Alexandra W. berichtet von ihrer Zeit als Teaching Volunteer in Kapstadt
From 12th of October until 27th of November, 2015, I worked as a volunteer at the Shine Center in St. Paul's Primary School, Cape Town.
Many reports and studies indicate that the education system in South Africa is failing the children. The “Shine literacy program” is an early intervention program to address this problem by providing children with a solid foundation for reading and writing. At the Shine Center, volunteers from Cape town as well as from all over the world teach the children practical aspects of reading and writing. Children work in groups of two, with an adult learning partner, twice a week for an hour. I worked from Monday to Friday from 9 am until 1 pm.
The motto of the Shine is “Words can change worlds”. The Shine program aims to inspire South African children to experience the power of reading. Children are selected for the shine program based on the results of an assessment at the end of grade one. A normal school class consists of nearly 40 children. In such a big group it is difficult to work on personal deficits. That’s why the Shine center provides the children extra support.
We as volunteers have to bring along a lot of patience. It is our duty to encourage the children in order to boost the child's self-confidence, which promotes learning. He or she should always feel comfortable to read aloud. For some children, it is the only place where he or she receives someone's undivided attention. A literacy hour is divided into four 15-minute sections, Paired Reading, Shared Reading, Have-a-go Writing and Word Play. At the end of each session the volunteer writes a praising short text that is directed to the child which he or she can show his or her parents.
What I really liked in the Shine Center was that the children could always take a book home to read it with someone of their family. For the next session they bring it back and take a new one. It gives the children the opportunity to read books at home and share their knowledge with their brothers and sisters.
During one week, I did another kind of volunteering work, it was also in St. Paul's Primary School. One teacher was looking for a supply teacher because she was one week absent and nobody of the other teachers could look after her class. That's why she asked me and another German volunteer if we could take over her class for that week. The class consisted of 38 children. Every day, we worked from 7:45 am until 2 pm. Our duty was to take care of the children and to do some exercises with them, for example filling out work sheets concerning mathematics or spelling exercises and discuss them afterwards. We read books in order to improve their reading skills, played games, learned the alphabet together and the pronunciation of the different letters. The children had to write a short letter for us (improving writing skills) and they had to list as many countries as they knew. During the last 30 minutes of the school day we were always allowed to go out with the children and do physical education with them. It was a big challenge to manage so many children at the same time and it was definitely very exhausting. However it was a very good experience. In such a big group, they have to learn how to get along with each other. We had to teach them manners and life skills.
During two days in November, the Shine Center carried out assessments with children of the first grade. As I already explained, the Shine Center selects children who will get extra support based on the results of this test. So we, the volunteers, tested around 70 children for 10-20 minutes in order to find out which knowledge of English they have. It was a very good experience to work as assessor for the day. It was interesting to see the big differences children have in reading and writing although they join one class.
Nomawethu Nika, the leader of the Shine Center at St. Paul's, was very helpful and showed me how everything worked. I liked that she also told us a lot of things about the children, the school and life in Cape Town in general. Noma was always open minded for questions or new ideas. She gave her best to give pleasure to the children. At the end of November, before Shine closed for Christmas holidays, we had a Christmas celebration with all the children and volunteers. The children had a lot of fun and got a Christmas present and a Shine certificate. This celebration reflected the pleasant and warm atmosphere in the Shine Center where I felt very comfortable.
All in all, I really enjoyed my volunteering work at St. Paul's Primary School. It was an awesome way to experience the daily life of South African children and teachers. I spent a big amount of time with the children and got to know their interests as well as their strengths and weaknesses. What I loved the most was that the children were very trustworthy. If they had a problem, they asked for our help. I loved encouraging the children who had no self-confidence. It was amazing to see the progress some children made just in a short time. Some children who used to say I am not able to read this word or sentence, later just tried it and did very well. For me it was also a very important experience to learn how to deal with children who have a different culture and normally speak a different language.