I have recently returned from a visit to the project we support at Hazyview, run by our local partners Good Work Foundation. They have been developing a revolutionary model of learning for rural Africa – Digital Learning Campuses, designed to bring children and young adults from rural areas into the 21st century by showing them how to access to the world’s body of knowledge and opportunities available through digital technology.
I was last at the Hazyview Digital Learning Centre in 2015 . . . and what massive strides forward have been made since then! I was impressed with what I saw then – about 1500 grade 4 children from eight rural schools in the province of Mpumalanga coming to the Centre once a week to learn how to use computers and to work on apps designed to support their English and Maths in HDLC’s Open Learning Academy, and up to 300 young adults a year graduating from the Careers, Skills and Training Academies designed to give young people skills in the ‘languages of access’, ICT and English, and the opportunity to take this further with career-based courses geared towards employment prospects in the local area.
Now, only two years later, Hazyview Digital Learning Centre is the hub at the centre of further ‘satellite’ centres – the first two, in the rural villages of Justicia and Huntingdon, are open and fully functioning, and the remaining two, at Dumphries and Lillydale will open in 2018.
Like Hazyview, each centre supports local schools through Open Learning programmes, and these are now available not only to grade 4 children at the centres but also to learners in grades 5, 6 and 7 in their schools. There is now also an Open Learning Plus programme for learners showing aptitude, which is an after school course covering such things as robotics, coding and drones. Each new centre supports 60 young people taking ‘Bridging Year’ courses in ICT, English, Media and ‘Ready to Work’, all digitally based courses geared towards improving students’ employment opportunities, in addition to the 120 already undergoing training at Hazyview. The Career Academies have been rationalised to give students three clear routes of progression, in the fields of ICT, Media and Travel and Tourism. Each route includes higher level courses and leads on to direct opportunities for employment, offered through internships or further training offered locally.
A key aim is to make the centres self-sustainable – one room on the Hazyview site is currently rented out as an IT support call centre which has enabled this company to bring their call centre back into the country from overseas, and offers direct training and potential permanent employment for those following up their IT training into a career. Currently this centre employs 10 local people but expansion plans are imminent and shortly 150 people will be able to get jobs and training here.
Future plans include similar ventures for the Media and Travel and Tourism sectors, with plans to build a Media and Photoshop centre offering services to local businesses, and a ‘smart’ training hotel on site which will provide on-the-job training for people seeking employment in new tourist developments, including hotels, around the nearby Kruger Gate (soon to be renamed Mandela Gate) into Kruger National Park.
So, organisational and structural changes have been huge in the last two years. But even more impressive has been the development of many of the staff. GWF has always prided itself on ‘growing its own staff’, so many people who do the Bridging Year then become facilitators for the Open Learning programme, and those showing appropriate promise are promoted into managerial positions, always with guidance through individual mentoring and support programmes to help them succeed. One young lady who was an Open Learning facilitator and thinking she would need to move away from her family to get employment in Johannesburg when I first met her in 2015 is now Head of the satellite Digital Learning Centre at Huntingdon – she is enjoying her job and the responsibilities it brings, and has grown immensely in confidence and self-belief. Another, who two years ago was rather nervously about to start managing the centre at Justicia, is now Head of the Hazyview Centre, a job which includes managing a whole team of staff and students, which she does with great confidence and a sense of humour. Others who were managing small subject areas or teams in the past now have roles of responsibility across all the centres, and these job opportunities will grow as the centres continue to expand and eventually as the Hazyview model of learning is replicated in other parts of rural Africa. As a previous people and places volunteer at GWF said to me recently, “to watch staff develop into managers has been incredible and humbling”.
But for me one of the most satisfying things was the fantastic welcome back they gave me, and to hear the tremendous appreciation from everyone at GWF for the work of volunteers we at people and places have sent there in the last two years. Two people in particular, Catriona and Ray, have been back three times and have become real members of the GWF team.
They have also hosted several people from GWF in their own home when they have come to the UK. One member of GWF staff, Accolade, came last year on her first visit to the UK to represent GWF at a fund-raising event and auction in London. She told me how excited and nervous she was, and how fantastic it was that these volunteers met her at Heathrow, showed her the sites of London, and then had her as their guest in their home – she says they are now her friends for life. Some of the other staff also told me how they had been exchanging emails with these volunteers only recently, and one of them continues to mentor key staff members of GWF via Skype.
Catriona and Ray are not IT specialists, so don’t feel you need to be skilled IT practitioners to volunteer here – there are areas of ICT where they could use support, but in general they’re pretty good at this themselves. Volunteers so far have contributed in the areas of human resource management, organisational design, mentoring and team building, curriculum planning and design, business planning, finance, graphic design, and working on the conservation programme. . . . and that’s not an exclusive list, that’s just what people have done so far! So I hope you can see there is scope for individualised volunteer placements here which make use of a very wide range of skills.
Check this project out on our website – volunteer here and you too could become part of the people and places/GWF ‘family’.