Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief

Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation

Launching a Youth Centre: What we have learned so far

Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Facilitate access to educational opportunities | 21 June, 2012 - 15:24



South Africa has one of the highest HIV prevalence in the world, with an estimated 17% of the population aged 15-49 infected [1]. In South Africa approximately 36% of all heterosexual HIV transmission occurs in the 15-24 age group, and this proportion is substantially higher (up to 45%) among women [2]. Key contributors to the spread of HIV infection among young people include: high-risk sexual behavior, reluctance to test for HIV, lack of youth-friendly services, feelings of vulnerability, and a lack of support and nurturing to pursue aspirations and talents.

Many of these factors that impact HIV also contribute to poor educational and employment outcomes. National development indicators demonstrate the need for improved education with only 5.3% of adults over 20 years having attained higher education and only 35.6% of the adults of the same age having completed Grade 12. In 2011 the Department of Education conducted an international audit “the Annual National Assessments” which assessed grade 3, 6 and 9 learners across the country. Literacy rates of only 35% for Grade 3 and numeracy of only 28% were reported. Results were improved in the Western Cape however these outcomes placed South Africa at one of the lowest levels of literacy and numeracy internationally and prompted the department of Education response “It is widely recognised that the country’s schooling performs well below its potential and that improving basic education outcomes is a prerequisite for the country’s long range development goals.” (p. 8) [3]

The pass rates for Matriculation are improving with 70.2% passing in 2011 versus 67.8% the previous year. Nationally, some subjects need particular attention of note, the falling Maths scores with 47.4% of learners passing in 2010 and only 46.3% of learners passing in 2011. Despite some small improvements there is a lack of career guidance and awareness of opportunities following school within the education system. This is evidenced by the unemployment figures for youth reported to be at 52.0% at the end of 2011 [4].

 Across South Africa many young people are orphaned and either lives with siblings or guardians or are from single parent families.  Such challenging home environments are unlikely to offer academic support and coupled with poverty and crime in many cases may hinder youth’s attempts to obtain a good education. This is demonstrated by school drop outs escalating after Grade 10 with many youth caring for younger siblings or required to support the family. Teenage pregnancies are a frequently reported reason for girls to drop out of school.  

On a smaller scale, the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation (DTHF) has been working in partnership with Masiphumelele, a township in the southern peninsula of Cape Town, since 2000. The community of 17,000 people is relatively young with 30.7% of the population under the age of 20[5]. Masiphumele has an HIV prevalence of 25% in people over the age of 15 and from a survey in 2005, almost 10% of adolescents aged 11-19 years were already HIV infected. Matric pass rates at Masiphumelele High were approximately 50% in 2011, well below the national scores.

Education plays a vital role in the fight against HIV and improving productivity and competiveness in the economy. It is essential to raise people out of poverty and female economic empowerment specifically, may have a role in reducing the transactional sex, one of the known risk factors for HIV transmission. On the individual level, provision of education and employment support plus guidance for young people can enable them to reach their full potential and connect to opportunities that would have otherwise been unknown. 


  • Shisana O., Rehle T., Simbayi L. C., et al. (2009) South African national HIV prevalence, incidence, behaviour and communication survey, 2008: A turning tide among teenagers? Human Sciences Research Council. Available: http://www.hsrcpress.ac.za.
  • Johnson L. F., Dorrington R. E., Bradshaw D., et al. (2009) Sexual behaviour patterns in South Africa and their association with the spread of HIV: insights from a mathematical model. Demographic Research. 21: 289-340
  • Department of Basic Education (2012). Education Statistics in South Africa 2010. Pretoria.
  •  South African Institute of Race Relations (2011). South African Development Index (SADI) First Quarter 2011.
  • Middelkoop, K and Roberts, T. (2010). Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Masiphumelele Census 2010.


Our strategy

Formative research conducted by DTHF in 2009 identified that the development of a Youth Centre was seen as highly desirable by the Masiphumelele community and that the emphasis should be on youth empowerment, education as well as reducing high risk sexual, health and safety behaviours. DTHF constructed a Youth Centre complex in 2010 which was officially opened in March 2011.


The overall purpose of the Youth Centre is to create a safe, open environment for young people from throughout the Fish Hoek valley to develop mentally and physically healthy lifestyles to foster a generation who will make healthy life choices and change the current landscape of rising HIV/AIDS rates in the communities. 

The education program operates within the broader Youth Centre framework. The education program has the following specific objectives:

  • To reduce high school drop-out and improve academic performance for the Youth Centre population.
  • To improve vocational and Higher Education enrollment and completion.
  • To improve employment prospects and facilitate job placement.

The multi-dimensional Youth Centre offers clinical health services, educational and leadership initiatives, and a recreation program in a single location and has been designed in close consultation with the Masiphumelele community.

To achieve the specific education objectives DTHF has developed and implemented an innovative incentive- based educational program that aims to be inspiring and motivating for young people. The program is structured to include a school support as well as a job opportunities and life skills development program. The Youth Centre utilises 20 donated computers and has an Education Coordinator who oversees the program in partnership with local High Schools and NGOs.

The incentives system is based on a points scheme called “tutus”. Tutus are awarded for attendance and various behaviours at educational programs and weighted to encourage actions identified as important in achieving the educational objectives such as completing specific programs and improved marks on school reports. The incentives system works via a biometric facility with a finger print reader connected to a central data-base, providing a novel approach for youth. Presentation ceremonies are held each term with awards able to be redeemed at any time. Smaller rewards include stationary, air-time and Pick and Pay voucher or youth have the opportunity to save tutus for rewards of a greater value such as driving lessons and weekend camps.

