New learning material to help English skills

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

By More Matshediso

Johannesburg –Remote and rural schools are set to benefit from the Learn English Audio Project (LEAP) which aims to help learners improve their English listening and speaking skills.

Identified schools will each receive a solar powered MP3 player that can either be used in a classroom or a language club.

The MP3 player is pre-loaded with over 40 hours of teaching material, teacher guides and lesson plans for Grades R-4, a book with primary songs and stories. It also comes with a set of colourful cartoon story posters.

The project, a British Council initiative, was launched by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

The Minister explained that LEAP will assist with the development of learners’ literacy in any language. Learners will also get used to hearing English spoken with various accents.

“These [listening and speaking] skills become even more important in the acquisition of a second language such as English in the South African context, where English effectively becomes the medium of instruction from Grade 4 onwards,” said the Minister.

She added that LEAP had the potential to address these often neglected skills to help embed the building blocks of early literacy.

Minister Motshekga said she personally struggled to understand English spoken by white people after completing her matric.

“I relied on reading to pass my modules. I had to tune my hearing to understand the accent. Sometimes that is what accounts for the failure of many first year students at universities,” said Minister Motshekga.

About 320 teachers in 150 identified schools in Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal have already received teaching and learning materials during the pilot phase of LEAP.

The Minister said improving literacy skills was one of the priorities of the current administration.

“We believe that this project will also cover the tasks outlined for education in the National Development Plan (NDP), which talks to forming partnerships to improve education quality and outcomes,” Minister Motshekga said.

She said the ministry had signed a declaration with the British Council in January this year, and it had assisted in enhancing implementation of the Integrated Strategic Planning Framework for Teacher Education and Development in South Africa.

The teaching and learning audio material will not deviate from the current national curriculum, as it is linked to it.

“To complement the training package, teachers receive a training video, lesson plans and posters, and an extra SD card containing all the materials, so that they can access the materials on their cell phones, thus facilitating lesson planning at any time and location,” Minister Motshekga said.

The teachers from identified schools will be trained on how to use the MP3 players.

The British Council Country Director for South Africa, Colm McGivern, said the council partnered with the department to promote quality education.

“This is a long term strategic partnership with the department. We signed a five-year partnership agreement, through which we aim to improve learning of all languages in South Africa,” said McGivern.

He said the council has already received positive feedback from various beneficiaries of the project, including teachers who were not trained on how to use the MP3 players.

McGivern said monitoring and evaluation processes will be put in place to enable the council to measure the tangible benefits for teachers and learners in a few years.

“By the end of our five-year partnership, we will ensure that we help the Department of Basic Education train all 400 000 teachers in South Africa in the better use of the material to improve the learning of all languages in the country,” said McGivern.

About 7 000 solar powered MP3 players have been distributed into nine Sub-Saharan African countries, including South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda, Mozambique, Sudan, Tanzania, South Sudan, Senegal and Ethiopia. -