School closures during the COVID-19 pandemic had serious ramifications for education in South Africa. Unlike better-off and well-resourced schools that were able to transition to some form of home-based schooling with teacher interaction, learners at underprivileged schools were left unattended. This project was borne out of the need to increase opportunities for these children to learn at home.
This project aimed to test whether developing and distributing structured homework booklets, combined with regular parental communication could result in improved homework outputs and boost homework culture amongst Grade 2 learners. Through Zenex’s partnership with the Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development, University of Fort Hare (NMI), parents and teachers participated in a range of engagements to better understand their experiences, practices, attitudes and relationships regarding homework, as well as the parent-teacher communication needed to facilitate this. These activities informed the design of the action research project, which was carried out from the time rotational school learning was introduced until March 2022. Thirteen rural schools in the Eastern Cape took part in this project: five in Mbizana, and eight in Mqanduli.
This study explored strategies for improving communication between parents and teachers in rural communities, in order to maximise home learning and enhance a culture of homework practice.
The project provided Grade 2 teachers with six easy-to-use 8-page homework booklets in isiXhosa.
These included simple activities that could be undertaken with parent or guardian support so as to improve early number fluency. Teachers created a homework distribution routine whereby completed booklets were collected and new ones distributed every week. The children were required to complete two pages per day. Good teacher-parent communication was vital for this intervention to succeed. To this end, the teachers sent to parents regular SMSs and WhatsApp messages, which had been crafted by the study team. Teachers also provided telephonic assistance and called parent meetings when needed.
Teacher Feedback: Teachers were positive about how easy it was to use the well-designed homework booklets. They cited that those learners who regularly completed homework appeared to improve faster than others. Teachers also came to realise the importance of repetition and practice that the homework affords. A small minority of teachers cited a lack of data on their phones as a potential barrier to communication.
Parent Feedback: Parents (or guardians) engaging in focus groups embraced the clear format and expectations of the booklets, describing these as “user friendly.” They also indicated that their children coped with their homework. All parents said that they supported their children in this regard and that they now recognise the value of their help. The SMSs prompted parents to remind their children to do their homework and to support and encourage them in this process. Parents also noticed the growing independence of their children through this project. Like teachers, some parents cited difficulties with connectivity and data. Others misidentified the SMS as spam.
This action research project brought forth important lessons for future work. It provides Zenex with an opportunity to embed these learnings in future relevant interventions. The evidence shows that learners who complete their homework improve their classroom performance. Nevertheless, the parent communication component can be complex and inconsistent, needing further consideration and research.