From Sport 2 Life: Using sport to teach life skills
From Sport 2 Life: Using sport to teach life skills
How Homeground is using sport and technology to educate youngsters in rural South Africa.
Through my work on the Youth Olympic Games and a South African classmate, I got involved in the Homeground Initiative in the remote town of Geluksburg in the Northern Drakensberg. Like many rural communities in South Africa, Geluksburg is struggling with high unemployment, low education levels, substance abuse and HIV/AIDS. Until a few years ago, there was no supervised place for children to play or do homework after school, as their homesteads were spread over many kilometres in the hills around town.
Creesen Naicker and Michael Flockhart came across Geluksburg and, with the agreement of the community, set up a youth centre that locals dubbed Homeground. Michael and Creesen are both social entrepreneurs and have extensive experience with sport and development, especially designing programmes and interventions for youth.
Endorsed by the Department of Basic Education and with the help of locally trained coaches, they introduced their “Sport 2 Life” concept to teach life skills through sport. In every themed session, kids learn and reinforce different skills such as resilience, teamwork, confidence, and making healthy life choices through physical activity, games and reflection circles.
In the morning, Homeground is a kindergarten where children from 3 to 6 years receive early childhood education, including physical activity to develop motoric skills. In the afternoon, older school kids come to play sport and do life skill sessions.
To reach more children, Homeground coaches go to different primary and high schools in the district to support teachers in conducting physical education on a daily basis. Once a year, the schools compete in their very own mini-Olympics, which has become one of the highlights of the school year.
Homeground quickly became an important part of community life. However, it also became obvious that some of the issues that children face could not be solved through sport alone.
Using education technology to support children’s academic success
Many kids in Geluksburg struggle with their education. Families are unable to provide support as they do not have sufficient resources or education themselves.
An alarming study in 2017 found that 78% of South African learners cannot read for meaning at the end of Grade 4. This will give them a severe disadvantage for the rest of their educational journey, and in their life.
Acknowledging the importance of academic success, the Homeground Team started to provide educational support during the afternoon sessions. From teaching the youngest how to hold a pen, practising English through reading and music circles, to providing a safe space to do homework and to study.
The team also introduced tablets, loaded with educational content, that the children could use as part of their time at the youth centre, and that were especially popular on rainy days, when sport had to be cancelled. They used BluPoint and the literacy game “Feed the Monster” developed by American NGO Curious Learning. From the beginning of 2018 onwards, all learners got to play “Feed the Monster” in isiZulu and English on a regular basis.
An impact study conducted over the course of 2019 showed that literacy levels of Geluksburg learners were improving. By November 2019, 100% of all learners tested could read for meaning in their home language (isiZulu) at the end of Grade 4, compared to the national average of just 22%. Despite attending rural, underfunded schools and coming from low-income households, all tested students achieved much higher results than the national average, and did so even ahead of time. In addition to the excellent results in isiZulu, children were scoring twice the national average in their second language, English.
“Of course, it is difficult to isolate one specific factor for these great results, but it is evident that there is something exceptional happening in Geluksburg. While playing sport has been the reason the kids come, the tablets and other activities are the reason they stay,” Creesen Naicker commented on the results.
One common factor is that all children have been coming to the Homeground Centre since a young age - a place where they have received continuous support from coaches and educators in their development.
Sport is the perfect tool to reach young people. It´s an engaging and fun way to learn, to become more aware of oneself and to build the community” added Michael Flockhart.
What’s next for Homeground? – Building an Academy for Social Development in Geluksburg
While Homeground is continuing their initiatives for local kids, the team is constantly challenging themselves to become better at serving the community and providing a platform for learning through sport. They are organising a number of workshops and youth leadership camps aimed at locals as well as guests, all using the Sport 2 Life method to teach personal and social development. Homeground are also working with business professionals, researchers and academics to make the project more sustainable and impactful.