Expected Outcomes

Anticipated and aspired outcomes are improved academic grades, annual pass rates and matric outcomes in scholars attending the Youth Centre; improved school attendance and retention at Masiphumelele High School; increased numbers of Masiphumelele Youth in tertiary education and vocational training; increased skills development in secondary school students attending the Youth Centre and increased numbers of Masiphumelele Youth in employment.

A further goal is to understand the role of incentives in positive behaviour change for disadvantaged South African youth. Within this framework the use of technology will be explored.

DTHF aims to develop a replicable model that can be implemented across the Province, even South Africa. This will be facilitated through DTHF’s rigorous monitoring and evaluation. As a research based organization with a history in developing best practice, findings will be published in peer –review publications.

The intention is for Masiphumelele adolescents to take ownership of the project and as a result extend the project sustainability and reach. Most importantly, we hope to provide connection to opportunity for the disadvantaged Masiphumelele youth. Connection in terms of education, employment and fun!

Our Implementation to date

The education incentives program commenced in December 2011. We were very lucky to have two recent Oxford MBA graduates assist with preparation and planning for the program throughout November 2011. In early December, the education coordinator was recruited and commenced with program planning, partnership development, software creation initiated. The full program launched in January 2012. To date, 264 young people have attended the education programs.

Following meetings held with teachers and focus groups conducted with youth, English was identified as an area of need. To make the program fun and a different, experiential learning experience to school the education coordinator developed a range of programs to expand written and conversational English skills. “Choose your topic” “iBook” and “Journalism”are some of theprograms commenced. They have proved very popular with the younger adolescents with around 192 young people attending and a total of 598 separate program visits. The mean age of attendees has been 15 years and 61% of attendees were male.

The Youth Centre was donated 30 computers. The education program had planned to offer formal accredited training courses in Microsoft Office. However, a very poor level of computer literacy amongst the youth was identified early on. To develop typing and computer skills a range of basic classes have been held. This included building typing speed and accuracy, safety on the web, classes on setting up an email account and how to navigate basic Microsoft Word documents. 153 young people have attended typing classes or “speedy fingers” and they are slowly developing their typing and computer skills, with 8 youth achieving 20 or 30 words a minute. This outcome is a dramatic improvement on initial typing speeds. It is hoped that accredited training can be offered to some youth by the end of term 3.

The life skills development program has been slower to develop with guidance offered on a one-on-one basis rather than in a group setting. To date, 29 young people have achieved steps towards educational and employment objectives with 17 young people finalizing a CV and 5 young people applying for a bursary, tertiary education or a job through the program. Many partnerships were developed during this period that will expand this component of the program and an open day for colleges and Universities is planned for June.

The incentives program through the Broccoli biometric system has been popular and appears to be working well. Software development and planning was started in November with the incentives program launching at the Valentines dance on 14th February. Since its launch 760 youth have registered on the system and all young people on the education program. 

The program is very popular with males of 12 – 14 years. Strategies to improve attendance and use of the incentives system for girls and older adolescents are being explored. Tutus have been redeemed or burnt for a range of rewards including pick and pay vouchers and printing documents in the computer lab. The current rand to tutu value is 3-5 tutus = 1 rand. Anecdotally, many youth are saving for the higher value rewards such as the camps.

Implications for other implementers

Within South Africa there are a vast array of innovative evidence based NGOS working in the health and education space. At the Youth Centre we aim to create a platform to bring these organizations together. Our Youth Centre education programme consists of programs delivered by best practice NGOs and our own initiatives to achieve our education and employment objectives. This ensures that we do not spend time duplicating programs but optimize existing local knowledge and skills at one site.

In the first 6 program months it has been critical to be flexible and review approaches regularly. To make the project happen a large amount of staff have been paramount. We have utilized volunteers from the local community and young international students. This has made success possible and allowed us to maintain a big picture, strategic oversight.

As an academic NGO, establishing our own rigorous evaluation processes has been slow; as we have been dependent on ethical review systems and formal methods.  As regular review and remaining flexible has been critical a more programmatic and responsive evaluation process has been developed. This has consisted of informal elements such as using games and peer review to ascertain areas for change. The more formal evaluation framework will continue to operate concurrently. 

The Youth Centre is piloting a biometric database facility to collect demographic, attendance and incentive information. The system has proved popular and is a convenient, novel approach to collecting and storing data. The incentives system has been operational for 3 months. We are now at the stage where we are developing more formal systems and able to start re-adjusting points or “tutus” to encourage behaviours identified as essential in achieving educational and employment outcomes. We will continue to monitor and review this system.

The Youth Centre target group is young people between the ages of 12 -22 years in the greater Fish Hoek valley. There have been challenges in meeting the needs of such a diverse population, in different stages of biological, psychological and social development. There is no one size fits all solution. The incentives and education program has been popular with younger adolescents in particular males. We need to keep reviewing strategies to encourage female participation, older adolescents and out of school youth.

Finally, apart from our educational and employment objectives the ethos of the Youth Centre is to create a fun place to be where there are also adolescent friendly, confidential health services. Since January, or within the last 4.5 months, 104 (14%) of Youth Centre members have also attended the health clinic services. This approach is the first in its kind offering health, recreational and also educational services within one site. We aim to encourage healthy choices across all facets of life. Through are ongoing implementation and evaluation will hope to develop a model that can be expanded.

Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation

Anzio Road, Observatory, Cape Town  

 (021) 633 6599


 Search for lessons learned:

Leave blank for all. Otherwise, the first selected term will be the default instead of "Any".
Leave blank for all. Otherwise, the first selected term will be the default instead of "Any".