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Social Emotional Learning (SEL) as positive driving force for township schools

SEL webinars for educators, parents and students to collaboratively create a safe and inclusive learning environment during/ post COVID-19

Photo of Mira Modise
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How can we ensure that learners from township schools get to grow and thrive during times of crisis instead of falling even further behind and barely surviving? 

This is the question that motivates our team at Africa Unite to continuously seek innovative solutions. Africa Unite is working with 250+ future leaders from 13 low fee/ no fee high schools in different parts of South Africa. 

On the 18th of March, the COVID-19 outbreak forced all schools nationswide to close with immediate effect. Since then, our team supports these at-risk learners with free academic resources, a WhatsApp helpline for victims of gender-based violence and weekly coaching sessions via Zoom. During these sessions, we share basic mindfulness tools, self-reflection exercises and the importance of developing a growth mindset from "I can't" to "I can". The participants get to set their own academic and personal goals, therefore taking charge of their learning journey towards greater resilience, confidence, success, and social contribution. Attendance is free of charge and data costs are covered to ensure equal access.

From the 1st of June, all learners in South Africa will gradually return to their classrooms. This evokes many concerns and fears among educators, parents, and students alike. Special concerns are raised around the current state of township schools that are often overcrowded and underresourced.

Africa Unite is currently compiling a toolbox on Social Emotional Learning (SEL). The plan is to introduce it to all our 13 partner schools by the end of June. This toolbox contains many well researched games and classroom activities that help young learners "understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions" (CASEL's definition of SEL).

Our goal for the upcoming months is to offer online webinars for educators where we introduce the concept of SEL and discuss how teachers can incorporate these tools into their new classroom realities. We will share simple activities that can contribute to creating a conducive learning atmosphere, despite the odds of social distancing and an array of unsettling emotions. Furthermore, Africa Unite is setting up a parents committee as extra support for schools and learners. Some SEL tools will be shared here as well.

Instead of allowing COVID-19 to become a traumatic experience with devastating academic and mental health consequences, we wish to turn it into a catalyst for positive change.

What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

Township schools have been a place for drugs, gangsterism, teenage pregnancy, HIV/Aids, and other social ills for far too long. Many schools are no longer safe. No policy will change that if it is not supported by joined efforts and commitment from school authorities, teachers, learners, and parents alike. Furthermore, the school system places too much emphasis on academic achievements, hence neglecting the social and emotional development of the child. This model no longer works for students in the 21st century. Schools need a holistic approach to learning, where students get to unleash their innate potential on all levels – academically, socially, and emotionally. We believe that such an approach would greatly contribute to eradicating many of the social ills described above.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

Africa Unite runs an afterschool project in over 30 low fee/no fee high schools in South Africa, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Over the past six years we have encouraged hundreds of learners (Grade 8-11) to not only take ownership of their own lives but also of their schools and communities. It is a wonderful project because it allows young minds to think big, envision a positive change and collectively come up with solutions for pressing issues at school and community level.

At Africa Unite we believe in the power of community and wish to see learners, teachers, and parents come together and take ownership of their schools as safe and inclusive learning centres. This crisis invites all of us to think outside the box and use online platforms to keep in touch and support each other through challenging times.

We are looking forward to any future collaboration that can extend this program to other schools in need. Together we can make sure that no child gets left behind.

What region are you located in?

  • Southern Africa

Where are you located?

Our head office is in Cape Town. We also have a branch in Durban, and a satellite office in Johannesburg.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Rachel Siegel

Feeling so inspired by your organization's dedication to the social-emotional development of students as well as equity, Mira Modise . Thank you for all you are doing to support their resilience and wellbeing - so incredibly critical during this time of crisis! As I think about characteristics of trauma-informed school systems, I'm reminded how critical it is to also provide SEL support for those implementing the tools (in this case, the educators). I wonder how Africa Unite might intentionally design space for the educators to build their own S-E skills before they do this for the students...

All the best!

Photo of Mira Modise

Dear Rachel, thank you so much for your encouraging message. I looked up the concept of trauma-informed school systems and it seems to be the missing link. Thank you for mentioning it. In the past we have mainly worked with the youth. Collaborating with teachers and parents is something very new to us but we feel the urgency and the need for broader support networks. The other thing you mentioned regarding SE skills of teachers is also something we were discussing. Many teachers are stressed out themselves, how can they be best assisted suring these times? We have some ideas but it's basically new territory. That's why I'm glad to have found this amazing platform. I believe that the future of education is to learn from each other by coming together and sharing all our skills and ideas. It's really great to be a part of it.