supplied the maths and science content, and FunDza supplied English language support – with the aim of encouraging reading for pleasure.
Every second week we loaded new course material for the learners to do. The course was a mix of non-fiction blogs about things like dating, or bullying, some articles about inspiring people, some poems, and then of course some of FunDza’s short stories. Each text had a set of multiple choice questions covering comprehension, language and vocabulary. Learners got their results immediately after completion, with explanations of why a particular answer was correct. There was also a short ‘open’ question that asked for learners’ personal thoughts and opinions.
It was an interesting challenge to find material that would be meaningful and exciting to rural teens in Limpopo. The most popular story, we found, was one about a hot guy who tried to seduce a young girl with promises of everlasting love – but luckily she realised just in time that he was a cheat and a liar!
Dorothy and Ros visited the Sumbandila schools last year to run a workshop for teachers, and find out what teachers thought would be useful. However, as the course is on cellphones, and the schools have a ‘no cellphone’ policy, we knew it was vital that we did have some contact with learners directly. And so Sonja and Zimkhitha visited the three schools at the beginning of the year to get learners loaded on the FunDza course, and, as importantly, inspired by it.
Every month we awarded certificates to the learners in each of the 11 classes who had completed the most quizzes, and each term books were awarded to the top learners overall.
Sumbandila reported that FunDza was the most popular platform used in the year. In the evaluation process, focus groups were held and learners were asked to describe the platforms in one word. Representative words for FunDza were: awesome, fun, entertaining, interesting, encouraging. The negatives were about kinks in the login process that we need to iron out.
The learners were given a survey about FunDza at the end of the course, and we were very interested – and pleased – to see some of their responses:
- 67% found the platform easy to use (though 9% found it difficult).
- 71% of users said they thought that their English had improved (and about 20% of this total had not done the courses).
- 29% said that the course had made them see (for the first time) that reading could be fun, and 43% said they had always enjoyed reading and still did.
What we were delighted about is that 39% of learners said that they had read 5 or more other stories on FunDza – thus showing that the course had got them ‘hooked’ on reading more, for only intrinsic benefit. 24% of learners said they had read fewer than 5.
However, despite these results, very few of the learners actually completed the course: 20 learners out of the total completed over 90%, 62 over 30% and only 112 learners over 20%.
This could be due to data barriers. Although FunDza is free on Cell C via the Freebasics platform, Cell C reception is poor in the area, and so data is often needed for FunDza. At one point the convenor of the project said that she was concerned that learners who were managing to complete their modules were those with more money for data. This is why it is extremely important to us to try to get zero-rated by other cellphone companies, as we feel it would be a ‘game-changer’, not only for Sumbandila, but for many other users.
The plan for next year is to continue working with those learners who were committed to the course, and benefitted from it, so to support them towards getting a good matric in 2020. We hope that there will be funding found for the continuation of this important project.