“Dumisani was a tutor at the Nyanga branch and reached out to Sinethemba Jaca, the Nyanga Branch Coordinator. With the platform he had developed he needed to test the functionality of the web application. When Sinethemba came to me with the idea I was quite excited, after a few meetings with Dumisani we agreed to be part of the testing phase. We started testing the Visar web app with the Nyanga Matric learners on a Saturday. Thereafter, we brought in the other branches in the Western Cape region to also use the platform as we were intrigued by the functionality of the platform.
In August we held our inaugural virtual Winter School which was a new experiment for us. Fortunately, Visar worked seamlessly for us supporting over 110 grade 11 learners during the week. This was held as a region as all branches came together to create a unique experience for our learners. We had games, talk shows, talent shows, and importantly classes facilitated by our top tutors in the region. We were able to create multiple classes concurrently for different subject offerings. With data being expensive Visar allowed us to provide our learners with a great virtual experience without breaking the bank.
Learners had been using WhatsApp since March and they were now exhausted. They were missing human interaction and Visar allowed them to see their peers and hear each other. The tutors could explain concepts in more detail so it was definitely beneficial for the learners.”
Delphino, Western Cape District Manager
We spoke to Dumisani about Visar labs.
Tell us about yourself and what you do at Visar Labs.
I am Dumisani Ncubeni, the founder and CEO of Visar Labs. Visar Labs is an Ed-tech company in the education space and uses augmented and virtual reality technology to help students study science using an App we developed.
What does the app do?
The app uses augmented and virtual reality to help students better understand science subjects. Augmented reality is when you take artificial things and put them in the real world for example an atom that is on a question paper, our app augments the atom from the question paper and shows it on the phone to bring it to reality. Virtual reality is taking yourself and putting yourself in the virtual world. You do that by wearing VR goggles. For example, wearing VR goggles that will take you to planet Mars, you are not really in Mars but your experience is as if you are in Mars.
Which subjects do you focus on?
We are currently focusing on high school science, from Grade 10 up to 12. Sciences that we focus on are Life Science, Physical Science, Geography, and Maths. We have chosen to only work with Physical science, because the topics covered in Physics are the same from grade 10 to 12, so it is easier to create content so when a certain chapter is created, it will run throughout grade 10 to 12.
What made you focus on high school science?
Maths and science are the most failed subjects in South Africa and it is not because students are not intelligent but the problem is how it is taught in school. Physical science is taught as though it is magic so students cannot relate to it outside of school and they can only picture it when they are in the school environment, whereas science is everything around us. When a student is making tea at home and the sugar melts, that’s science. We want students to experience science outside of school and understand that it is everything around us. I did science in high school and I can count how many times I went to the lab, which was about two times from grade 10 to 12, and that didn’t spark interest in me to do science when I got to university. We want students to have access to these resources, to have labs on their phones, access information that they would not be able to get at school, especially for students from townships. There’s a quote that we like using when we speak about Visar “Intelligence does not exist, and if it does it is governed by one’s proximity to information” We want to decrease the gap between students from the township and information.
Which institutions are you planning on collaborating with?
We want it to be used by the Department of Education in South Africa. We have had meetings with the Government in March 2020 before the lockdown, the lockdown put a pause on the process, we are currently setting up to continue talks with the government. We want the app to be used in classes as an extension of the educator or an extension of a textbook, that is why we want to collaborate with the government so that they can provide this app to schools. We are also planning to collaborate with Answer series to use their textbooks so that our animations can be used to help students learn science.
Everyone that is in the educational space is a potential partner or client. We developed an App that operates just like Zoom for IkamvaYouth’s Nyanga branch which is the branch that I tutor in. Tutors were able to go online and help students with their school work. This was a trial that ran for three months, we will have a meeting with IkamvaYouth’s Tech Coordinator to find out if Visar Labs and IkamvaYouth could partner and continue using the App after the test period is complete.
How are you planning to cut barriers to data and phone space capacity?
There are high data prices in South Africa. By Collaborating with the government one, the government can provide data and two, they can provide devices because you need to use a phone for the app. In terms of data usage, the first part is downloading the app from the app store and there aren’t many pages so it does not take up too much space on the phone. The second data usage is that you have to be online in order to use the resources on the app, that is why it does not take up too much space when downloading it. If the government is endorsing it, we will be cutting barriers to access to the internet and have the potential to give students access to cell phone devices.
Will you expand to other subjects in the future?
Yes, but the impact would be different, it might be bigger in science subjects and smaller on business subjects such as Accounting and Economics since they have a theoretical side to it. The decision to focus on Physics was motivated by having limited resources at the moment.
What measures do you take to protect this resource from online hackers and viruses?
