Nzame School language skills teaching

The project imparts English language skills to learners at one primary school, Nzame, situated in one of the high-density suburbs in Bloemfontein, South Africa. The project aims to use digital storytelling as an intervention measure to improve the learners’ language skills. This is in the light of the request by the school and in consultation with the Department of Education authorities and the parents due to the cited continued poor pass rates in English. Currently, the project targets learners from Grades Four to Seven. The project is steered by a team of staff,students from the Central University of Technology.

What skills and resources were you able to draw from the community for this project?

The main resource team gets from the community is the human resource. The learners, their parents, and homes, the school premises provide a rich ground for the development of relevant stories. Due to a lack of resources such as infrastructure, the team learned to improvise with what is available to make the project sustainable, such as compiling writing booklets from collected unused paper. The parents and the learners are also cooperative in telling their stories. The teachers also contribute by making the learners available for the sessions.

The challenges

The project aims to arrest poor access and success in education due to the use of a lingua franca, English, which is the medium of instruction in teaching and learning in South Africa and yet it is a second language to the majority of the populace. Therefore, in order to grasp concepts in content subjects, learners have to understand the language of instruction. Research has indicated poor command of the English language in South Africa and the Nzame School in particular, which enrolls learners from disadvantaged communities, cited poor pass rates as a hindrance to success. A total of 112 out of 496 learners from Grades Four to Seven failed English in the June 2019 examinations. Therefore, the project not only aims to improve learners’ English language skills to tackle problems in a global world where the dominant language is English but also to improve the English language pass-rate at the school level. Broadly, the goal is to better prepare learners from disadvantaged communities to fit into a globally competitive world, thereby uplifting disadvantaged communities.

Addressing the challenges

The project is still in its infancy stage. However, through the pilot survey and pre-test conducted, the team has since managed to identify, code, categorise and deduce some themes on the nature of problems faced by the learners. These language errors include pronunciation, grammar, Mother Tongue-English transliteration, lack of coherence in writing. These are being used to inform the intervention strategies employed. The team has also engaged in one-on-one sessions with learners so as to have an understanding of their backgrounds from which stories are being developed. These are being packaged into digital means to make learning more interesting to the learners by drawing from their experiences. The project intends to provide equipment for the digital mobile language lab so that all the learners will be able to interact with the learning media and contribute to content and knowledge in the learning process. The reduction of abstract concepts in texts can help learners understand concepts easier. Learners are going to feel empowered and motivated to learn when they produce their own stories and watch them on video. Thus they are likely to develop a positive attitude towards learning of the English language and consequently, better understanding of concepts.

The achievements

The project has managed to identify the learners’ problems hindering understanding of the English language. These are being used to develop lessons, to build stories, to record them and to reproduce them. Importantly, the team has managed to instill the love of storytelling among the learners which is motivation to the learning of English language skills.