Students from over-crowded and under-funded rural schools in Mpumalanga are demonstrating the profound impact personalised mentorship, combined with innovative technology, can have on the education of South African youths and the realisation of their academic potential by gaining entry into university.
Against all odds, they are generating impressive results – thanks to an NGO dedicated to their holistic development, as well as the use technology to compensate for poor student-teacher engagement in their schools.
Located in rural Mpumalanga, Imagine Scholar is an afterschool mentorship programme that bridges the gap between what the system provides and the standards expected by tertiary education institutions and employers.
Corey Johnson, who runs the programme, comments: “With mid-year exams around the corner, students are preparing to demonstrate their academic prowess. However, many students in rural areas of South Africa face additional obstacles when preparing for exams: classroom sizes in rural schools are typically over-crowded, making teacher-student engagement on an individual level impossible.
“With this engagement being a vital component of effective learning, many rural students who experience difficulty with subject matter find themselves falling further behind with each set of exams they prepare for, hindering their matriculation scores and subsequent chances of getting into university.”
As part of their efforts to combat this reality, Imagine Scholar has partnered with ‘edtech’ platform Paper Video. A social enterprise founded in 2015, Paper Video creates resources that provide students across South Africa with the ability to instantly access an extra teacher, irrespective of their circumstances.
They have achieved this by developing textbooks and exam papers in which each question and concept is linked to a video lesson – taught by an experienced teacher – that can be accessed on a phone, tablet or computer. Paper Video’s use of microSD cards allows learners to view their 11 000 plus video lessons without requiring an internet connection, data or even cellphone reception.
The quality and accessibility of Paper Video resources complements Imagine Scholar’s rigorous mentorship program, which takes place in the heart of rural Mpumalanga where connectivity can often be an issue.
Imagine Scholar’s programme has seen students’ metric scores improve by an average of 16% between 2015 and 2017, prompting acceptances into prestigious academic programs including the African Leadership Academy, United World College, Yale Young Global Scholars program. Students also received awards such as the MasterCard Foundation Scholarship.
How Imagine Scholar uses Paper Video to equip learners for success
Imagine Scholar uses Paper Video as a learning and assessment tool. Each week, questions from the Paper Video exam books are assigned to students to test their understanding of the topics that Imagine Scholar tutors have covered in their classes. If a student gets stuck, they can instantly access the lesson provided by the Paper Video platform, which takes them through the question step-by-step.
John Helbig, Imagine Scholar Science and Mathematics Facilitator explains:
As an academic facilitator, my role is to support students in their learning, particularly in science and mathematics. It can be challenging to finding enough time to plan lessons, create and mark assignments, and give one-on-one support to students at the level of quality I would like. The content provided by Paper Video allows students to get help on specific questions using a computer or tablet. This in turns helps students to drive their own learning process and gives me the space to do more of what I love which is to challenge their thinking, ask higher level questions, and engage in deeper discussions. This has led us to build the use of Paper Video into our core curriculum.
This sentiment is echoed by Paper Video Co-Founder, Paul Maree, who notes:
The reality [is that] the mere possession of our resources doesn’t automatically mean a learner will get great results. They need to be paired with a motivated learner and a support structure, such as Imagine Scholar, for them to achieve their true potential. That’s something that creators of education resources often neglect to acknowledge – the fact that no matter how fancy your edtech solution is, it must still be driven by engaged, motivated people.
The impact of ‘edtech’ resources used effectively
The powerful connection between resources and mentorship has forged strong academic pathways for Imagine Scholar students, helping them to reach achievements such as multiple acceptances into the Yale Young Global Scholars program, the United World College, the African Leadership Academy, and numerous university scholarships including the prestigious Mastercard Foundation Scholarship.
The use of Paper Video has significantly bolstered Imagine Scholar students’ academic performance since the partnership began in 2016. Grade 10, 11, and 12 students have seen an average 16% increase in end of year marks in maths, physics, and life sciences between 2015 and 2017.
“Every time I had to write an exam or test I would get scared about it because I did not know what to
expect, and I felt that I did not practice enough,” explains Lucky Khoza, a grade 11 student in the Imagine Scholar program. He goes on to add:
Paper Video has helped me prepare for exams in a way that is different from what I was used to do. I used to read the textbook before taking an exam but Paper Video made me see that preparing for an exam is not about reading the textbook but about testing myself. It is about checking how much I understand by answering questions on the information I just learned. Doing the past exams on Paper Video helped me see patterns in exam questions and to create strategies on how to solve problems or answer questions.
Justice Masinge, a student who graduated from the Imagine Scholar program with 8 academic distinctions in Matric and now assists in the facilitation of younger students explains:
I was very lucky to have the privilege of using the Paper Video system at Imagine Scholar. We started having the books when I was in grade 11, and I remember how excited I was to use them. Paper Video is like the teacher who can explain all the questions you have. It understands that you need more than just the memorandum of the exams, but you need to understand it too. The explanations from the teachers are very fun and concise. They use examples which help me understand the concepts and it becomes easier to remember.