Our Co-founder and CTO is a very good software engineer. As he builds the website, apps and adds features, he always takes into account the security of the App and the people who will be using it. Before adding an App on Play Store, we must adhere to their requirements in terms of safety. We only use the camera to scan QR codes, as a tech company, you must always have integrity.
IkamvaYouth provides support to other NGOs who provide after-school support to high school learners. This Community Collaboration Programme (CCP) is currently supporting 17 organisations.
It is always an exciting time when we reflect on the work that organisations in the CCP have achieved. Earlier in the year, we celebrated our partners collectively achieving an impressive 89% pass for the 2019 class of matrics. Now they have taken it a step further supporting the 293 learners to secure post-school opportunities. We are happy to report on an amazing achievement of 70% placements, with learners enrolled in tertiary, learnerships, and employment.
The matric learners’ university eligibility and placement on various post-school opportunities are one of our key indicators in measuring the success of the programmes organisations offer.
Placements are an integral component as they create a clear pathway for learners to earn a dignified living within five years of completing matric. The overarching aim of this programme is to support learners to be self-sustaining individuals positively impacting their lives and those of their families, ultimately eliminating poverty.
Alumni from one of our partner organisations, Phakamani Young Minds Academy(PYMA), Zulfa Hansuana shared her experience with PYMA. “I am currently studying at Nelson Mandela University, enrolled in Public Relations. PYMA has helped me to be aware of application processes and procedures. Given the circumstances and environment we are exposed to, students like me don’t have enough information and are not knowledgeable about tertiary applications. Through PYMA I was able to apply at a tertiary institution and for Nsfas, this was a dream come true for me and my family since they are my supportive structure. I will forever be thankful to PYMA for all their tireless support and motivation, I don’t think I could’ve done it all by myself.”
One of the significant aspects of this collaboration is the creation of a platform for partners to share best practices in implementing the IkamvaYouth model to its fullest potential and continuous learning as we grow the after-school sector.
We are proud of all the organisations in CCP and look forward to supporting you all in the years ahead as we learn and grow from each other.
Debbie Weir said, “There is no ‘I’ in team’’; but we sure are glad there is ‘u’ in volunteers! Maintaining close relationships with volunteers is critical to any volunteer-driven organisation’s success. The IkamvaYouth Gauteng and North West branches understand the importance of volunteerism and embarked on a journey to appreciate the outstanding work of our volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the national lockdown started, our team has been working tirelessly with our volunteers to ensure our learners keep busy and are supported with their academics.
In true IkamvaYouth culture, volunteers’ work and commitment are celebrated yearly in different forms, as we witnessed in the 2019 Gauteng Gala and North West Masquerade ceremonies. This year things took on a different turn, due to uncertainty regarding when lockdown restrictions will end Online tutoring became our new normal. This sparked an idea from our District Manager to celebrate the work of our regional volunteers by arranging volunteer online appreciation week themed “suffocate them with love”. We dedicated an entire week acknowledging the region’s volunteers through sharing pictures, quotations, and spotlight articles that gave us a glimpse into the lives of our superheroes and “sheroes”.
All weekend long, followers of IkamvaYouth social media platforms were kept in suspense, wondering what the big hype was about as we began the countdown to the launch. The day finally arrived; Monday 29 June and we got the ball rolling from the first hour of the day. The ‘Gauteng and North West Tutor Appreciation Week’ announcement was made in style, on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It included a sweet introductory message of the week’s event from the region’s District Manager, Maria, and a picture collage with all our tutors’ faces on it.
Ever wondered why people volunteer? What it is like to tutor high school learners? Well, wonder no more! Our spotlight interviews gave you access to six awesome volunteers, namely Keletso (Mamelodi branch), Mzwanele (Ebony Park branch), Rebaone (Ikageng branch), Gopolang (Mahikeng Branch), Sarah (Ivory Park Branch) and Thabo (Diepsloot branch). The articles were structured in a “getting to know me” feel where we got to venture into their daily lives, aspirations, interests, and volunteering experiences at our branches. A fun fact from Mzwa’s interview, when asked if he were to be president for a day what would he do differently and his response was “Being president for a day can never be enough for me to change the country or implement anything, but I would enjoy my day in office with a cup of coffee, calling everyone I know, letting them know I’m head of state!”
Some of our tutors had this to say about the week:
“Being appreciated is always a very good feeling for one’s self-confidence. Seeing that you are noticed and recognised for the good things that you do for others is very pleasing. I think choosing social media to display gratitude is exactly how I wanted to be appreciated for a long time. So I feel very much honoured to be appreciated for a long time and on social media in fact.”
Odirile, Mahikeng tutor
“Honestly speaking, I am very happy, it is really a great feeling being appreciated where everyone can see. It actually gave me a sense of satisfaction, and I was able to realise that my time and efforts I spend with the learners mean a lot and that motivated me to work harder in assisting the learners. This is one of the best experiences I ever had.”
