COVID-19 changed our lives in 2020, and flexibility and resilience became two of the most important qualities for survival. We are proud that Stepping Stones rose to the challenge, and that we found new opportunities in the unique new situation.
While many of our on-site programs were canceled, suspended or delayed amidst the pandemic, our online programs developed rapidly thanks to our volunteers and partners, such as Shanghai Soong Ching Ling Foundation, Tiny Tots Education Group, Bloomberg, Shanghai United Foundation and Wanlin Modern Logistics Co. Ltd., who have been the backbone of our response to the crisis. In addition to launching our Home Classroom (HCR) Program at the dawn of the pandemic, to provide online lessons to children separately located in their own homes, once the schools re-opened in June, we scaled up our Videolink Program, which consists of volunteers teaching online to children located in school classrooms.
In 2020, 482 people volunteered with Stepping Stones and 4,426 children and youth benefitted from our interventions. While we have reached fewer beneficiaries than in previous years, we have ensured they received a sufficient number of quality lessons to enable them to acquire knowledge and make progress in English or digital skills. Each of our students received on average more than 12 lessons each over the course of the year.
Our volunteers delivered 5,316 English lessons to 3,658 disadvantaged children at 14 project sites in Shanghai, 17 sites in other provinces (some sites with both online and on-site programs), as well as at thousands of students’ homes through the internet.
Our Stepping Up program’s teachers and volunteers provided 652 digital literacy, life skills and career development lessons to 850 students at 9 teaching sites in Shanghai and Zhejiang Province (some sites with both online and on-site programs), as well as at dozens of students’ homes through the internet.
We also supplied professional training and follow-up support to 20 English teachers from Xin’gan County, Jiangxi Province, impacting the English education of about 2,000 children each year.
Considering all the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, our confidence in the quality of our program has never been as high as it is today. We are extremely encouraged by the results of our 2020 impact evaluations. In many ways, they are consistent with results from previous years’ evaluations, suggesting that our interventions continued in 2020 to have a positive impact on our beneficiaries’ motivation, confidence and skills, and contributed to our mission to improve the education of disadvantaged communities in China. Some highlights of the 2020 evaluations include substantial increases in the number of our students feeling confident to speak English, to improve their English test scores and to use computers. We also conducted a pre- and post- assessment to evaluate students’ progress in oral English. The outcome reveals a big improvement in the average level of English speaking, especially for grade 5 students, whose average score has risen between the baseline and follow-up speaking assessments, from 1.04 to 2.37 (3 represents complete oral proficiency).
Of course, it would have been impossible to respond quickly to 2020 unexpected challenges, to innovate and to continue to support the education of disadvantaged students in China, without the help and efforts of our generous donors and volunteers. As well as teaching English, digital literacy or other subjects to our students, volunteers also took a myriad of other roles, including fundraising, communications, design, photography, curriculum development, volunteer and student coordination, translation, etc.
In the Spring 2021, there are almost as many uncertainties as at the end of 2020. We don’t know when international travel restrictions might be lifted. The difference is that whatever happens, we are prepared – 2020 has taught us how to be agile and ready for anything! We have fewer volunteers in Shanghai than before – but more overseas volunteers, which by chance perfectly matches our strategic shift from teaching on-site in Shanghai towards teaching online to children in more deprived rural areas.
We hope to be able to resume our regular programs in Shanghai schools, as well as being able to send more volunteers to teach in rural areas. We are excited about resuming our teacher training program in Shanghai, and are doing our best to raise the necessary funds to continue our online training program for English teachers in rural areas in the future. Whatever happens this year, we thank all of our loyal supporters who continue with us on our exciting journey into the future!
For the full text of the 2020 Stepping Stones Annual Report, please click here.