In conversation with SMART founder Dr Mariam Seedat-Khan

In collaboration with Dr Seedat-Khan, GIFS is hosting the SMART Learning Platform, an interactive programme that includes five 60-minute online sessions helping learners from Grade 0 to Grade 12. It has proven to be an invaluable tool for learners and parents, especially during lockdown.

Seedat-Khan is accredited and certified by the Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology (AACS), making her one of only 25 certified Clinical Sociologists in the world, and one of three women in South Africa. She was honoured with this recognition by the Certification Review Committee. The committee said her work “clearly demonstrated a clinical sociological perspective in the area of expertise, teaching and learning interventions in the field of education”.

We talked to her about the SMART Learning Platform. Its beginnings, the future, and its massive potential of this platform for a South Africa under lockdown.

How did the idea for SMART come about, and in what shape or form did it come to life?

SMART began as a specific research interest, which developed into a clinical model and intervention. The initial research was in response to the daily challenges that neurotypical and differently-abled learners face in the classroom. This model eventually received international recognition and certification.

I began engaging in clinical sociology in 2007 when I joined the Department of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) under the mentorship of Professor Tina Uys, who encouraged me to become involved in this specific field. Strengthening students’ learning capabilities and application abilities was a critical area in the academic sector in a post-apartheid context.

The class sizes at universities were growing exponentially and to teach students effectively a clinical intervention was required. I began utilising effective strategies to adopt in classrooms with as many as 1 600 students. The challenges experienced by students were broken down systematically and I established methods that evolved into a clinical model called Simply Managing Academic Related Tasks.

I began employing simple learning and processing methods in the classroom and later in smaller numbers with postgraduate students. Ultimately, I applied these methods on a one-on-one basis in a clinical setting. To endorse SMART principles, I started including faculty associates.

With Cengage publishers, I began the task of delivering an undergraduate South African Sociology textbook that would adopt the principles of SMART. This book was completed in December 2016, and the second edition was released in May 2020. These two projects have resulted in user-friendly content promoting the practice and principles of SMART.

And how has it evolved to what it is today? 

I developed teaching and learning interventions over a ten-year period which has resulted in a management tool that provides individuals with learning tools and techniques that they can utilise throughout their school, university, and working lives.

I consider intelligence, attention span, memory, interests, and learning styles, and then target measurable outcomes that demand unique solutions for each learner.

How do you decide which content is relevant and best for South African audiences? 

As a clinical sociologist, I am at the forefront of effective models and clinical interventions that are supported by scientific evidence to assist learners of all ages. To ensure and maintain the highest standards, I rely on teachers, academics, and subject specialists at the forefront of their disciplines. However, it is important to realize that SMART is a global model that provides resources for learners across the globe in 103 countries.

How does educator contribution to the curriculum work? 

I have developed a network of teachers, academics, subject specialists, mental health specialists, physiotherapists, wellness and dietary specialists that has grown exponentially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These experts share specific knowledge and skills on a regular basis, as well as respond to requests from teachers, learners and parents.

How does the learning material fill a gap in the current learning material available? 

The lockdown left teachers with minimal time to prepare for a home school programme, which resulted in students going into lockdown without the required resources. The SMART group has responded to the challenge, allowing all students access to the resources free of charge.

It was already up and running before lockdown? In your view, how has the role of SMART changed since the pandemic? 

The SMART Facebook group has grown to about 1 1000 members from 104 different countries. The interaction has increased dramatically, and this is linked directly to the home and virtual learning and teaching. The sharing and demand for electronic resources and skills has definitely forced us into being innovative in our methodologies.

The way forward for SMART? 

Smart will continue to deliver free resources on the Facebook Group, SMART website and on the GIFS website. As soon as the lockdown is over, the SMART programme (six weeks in total) will be offered in person; currently it is offered virtually using Zoom and Microsoft teams.

The individual SMART programme includes five 60-minute sessions that deal with specific learning-related issues.

Session one: A series of three qualitative tests; an introduction to smart and the creation of a personalized smart tool kit for learning. Each week includes a smart task for the student to execute on a daily basis.

Session two: Strategies, clinical models, methods, dynamics distressing learning and unique guidelines.

Session three: Stages of absorbing, ways that studying transpires, aids of composition and the delivery of understanding muscular neuro techniques.

Session four: Problem-based learning and mind calisthenics.

Session five: Attending to challenges, a response meeting and finally measuring the capacity of new scores.

Who are the other contributors, the teachers, to this platform?

Milk Studios, branding and marketing team; teachers from the Resource Portal; teachers from Unity Portal; teachers from ECD Portal; psychologists; EMDR therapists; IT specialist; chefs; physiotherapist, and private and public schools.

I am delighted that the SMART group has many new members and I would really like to thank the teachers, specialists and learners for their support. Ultimately, my objective is to continue the learning process through the lockdown by promoting and collating free online resources. I am extremely grateful for the positive feedback, the thoughtful contributions and for the requests already received.