Service Learning in South Africa: Promoting Digital Learning

Part 1 in a series of blogs about Wheelock College’s Service Trip to South Africa. Read the full series

Wheelock Students & Faculty with their host from Good Work Foundation

A group of Wheelock students—both graduate and undergraduate—are participating in the college’s fifth service-learning trip to South Africa, from May 21st through June 7th.  Professors Lenette Azzi-Lessing and Bobbi Rosenquest are leading the trip. 

We began with three days in rural Mpumalanga Province, near the country’s world-famous game parks.  We spent the first morning at one of the digital learning labs operated by Good Work Foundation, which brings cutting-edge, digital learning to elementary and high school students living in remote areas. Later that day, Wheelock students visited the new Kurhula High School, where they met 8th grade students and shared stories, musical tastes, and songs with one another.

The next day, the Wheelock visitors spent time getting to know Good Work staff members and some of their older students with a discussion session under the sprawling canopy of a large tree. The young people were surprised by how much they share in common as they work to achieve their life goals. Afterwards, raucous laughter filled the air while the group played several rounds of the 30-Seconds Game.  Later that afternoon, Wheelock students and the 8th graders at Kurhula formed teams to write a fable and a poem. At the end of the day, each team presented their fable, discussed the lesson it taught, and read their poem to applause from the rest of the class.

Wheelock students assist Good Work teachers in the Justicia Digital Learning Center

Meanwhile, two additional Wheelock students (who are interning at Good Work for the next several weeks) tutored 11th graders at Kurhula in reading comprehension. Their session ended with the sharing of rap music, dancing, and a gospel song beautifully performed by one of the 11th grade students.

On our final day in the province, we arrived for a tour of Good Work’s beautiful flagship learning lab and headquarters.  While Bobbi and I met with Good Work’s leaders to discuss ways in which the college could become more deeply engaged in supporting the organization’s mission, the students learned more about how Good Work prepares youths and young adults to succeed in an increasingly digitized world.

After endless hugs, the exchanging of email addresses and Facebook accounts, all but the two interning Wheelock students bid our hosts farewell in the warm South African sunshine and climbed into our van. We rode the long dusty roads towards the airport and the country’s Eastern Cape, where we will be engaging with much younger students in that region’s early education and care programs.

Lenette Azzi-Lessing, Wheelock College Professor of Social Work, is the author of “Behind from the Start: How America’s War on the Poor is Harming Our Most Vulnerable Children” (2017, Oxford University Press). She joined the Wheelock faculty in 2006, with more than 25 years’ experience as a social worker, administrator, and policy advocate. Her work focuses on improving the well-being and life chances of vulnerable, young children and their families, particularly those living in poverty and those involved in the child protective system. Dr. Azzi-Lessing is the founding director of Wheelock’s Graduate Certificate Program in Early Childhood Mental Health and is faculty leader of the college’s Partnership for Early Childhood Development in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.