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SPARK Schools Home Learning Portal

Distance learning with a heart.

Photo of Bailey Thomson Blake
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As South Africa proceeded into an extended lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, SPARK Schoolscommitted to ensuring that learning continued for our scholars across the network.  Cognizant of the varying degree of internet and hardware access that SPARK scholars and their families have, our team developed a distance learning offering that we believed would prevent the development of academic gaps until schools reopen.

Shortly after the announcement of school closures, SPARK Schools launched a Home Learning Portal, which included academic resources for the foundation, intermediate, and senior phases, as well as ideas for Body Movement, Healthy Living, Creative Time, Age-Appropriate Chores, and Social-Emotional Learning.  Each phase had a suggested timetable, with recommended “academic time” in line with developmentally-appropriate guidance.

In connecting with the parents and guardians of SPARK scholars after launching the Home Learning Portal, we became aware of the following challenges they faced:

  • Many SPARK parents are essential workers or are working full-time from home during lockdown, and they were looking for a solution that would independently teach their children, rather than requiring their attention and effort for tutoring and support.

  • Parents wanted additional feedback about their child’s progress, and they were looking for a solution that would mark their child’s work and guide them on the skills their child needed to focus upon during at-home learning.

  • Social connection had been lost, to an extent, during lockdown, and parents were looking for a solution that would provide a human connection to the school their child missed.

  • SPARK parents acknowledged that SPARK’s teaching methods, language, and culture were unique, and they expressed that they wanted their child to have access to lessons facilitated by SPARK educators using SPARK’s personalised and engaging methods and language.

In response to those challenges and needs, we launched a further distance learning offering on the Home Learning Portal.  Beginning the week of 20 April, began providing grade and subject-specific video lessons and follow-up assignments, which are updated weekly.  These video lessons and assignments feature SPARK school leaders and educators and are easily accessible via the Home Learning Portal.  The assignments, created using the Google suite of educational tools, feature automatic marking, so that parents receive real-time feedback on their child’s academic progress.  By mastering the skills in each week’s posted videos, scholars will be prepared for strong academic performance upon schools reopening.

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

We wish to create seamless integration of online and offline learning offerings, in order to provide increased flexibility and personalisation, even after schools reopen.

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

Bailey Thomson Blake joined the founding team of SPARK Schools in 2012 and led the initial design and implementation of the network's learning models. In her role as Chief of Schools, Bailey leads the teams responsible for the research, design, and innovation of SPARK's blended and personalised learning models, as well as the school management team responsible for the instructional and operational outcomes of each of the network's 21 schools. To ensure that SPARK Schools delivers high quality, affordable education in accordance with its mission, Bailey drives strategic decisions related to the execution of operations, the experience of all stakeholders, and the empowerment of school leaders.

What region are you located in?

  • Southern Africa

Where are you located?

Johannesburg, South Africa


Join the conversation:

Photo of Bailey Thomson Blake

Hello Rachel Siegel -- thank you for your thoughtful comment!

Internet and technology access varies widely across our network of schools and within our schools and communities. Quite a few of our families are currently acessing distance learning through our low-tech offerings, where we send assignments by WhatsApp or email or arrange phone calls, as necessary. Our current work is on ensuring that 100% of content can be accessed online or offline, with feedback on scholar work built into our processes. Fortunately, the South African government has recently begun allowing educational resources to be delivered in hard copy again, so we can revert to paper-based packets, at the very least.

I love this parent's interpretation of the suggested schedule for their child:
I believe most of our families are using the timetable as a guideline, more than a requirement, and we're very happy for families to do what what works best for them, as circumstances vary by household. We're looking at integrating a scholar experience survey into our online learning opportunities going forward, and I love the idea of including some questions for scholars on how they and their parents have approached distance learning.

I'll definitely share your idea around co-creation with our Learning Model team. I know that that student-centric approach will really appeal to them. Thanks so much for taking the time to help us make this offering better for our scholars and their families.

Hope you are keeping well and that your family is healthy and safe.

Kind regards,

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