If you ever have the opportunity to overhear an Axium Programme Manager meeting you will hear three questions being asked routinely as the team analyses their data from the previous week: What are the successes we are seeing? Where are the gaps? What are the solutions?
Looking over the past three months of remote and hybrid learning at Axium, we asked Joanna Reynolds, Head of Education, if she could walk us through this process for the four programmes based at Zithulele.
*YK=Yenzokuhle, MK=Masakhane, SS=Senior Schools
Before starting she explained that it’s important to understand what we mean by reach and engagement. “We understand reach to mean that a learner has received the work, whether that is via attending an online lesson, blue ticks on whatsapp, or collecting a physical worksheet. Engagement means that a learner has done the work. This is measured when a learner attempts the work and submits it either virtually or physically.”
Marked on the graph are key events that made significant changes to our reach and engagement. In this way we have been able to map the picture since the beginning of lockdown. We can see something changing from the beginning of June, as lockdown started to lift substantially and grades 7 and 12 went back to school.
What successes are we seeing?
From June onwards, we noticed a big increase in reach. Face to face contact with learners was permitted and that made a huge difference to most programmes which all began having some kind of contact with learners. For Yenzokuhle and Masakhane this was through ‘work pick-ups’, for Senior Schools it was through the start of study groups and for Nobalisas, mini reading clubs. Jo explained, “A lot of these kids are getting minimal contact - it’s maybe once a week when they come to pick something up, or attend a club or study group- but you see your teachers, you get physical worksheets that you're going to work on and that seems to have made all the difference looking at our numbers.”
Another big success is that we now have devices for all of our learners from grade 6 to 12. We can see a big spike in the week we handed out phones however, we haven’t yet figured out how to maximise the phones effectively. Jo explained, “This has to be a game changer, but it’s not sticking yet. But what it does mean is that learners have the option to be in contact with us whereas before you could see those bars were low but it wasn’t learners choosing not to engage, it was that learners did not have access to us. Now it’s a different story, it’s not just about giving kids access, it’s about saying to kids who have access - what are you going to do with that?”
Where are the gaps?
The biggest gap we are seeing is that between reach and engagement. While this varies from programme to programme, across the board we are not seeing enough students engaging. Jo commented, “We need learners to be choosing to engage with learning and the truth is many children are not doing this at present - no blame to the learners - they have been out of school for almost 5 months and are understandably discouraged and out of routine. The question for us is, how do we enable children to choose to engage with learning?”
One of the possible causes of this gap between reach and engagement is student motivation. We can see this dip in motivation very clearly across all age groups when it was announced that schools were closing again. Jo shared, “If I had to choose one thing to wave a magic wand over it would be learner motivation. Axium learners are generally very motivated students. In normal circumstances they are committed, they show up for extra classes, holiday bootcamps and additional homework. And it is these same students who have lost motivation. This means there is a deep loss of hope and loss of belief that this can make a difference and that is tragic. However, what we can see from the data and pilots we have done is what seems to be the most powerful lever is individual engagement with a facilitator or teacher. One-on-one phone calls, home visits, individual feedback on homework submitted over whatsapp or in person. This seems to have the best motivational effect.”
What are the solutions?
One of our educational teams' solutions was to step back. “I think it’s always valuable to stop for a second and say what are we doing?” Jo explained that when you work in education, the term structure is actually very important for the ebb and flow of energy. “We haven’t had that this year, it’s just been on, on, on! At first we thought this was going to be three weeks and then as we got to the end of three weeks we realized this is big and it’s going to be long term. It has been very difficult to plan and every time we plan we need to replan. I think if our staff are feeling that how much more are our kids?”
So, from the 10th to the 14th of August the education team paused, reflected and refocused on what it is we are trying to achieve at Axium and why. There is a strong belief that it is going to take the next 3-5 years to catch up the syllabus that’s been lost and so we need to be thinking about how to manage this going forward for a long period of time. Jo shared that it was helpful to work backwards: “What is our vision? What’s our big picture? What do we want for these learners in the long term?”
What this means for the reminder of 2020 is that our teams will be focusing on: How best to leverage partnership with parents and schools. How to effectively use cell phones. The curriculum, and how to rework and prioritize it all while holding onto the question ‘‘how do we keep our learners motivated?”