Before we begin I would like you to reflect and ask yourself why you want to start an educational programme. What is the defining factor of why you are doing this? Birthing a tutor programme will be hard work, at times discouraging, but mostly rewarding. Remembering your why is incredibly important for you and the team you are building around you.
We believe that each church has been placed in a specific area for a purpose. There is prime opportunity for you to impact your immediate community. Look for a school in your area that needs help. These questions could help you:
- Is it a no-fees school?
- Does the school lack facilities; no sports fields, libraries and computer labs?
- Do the students primarily live in impoverished areas?
If you answered yes to these questions it could potentially be a great under-resourced school to connect with.
Connecting and Working with Schools:
Once you have identified a school that you would like to support, understand that we approach all beneficiaries with trust, respect and most of all a teachable heart. Don’t go into the school wanting to change everything but rather go in wanting to learn from the school – celebrate their achievements and brainstorm their challenges with the school. Our teachers and principals are hard workers; they don’t need to be undermined.
Personal question/reflection: Ask yourself, what preconceived ideas do I have about this school and its teachers? Now that I am aware of them – how can I address my prejudices?
Find an “easily accessible” concern, which you as the church can address immediately – painting bathrooms, landscaping the garden, resourcing the sports team, etc. We supported our school by hosting an afternoon where we blessed the teachers for World Teachers Day. This builds trust with the school as they know you follow through on your promises. This will also often allow for a more effective communication channel. You can then start discussing academics and finding out where they need support on a more important and long-term basis.
Identifying biggest needs area:
Communicating with the schools will help you understand where some of the challenges may lie. There are some general trends in South African education:
- The majority of schools have low pass rates for subjects such as maths and science – can be associated with many things but mostly resources and skills.
- English is often not the student’s home language, however in high school they will be taught and assessed in English for all subjects. For many kids high school will be the first time they learn English, and will often be the only opportunity they have to practise English. Understanding English has a knock-on effect on other subjects such as business, economics, history, life science, etc. Because they are taught and tested in English, English should be a key focus.
- Foundational knowledge will have a lasting effect on later understanding. We have seen this where high school students only have the knowledge of primary school students. Furthermore, often Grade 12’s will struggle with something that they never understood in Grade 8. Foundation blocks are so important. Focusing on Grade 8’s and 9’s can help you prevent problems later instead of trying to instil five years of knowledge in Grade 12.
Having said all that, communicate with your school principle and head of departments, as each school/department will have specific needs. Where do they think they need help? Find this out and brainstorm together. Always remember that if the school is involved with planning, they will take ownership of the programme – this will help you immensely when it comes to selecting learners.
Selecting learners for programme:
Our learners go through a couple of steps in order to be part of the programme. But before this begins you need to create awareness of your programme. Make sure you understand what you are offering and can communicate it clearly. Then make sure that the school staff and key role players understand what you are offering – think of speaking in Assemblies, at staff meetings or have meetings with key HOD’s.
Step 1: Application Each learner has the opportunity to fill out an application form. We ask for responses on key information (contact numbers, etc.), as well as more probing questions such as: what they want to do after school, why completing high school is so important to them, what they can bring to the programme, etc.
Step 2: Interview Each child who submits a completed application is then interviewed. We like to find out more about their social situation here – where do they live, who do they live with. We question their reasons for wanting to be an accountant/doctor, why they want to go to university, etc. We like to learn about the real child behind the application.
Core Principle: Our key selection factor is motivation! The application and interview process is to filter out unmotivated and uncommitted students. We want students who are motivated to increase their marks (regardless of whether they have an average of 15% or an average of 80%). Motivation or Grit is what will get them to your tutor classes regardless of whether they are discouraged, tired or hungry.
Step 3: Orientation and Contract We then orientate the students regarding the logistics of how the programme works, what they benefit from, as well as our expectations. Our requirements in order for them to remain in the programme are: to attend above 75% of the sessions, to remain committed to school and their homework, to participate and come prepared to learn, to have respect for peers and tutors, etc. Children function well within boundaries so this gives them a clear idea of what they can expect of us and what we can expect of them.
Core principle: We require our students to attend above 75% of the sessions made available to them. This encourages a consistent effort and commitment to their education. Furthermore, it exemplifies how much hard work is required for the results they want to achieve, and encourages responsibility for their own education.
Volunteers, Venues and Resources
There are certain things you will need. Here is my starter kit checklist:
- Venue: Make sure your venue is as close to the school/community as possible – this could drastically impact on the learners’ attendance. If your church is not available or suitable then work with a local NPO, school or use public facilities such as a community centre or library.
- Trained volunteers: Utilise your church to recruit tutors. Run campaigns during your church services, which recruit volunteers. You will initially need to communicate the vision and mission of your programme to get your congregation invested. Key people will pop up who have a heart for youth and education. Once you have a team (no matter how small it is), equip your volunteers. Some key principles they will want to know is what is expected of them, how do you tutor, how do you run a tutor group, etc.
Core principle: an immense amount of the effectiveness of your tutor programme can be attributed to your method. In facilitating learning there are two key methods, ‘teaching’ and ‘tutoring’. Many of us know what teaching is but not what tutoring is – Finishing Strong advocates a tutoring approach. Tutoring is small group based (5 students per group), discussion topics are student driven, the students set the pace of the learning and are constantly engaged in the discussion. Teaching may need to be done if the students have a gap in their understanding but we don’t recommend this be done unless the tutor has expert knowledge.
- Basic resources: paper, pens, study guides/past exam papers often help tutors generate examples for the learners to practise. If using e-learning materials, then you would obviously need computers connected to the Internet. But tutoring can be run with no resources if needed – please don’t let resources hold you back. God always provides for the faithful.
Launching a tutor programme can be overwhelming when you aren’t sure how it’s going to run. Like any challenge, fear can place you in limbo. If you have trained volunteers just jump in and get started. You will have many tutoring sessions where things won’t go to plan – I always tell our co-ordinators or tutors, as long as a child learnt something new today, it doesn’t matter what it looked like or how chaotic we felt. Remember the wise words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”. Let’s change the world through education!
Finishing Strong, SALT