Remote and rural schools are set to benefit from the Learn English Audio Project (LEAP) which aims to help pupils improve their English listening and speaking skills.
Hand-picked schools will each receive a solar-powered MP3 player for use in a classroom or language club.
The MP3 player comes loaded with over 40 hours of teaching material, teacher guides and lesson plans for Grades R to 4, a book with primary songs and stories, and 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 British Council is a global cultural exchange organisation.
The minister explained that LEAP would assist with developing pupils’ literacy in any language. The children would also get used to hearing English spoken in 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 Motshekga.
She added that LEAP had the potential to address these often neglected skills to help “embed the building blocks of early literacy”.
Motshekga said she had 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,” she said.
About 320 teachers in 150 schools in Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal have already received teaching and learning materials during LEAP’s pilot phase.
Motshekga said improving literacy skills was an important priority for the government.
She said, “We believe that this project will also cover the tasks outlined for education in the National Development Plan, which talks to forming partnerships to improve education quality and outcomes.”
She said the ministry had signed a declaration with the British Council in January this year.
THE LEAP PROJECT
The teaching and learning audio material will not deviate from the current national curriculum, as it is linked to it, Motshekga said.
“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,” she added. Teachers will be trained to use the MP3 players effectively.
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.”
He said the council has already received positive feedback from the project’s many beneficiaries.
McGivern said monitoring and evaluation processes would be put in place for the council to measure the tangible benefits for teachers and pupils in time.
“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,” he said.
About 7000 solar-powered MP3 players have been distributed into nine sub-Saharan countries, including South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda, Mozambique, Sudan, Tanzania, South Sudan, Senegal and Ethiopia.