With COVID-19 suspending classes for thousands of MindLeaps students, MindLeaps has created the Virtual Academy to continue with their education.
The Virtual Academy is a chance for youth to explore different ways of communication, different platforms of messaging like Zoom, Google Platforms, and email. For many, this was their first time using Zoom. We actually had to teach them how to mute the microphone and how to make a video. But these are things that are exciting to them.
At this moment, I’m feeling so special because many people outside are not getting what I’m getting. They’re stuck at home because of quarantine. But me, it’s as if I’m doing my normal routine because at 4pm I know I have to enter the WhatsApp group for classes. It’s as if it [Virtual Academy] has brought a good harmony to my life, especially during this period. I know many people from the outside would like to have something like this.
HOW IT WORKS
1. MindLeaps provides smartphones and data packs for the youth to connect to the internet
2. Youth are organized into groups of 8-25 students on WhatsApp
3. One expert guides the course with weekly real-time voice message lecturing on WhatsApp and supplemented by occasional Zooms
4. Students learn through fun, engaging TikTok videos in their own languages – currently available in English, French, Kinyarwanda, Arabic, and Swahili
5. Assignments and tests are implemented with Google Forms and Tools
The Virtual Academy furthers the mission of MindLeaps by helping vulnerable youth onto a path to education. The Academy maintains interest in learning and a sense of “schooling” and structure, with regular class times, required assignments, and daily feedback from teachers and peers. The participants have access to these courses in the Academy, despite being in a refugee camp, slum, or low-income community. To accommodate low-bandwidth locations and minimal electricity, Virtual Academy classes are delivered through WhatsApp and low-resolution videos easily accessed on smartphones.
To monitor outcomes from the Academy, MindLeaps tracks attendance, homework completion, and active engagement. On the qualitative side, MindLeaps evaluates the growth of hope, long-term vision, and community building. The Academy also enables MindLeaps staff to keep an active line of communication with youth who are in danger of falling into risky behavior or, especially in the case of teenage girls, may need additional interventions to stay safe.
The Academy equips youth with the skills they can use to be economically independent, as well as become effective youth leaders in their communities. As of October 2020, 293 students are enrolled in the Virtual Academy.
Improved Digital Skills
The students display an increased knowledge and comprehension of digital skills with platforms like Google Suite, Zoom, and WhatsApp.
Develop Subject Area Knowledge
The students demonstrate increased knowledge of six important subject areas:
- Business Entrepreneurship
- Project Management/Budgeting
- Child Development
- Communications & Public Speaking
- Digital Literacy
Expand Community Connections
Virtual Academy participants build a tight-knit bond through daily discussions and interactions, offering them a space that is open for them to express themselves, find someone to listen, and be inspired to think about their futures.
Demonstrate Hope for the Future
The Virtual Academy has helped foster hopefulness amongst participants, keeping them positively engaged during this period of isolation and gap in formal education due to COVID-19.
Gain Long-Term Vision
Virtual Academy participants have broadened their interests to venture into disciplines other than dance. Students pitch a business idea for their final exam for the Business Entrepreneurship class. Several of these businesses have been funded and are now earning a profit.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
• Phone Donations – Students take all the courses in the Virtual Academy entirely from their smartphones. We are currently running the program for 293 students and provide phones for each student that does not have access to a phone.
• Volunteer – There are opportunities to volunteer in the Academy in homework grading and data assessment. If you have expertise in any of the six subject areas of the Academy (Business Entrepreneurship, Project Management and Budgeting, Communications, Child Development, Inclusion, Digital Literacy) or in data collection please contact us to get involved.