Effecting change and improving quality of learning through a dedicated School Based Support Team
Learners in disadvantaged communities face many barriers to learning, the very tool they need to battle inequality and carve out a better future for themselves. Support and resources in these communities are scarce so a lot more is expected and needed from resources that are available. This means that schools in these communities have been left with the task of trying to find solutions to and help combat these barriers, largely on their own.
The School Based Support Team (SBST) at Nokuphila Pre-Primary and Primary School was created to do just that: help learners overcome learning barriers. The team consists of a social worker, an occupational therapist, a remedial therapist, and a chairperson. Each of these professionals contributes a unique skill set and they work as a cohesive unit to help identify and combat children’s learning barriers.
The role of the occupational therapist
This member of the team looks at how the children are functioning in school and also looks at the foundational skills that are needed for learning and specifically the nonverbal skills, visual perception, gross motor, and fine motor. The occupational therapist is based in the preschool because that is the most important foundation/consolidation ages for those skills.
The role of the remedial therapist
Through liaising with the teachers, children struggling in the classroom due to either learning gaps or learning barriers are identified. Together with the rest of the team and the teachers, a support programme for each child is designed. By providing the children with a playful and anxiety free environment and making use of play-learning methods designed around each child’s needs, which together cover core skills such as reading, language, mathematics, etc.
The role of the social worker
The social worker works closely with both the learners and parents at Nokuphila Pre-Primary and Primary school. This member of the team also works closely with child welfare organisations to help identify the most vulnerable children in the community, who they then nominate for enrollment at Nokuphila as learners. The social worker investigates the home situation of learners to ensure that children and parents are supported physically, psychologically, and emotionally. This is extremely tough as social ills (bullying, hunger, abuse, crime, etc.) and a whole host of other issues are rife in poor communities. And, because at Nokuphila the focus is on the most vulnerable learners in the community most of the learners have been exposed to the most brutal parts of South African society, which naturally takes a toll on them and their parents.
The collective role of the School Based Support Team
The team works with families to help address root problems and if needed escalates cases where the learner may be in danger to the relevant authorities. Children who are traumatised do not learn. Children who are lacking do not learn. So, it’s for the team to take over and make sure that the child is well supported for learning.
The benefit of a support team with such a variety of complementary qualifications and skills set means that not only the learners, but the teachers and parents too, benefit from their professional guidance, advice, and support. Through their shared knowledge and strategic approach, they provide a more effective and holistic solution to psycho-social and learning problems that are often multifaceted. But, without the buy in from teachers and parents to act on the professional support provided, all the efforts from the SBST are for naught. There is a tripod chair of learning (teachers, parents, learners). If one leg is missing, then effective learning is not taking place.