Telkom Foundation: Creating the next future-fit generation

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For the past two decades, the Telkom Foundation has focused primarily on the state of education in South Africa, specifically with regards to support of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) for Grade 8 to 12 learners. However, as a leading ICT player with a critical role to play in alleviating the triple burden of unemployment, poverty and inequality, the Foundation has reviewed its strategy to align with both the organisation’s business objectives as well as the rapid changes brought about by technology.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is disrupting how we work and live,” says Telkom Foundation head, Sarah Mthintso. “As such, it is imperative for us to ensure that our focus on education takes this into account, and that South Africa’s youth are upskilled and reskilled to remain relevant today and in the future. Focusing on STEM without acknowledging the digital shifts of today’s world will eventually exclude our youth from participating in the mainstream economy.

Simultaneously however, we realise that these future skills cannot exist in isolation. Learners still need to acquire the basics of maths, language, technology and science in order for them to access these digital skills.”

Leveraging technology to solve educational and societal problems is therefore the Foundation’s top priority. “We have come to realise that the primary unit of change is the learner, who is part of a holistic ecosystem,” says Mthintso.

“As such, by impacting on our learners we indirectly impact the entire family, which has the knock-on effect of improved access to economic opportunities and breaking the cycle of poverty. Our goal therefore is to work with Grade 8 to 12 learners to the point where they can perform academically in order to access post-schooling, entrepreneurial or job opportunities when they leave school. This will not only benefit South Africa as a whole but also Telkom’s sustainability as an organisation by increasing its future customer and employee base.”

Since 2017, the Foundation has been running its High School Support Programme (HSSP), benefiting nearly 4,000 learners and more than 200 teachers in Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Tshwane. 1,000 of these learners are from Alexandra township, supported through a supplementary tuition programme delivered in partnership with St Mary’s Waverley and the Alexandra Education Council. In the first year of the programme, the Foundation administered an online assessment to determine learner competencies. The results of the assessments have been key in designing the programme, focusing more on a remedial approach to address content gaps.

“Most learners perform below their grade levels, making it hard for them to master complex concepts as they get into higher grades,” states Mthintso. “We have also come to realise that to deliver meaningful results, the programme also needs to focus on enhancing teacher content and pedagogical knowledge. Our efforts to bring ICT as an enabler relies heavily on content and pedagogical strength. In fact, this interaction between content, pedagogy and technology is what will drive success,” she maintains.

As a result, Telkom’s High School Support Programme takes a holistic and integrated approach, combining learner directed interventions such as Saturday supplementary classes and holiday support programmes with other forms of support. This includes life skills, leadership training, psychosocial support and introduction to ICT skills and new technologies to adequately enable learners to compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Instructional leadership is also key to Telkom’s comprehensive approach, ensuring that there is a system-wide impact beyond the involvement of the Foundation to benefit future learners. The role of parents in education is equally key, and therefore their engagement is crucial to delivering on quality outcomes education.

Telkom has pledged a total of R200m over five years to drive the outcomes of the programme. The Foundation’s approach is therefore multifaceted to ensure that the entire ecosystem of education and digital literacy is addressed. As an example, it is essential for learners to develop vital skills such as problem solving, innovation and critical thinking in order for them to be future-fit. As a result, the Foundation has introduced more than 2,000 young learners to coding, gaming, programming and problem solving to help develop these skills.

According to Mthintso, learners have displayed great enthusiasm and zeal to learn – with some already developing school websites and designing applications with little or no guidance from their teachers. “It has been gratifying to see how positively our learners have reacted to these different approaches to learning,” she concludes. “Learners are excited, motivated and taking responsibility for their own learning. While we still have a long way to go in addressing systemic education challenges, observations such as these are invaluable in unleashing learner potential and shaping the future of education in South Africa.”

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