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August 25, 2016 / by Megan Beckett /

Finishing school is a big deal, but then what?

Yesterday I attended the launch for the “Post-School Access Map” at the Wits Business School, Johannesburg. The web-based resource that was launched gives information on opportunities and choices for after school, and has been developed by BRIDGE with funding and support from the Zenex Foundation.

I was inspired by how well the launch event was attended, with people from all levels within the education sector and many organisations and schools represented. It was a very focused event, which was great, as one can easily get lost and overwhelmed discussing the myriad of challenges in education, resulting in the discussion being diluted. But, the majority of our discussion was acutely focused on how to enable learners, and their support structures, to identify and pursue opportunities after school.

The need in South Africa

A quote from the event pamphlet:

“South Africa’s overall unemployment rate sits at about 26.7%, with unemployment amongst young people significantly higher. Most young people want to be usefully and gainfully employed, for their own self development and for the sake of their families and communities. Finding and keeping a job, however (including running a small business that brings in money), usually demands qualifications, skills or work experiences that appear out of reach. Getting into university or college, or finding out about training and work entry opportunities, seems a difficult and daunting task. Even the entry requirements and application processes are hard to understand.”

From our experiences, and specifically our interactions with learners, this sentiment carries through strongly across all contexts. We have constant requests and questions from learners (and also teachers), either in person, over email or social media, for information about post-school and bursary opportunities (mostly related to Maths and Science, given our focus). It can be very overwhelming and confusing, and learners often don’t even know where to start. Our mission is to empower learners and teachers in Maths and Science so that they can access these opportunities and realise their own potential, plus the potential of Maths and Science in the world around us.

Have a look at the following quick video explaining the Post-School Access Map:

A few take home messages from the event

The former head of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), Samuel Isaacs, kicked off and spoke about how to empower young people through skills development, what we mean by a skill and how it adds value to an individual. He used the phrase “Your career is your business” several times, which I really liked, and how ”learning to learn” is a skill you need throughout your life. This particularly resonated with me given our endeavour to not only help learners learn and master Maths and Science but to learner how they learn best to become self-directed learners.

Some points which stood out for me from the presentations for BRIDGE and Zenex Foundation:

  • There was innovation not only around the product, but also the process. It was a highly collaborative process where they drew on the shared collective experience from diverse contributors. Hearing about the benefits of their community of practice-driven process echoed strongly with what we have found in our community processes, particularly around developing open educational resources with volunteers, so that they are more widely accessible and appropriate.
  • The idea started several years ago, when the focus was more on a “Tertiary Access Map” and they sought to map out the journey from subject choice through to the world of work. They sought to understand where the weak links in the chain are and what knowledge products need to be developed. As is widely known, many learners just don’t understand you can go further after school and furthermore don’t have the self-belief or self-expectancy
  • During the development of the map, the focus shifted from only tertiary access to include all post-school opportunities. I really liked how throughout the event “Higher education” was presented as one possible pathway, but it’s definitely not the only one or even the best one - this depends on the individual.
  • The resource is available under an open license (Creative Commons BY-SA).
  • The map includes 4 different pathways to post-school opportunities and the map can be used by learners in all grades in high school, or if you’ve just finished, but is also aimed at parents, teachers, career advisors.

As a first launch, this is a really great starting point, and as was re-iterated, the success of such a tool depends on the education sector taking it up, using it, giving feedback, and helping it to develop. There was also lots of discussion about where to next, including questions about accessibility (both in terms of those without internet and for those with disabilities) and monitoring the impact.

Have a look at and explore the map here: tiny.cc/postschool.

Relevance for us and our work - motivating learners to learn

“Learner engagement is the product of motivation and active learning. It is a product rather than a sum because it will not occur if either element is missing.” ~ Elizabeth F Berkley

I really like this quite and keep it in mind in all that I do at Siyavula as we develop our online, adaptive practice tool for Maths and Science, Siyavula Practice, to make sure we strive to balance the effective, active learning with the motivation to do so. So, how do we motivate learners to learn? Consider the framework alongside which I have used to guide my thinking and subsequent learning design. In summary, if an individual sees the value in a task, action or practice; they have a positive outcome expectancy (the belief that this specific action will bring about the goal or outcome) and positive efficacy expectancy (the belief that they personally are capable of achieving the action to bring about the outcome); and they perceive their environment to be supportive, then they will be motivated to pursue that goal or behaviour.

But, it doesn’t stop there, and I more recently started to look at the idea of a “lack of controllability” that learners experience. So, even if a learner sees the value in something and knows that they could achieve it, if a learner thinks that outside forces can prevent them from receiving the benefit of the tasks, they may have less motivation to persist. This is a particular issue for lower income learners who may believe that even if they learn Maths and Science and do well, the possible benefit of being able to go to university may not be available to them so there is no point in learning anyway. This is why we need to make every effort to connect learners to and inform them about post-school opportunities. This may be a distal goal, far in the future, but it can be a driving force in motivating a learner on a day to day basis. This is one aspect I have been thinking about - how to connect daily, easy to achieve goals and actions to more distal, high-stakes goals, so that it does not seem unattainable or impossible. There is something you can do each day to work towards that goal.

Along these lines, we are actively investigating how to increase the value proposition of regularly practising your Maths and Science on Siyavula Practice. The data that we collect not only gives a measure of a learner’s practice and mastery of the subject, but also the effort they put in, their motivation to persist, their dedication to a task, and therefore their aptitude for self-directed learning. Our aim is to connect these measures of a learner to post-school opportunities, for example as a report summarising the above, that can be submitted as part of an application for a bursary, or as part of their resume for other employment opportunities, or even internships or work experience whilst still in school. Over and above grades, this could help provide a more well rounded, holistic view of a learner by using past behaviour as a predictor and proxy for future performance, dedication and success.

Furthermore, we have already seen how the widespread use of Siyavula Practice, especially over mobile phones and in rural areas, has led to identification of learners who are clearly motivated, willing, and have potential. This is particularly true within our schools sponsored by the Vodacom Foundation within their Mobile Education Programme (read more about it here). As Angela Duckworth explains in her TED Talk, “grit” is one of the most powerful predictors of success.

In conclusion, attending events such as the launch of the Post-School Access Map is vital for us as an organisation to continually connect with the education community at large, relfect on our internal thinking and research in relation to the collective experiences and insight from the sector, and to make sure that we are all working together, alongside and reinforcing each other, as we advance education in our country.