Gopolang, Mahikeng tutor
“Volunteer appreciation week made me feel very proud to be an IkamvaYouth volunteer – it was lovely to read some stories of fellow volunteers and tutors that I haven’t interacted with, as well as some words of thanks from learners. It made me feel very appreciated, to confirm the large difference that the WhatsApp tutoring is making for the learners during lockdown; which I am so glad to be a part of.”
Laura, Ivory Park tutor
“It’s been an exciting week for me, both North West and Gauteng branches came up with a brilliant idea that was able to reach us as volunteers. I feel motivated that our work as tutors is valued, even during these difficult times our branches have been able to show how much they value our work. Thank you for taking a week to appreciate us.”
Strongman, Ebony Park tutor
As we wrapped up volunteer appreciation week, we would like to say thank you for sacrificing your time, to assist the youth in our communities. Our Programmes Manager, Patrick had this to say;
“In every crisis or disaster situation, it calls for real nation builders to come forward and put their lives in the line to avert the impact of the crisis on humanity!! You are such nation builders! You have, like Tata Mandela forsaken your own comfort and have poured yourselves for the sake of the many Ikamvanites whose situation has been made more bearable because of your tutoring support. To us, you are nation builders, making history through your sacrifices! We thank you!!”
IkamvaYouth’s mission goes beyond just ensuring that learners pass matric, we also seek to ensure that learners access post-school opportunities that will set them on a path to a dignified living. Earlier this year, IkamvaYouth was proud to announce an 86% pass rate for our matric class of 2019. Not only did 86% of learners pass, 47% of the 2019 matric cohort achieved bachelor’s passes, unlocking access to study at university. We are excited to announce a total placement rate of 75% for the class of 2019. We are particularly proud of the 45% of Ikamvanites that have accessed tertiary education.
It is encouraging to note that a total of 211 of IkamvaYouth’s 2019 matric learners have secured tertiary placements, the highest number of tertiary placements achieved over the past five years. Furthermore, the percentage of tertiary placements achieved increased from 39.50% for the 2018 cohort, to 45% for the 2019 cohort.
Ikamvanites are enrolled in a wide range of courses this year, the most being enrolled in Business Administration & Management related courses, as well as Humanities/Social Science studies.
The diversity of career streams taken by the learners is encouraging, and it makes us proud to be supporting the learners to access these respective career choices. Without the support of the branch staff and mentors, some of these learners would not have had the chance to know the courses they are pursuing even existed. The following are just a few quotes from Ikamvanites, expressing their gratitude for the support in accessing their respective post-school opportunities.
IkamvaYouth would like to acknowledge the significant efforts of all branch staff and volunteers whose hard work and dedication has enabled placement of 75% of Ikamvanites. The continued support of our funders and partners is also greatly appreciated, as these partnerships enable IkamvaYouth to support learners on their path to earning a dignified living upon completing matric.
The COVID-19 virus is likely to hit those living in under-resourced areas the hardest. It is critical that we continue to ensure that our Ikamvanites can realise their potential by succeeding in school and accessing post-school education/work. Therefore, our work couldn’t be more important – even though schools are shut and we can’t run tutoring sessions. Tutoring will continue for learners with the use of online platforms, study material and support from parents to ensure that our mission becomes a reality. Our team is working tirelessly, from home to ensure that the organization keeps running smoothly.
Online tutoring strategy
We have adapted our service in line with current developments. Through the use of WhatsApp, we created groups for learners, grouped by grade and by subject streams, to enable academic support to continue. Learners are able to post questions and we facilitate learning using the virtual space. Schedules for learners have been put in place, indicating times from Monday to Friday where different core subjects will be covered, where each subject will run for a maximum of two hours, with learners posting questions, and tutors responding in real-time. Before the lockdown, we distributed study guides to students, so they may have study resources they can use offline, while they are home. Our branch staff are managing the virtual tutoring space, ensuring effective learner and tutor participation as they do at branches. We have leveraged our relationship with parents, requesting them to avail their phones to their children during this period.
IkamvaYouth internal response
The welfare of our staff is equally important to us. All staff members were briefed on the following; Maintaining high levels of hygiene, practicing social distancing, self-isolation in the event that they feel they might have been at risk, seeking immediate medical attention if any of the symptoms are showing. The staff has been working from home since the lockdown commenced and we have provided all employees with the resources they need to be able to work from home. Our goal at this time is to ensure all our staff, beneficiaries and tutors are safe and are contributing to curbing the virus through the various methods shared. Our mission, even in this time, is to continue to provide the support our learners need to keep their minds stimulated and prepare them for when schools open.
We encourage everyone to stay at home and practice good hygiene.