LEAP Project Launch in South Africa
LEAP Project Launch in South Africa

Image Details: (From Left)-British Council South Africa Country Director, Colm McGivern, Minister of Basic Education in South Africa, Angie Motshekga and H.E British High Commissioner for South Africa, Judith Macgregor.

On the 16th of September 2014, British Council South Africa launched the Learn English Audio Pilot  (LEAP) Project in partnership with the Department of Basic Education at the Augustus Conference Venue,Emperors Palace in Johannesburg.

The Learn English Audio Pilot (LEAP) is a British Council project which seeks to help teachers from remote and under-resourced schools in nine African countries including South Africa, to improve listening and speaking skills in their learners and, have access to quality English learning materials on micro-SD cards delivered via solar powered MP3 players popularly known as ‘Lifeplayers’. The Lifeplayer technology has been developed in South Africa thus ensuring its relevance and long-term sustainability.

Listening and speaking skills are vital for the development of literacy in any language. These 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. However, listening and speaking are skills that are often neglected and this is where the Learn English Audio Project has the potential to address this skills gap and to help embed the building blocks of early literacy.

The training pack comprises the following: a solar powered MP3 player 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, and a set of colourful cartoon story posters. Relevant teaching and learning audio material linked to the South African national curriculum and in particular the DBE Rainbow Workbooks has been developed by the British Council and the Department of Basic Education. This material has been uploaded onto the solar powered MP3 players for distribution to selected multi-grade schools in three provinces: the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Kwazulu-Natal. To complement the training package, teachers receive a training video, lesson plans and posters, and an extra SD card containing the all the materials so that they can access the materials on their cell phones, thus facilitating lesson planning at any time and location.

In this first phase of the project, between 19 May and 2 June 2014, a core training team comprising DBE and British Council facilitators trained 320 multi-grade teachers from 150 schools in the following districts: Butterworth, Mt Frere, Uthukela, Khanyokude and Gert Sibande. The teachers from these districts will benefit from face-to-face training in the use of the MP3 player and the accompanying materials. In another component of the project, the British Council has supplied PRAESA with 150 Life players to promote extra-curricular reading and story-telling in their reading clubs. 

PRAESA (the Project for the study of Alternative Education in South Africa), through its national reading-for-enjoyment campaign, Nal’ibali, has supplied stories in several languages to promote a love of reading and stories in all South African languages as, being read to, and hearing stories in your own language, should not be considered a nice, optional extra for children, but rather an essential and powerful part of language learning and literacy development. Along with the players, educators and staff will also be receiving guides from the Nal’ibali campaign on how to run reading-for-enjoyment clubs and a poster of the campaign’s multilingual Children’s Literacy Charter to display in their classrooms. The Charter is a celebration of all the different kinds of literacy experiences children should have to best enable them to learn to read and write and a guide for adults to putting the conditions that support these experiences in place.

The British Council Country Director for South Africa, Colm McGivern said:
“The British Council is delighted to partner with the Department of Basic Education in South Africa on this exciting project to promote quality education through the vital skills of listening and speaking in English and other languages. We are also pleased to be working closely with PRAESA and its Nal’ibali campaign in promote multi-linguilism and sparking children’s potential through stories. And, to further spread the benefit of our MP3 players, we are proudly donating a 'Life Player’ to each of the Nal’ibali reading clubs – 150 clubs across South Africa!”

“The project aims to provide access to high quality teaching and learning training and materials for teachers and learners from the remotest parts of South Africa. By putting in place a rigorous monitoring and evaluation process we will be able to measure the tangible benefits for teachers and learners in a few years.”

The Department of Basic Education Deputy Director General for Teacher Development Mr. Themba Kojana and Deputy Director General for Curriculum, Mr. Mathanzima Mweli said:
“The Learn English Audio Project will be a valuable addition to the efforts of the DBE to support teachers in the poorest schools. It provides an innovative approach to providing materials to teachers to improve their subject knowledge in English, and other languages, as well as for learners to access materials.”

PRAESA and Nal’ibali Director Carole Bloch added:
“These ‘Lifeplayers’ will support children's oral and written language learning marvellously. Wherever they are used, in classrooms or reading clubs, listening to well-told stories can provide great pleasure and motivation for children, fostering interest, stretching their imaginations and getting them thinking without even knowing they are learning! Children, and the adults in their company, will be able to hear the same stories told in African languages and English, providing foundational support and enhancement for multilingual learning.

“The educational enrichment for both first and additional language is enormous - expanding knowledge and information and, of course, vocabulary and grammar so valuable for growing young readers and writers.  Over 100 Nal'ibali Reading Clubs are going to benefit from this wonderful initiative of the British Council, and we're really pleased to contribute too by providing some great stories in several languages.” 

The solar powered MP3 players will increase access to quality English learning materials, provide a sustainable energy efficient solution to schools with intermittent or non-existent electricity supplies for listening and speaking activities. Listening and speaking skills of the learners will also be improved and a dependence on teacher centred activity in class will be reduced. Ultimately, this project will have a positive impact on literacy rates and learner retention in schools.