–Caroline Grant, Senior Education and English Programmes Adviser, Sub-Saharan Africa, British Council
Incorporating digital e-learning teaching technologies into Africa’s primary school education systems provides an opportunity for technology to play a role as part of larger systemic efforts to transform education on the continent, making it more inclusive, equitable, effective, relevant, and sustainable.
Technology holds the great possibility to expand access to education while also improving its efficiency. Supporting teachers and learners from low-resource settings with relevant, digital home language and English language resources in sub-Saharan Africa, is key to building foundational literacy.
But there are few audio resources for foundational literacy in the region. There is also little support for teachers teaching language and literacy at school, and parents and caregivers supporting children’s learning at home. During the pandemic, school closures made the problems worse.
In response to this need, the Learn English Audio Programme (LEAP) was co-created by the South African Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the British Council, with support from UNICEF. In 2014, a LEAP pilot programme was launched in South Africa, where over 60% of public schools are non-fee-paying, in partnership with the DBE.
LEAP was recently selected as a promising digital solution to showcase at the United Nations Educational Solutions Day on 17 September 2022, ahead of the United Nations Transforming Education Summit 2022.
The problem LEAP is seeking to solve
LEAP seeks to help teachers from remote and under-resourced schools in nine African countries, including South Africa, to improve learners’ listening and speaking skills, and have access to quality English teaching and learning materials.
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 education from Grade 4 onwards.
However, listening and speaking are skills that are often neglected, and this is where LEAP has helped to address this skills gap for learners – as well as teachers, parents and caregivers – to help embed the building blocks of early literacy and to provide access to quality English learning resources.
LEAP’s impact and successes
The audio lessons produced under LEAP link directly to the South African DBE curriculum and national workbooks. LEAP has also been mapped to the national curricula of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Songs and bilingual storybooks (in English and 17 African languages) written and recorded by teachers and volunteers under the African Storybook Initiative and the British Council Story Making Project accompany these audio lessons.
The programme provides training to teachers so that they can use the materials in class and encourages parents and caregivers to support learning at home.
LEAP is a versatile digital solution, and it has been delivered through a variety of modalities, devices and platforms since 2013, including solar-powered MP3 players, USBs and SD cards on teachers’ laptops and mobile phones.
During Covid-19 the audio content was migrated to a WhatsApp Chatbot platform, with animated versions airing on Openview, South Africa’s first free-to-air satellite TV service platform, and YouTube. There is also a Whatsapp Chatbot platform.
LEAP has reached over 47,000 teachers, parents and caregivers in five countries and the plan is to reach a far greater number, while also offering further wrap-around support for teachers, and more content, so that more teachers and learners in Sub-Saharan Africa can be reached.
The programme has been built in alignment with a theory of change that works as follows: if parents, caregivers, and teachers (particularly those in remote and disadvantaged areas) are equipped with quality language learning and teaching resources, and the resources are provided through an accessible digital mechanism that is also familiar, like WhatsApp and Open TV, and follow-up support is provided, then learners will have increased opportunities to develop language and literacy skills.
Embedding LEAP in national education systems is key
The successes achieved with LEAP can be attributed to several factors. Content is mapped to national curricula and developed with Ministries of Education. Training of teachers is embedded in the national teacher training systems, while monitoring and evaluation is embedded in the national education systems. Learners can self-access the relevant audio resources for foundational literacy, and parents or caregivers have the resources to support the children’s learning at home.
There have been positive changes in classroom practice due to using audio materials, and teachers have reliable means to play audio content in English classes. They are also supported by EdTech to manage large and multi-grade classes.
The key findings from 2015 were enlightening. It was found that learners are eager to imitate pronunciation, they have shown signs of improvement in listening and speaking skills, are responsive, and ask questions about the audio resources. They are also lively and interactive during lessons. It is evident that LEAP creates greater interaction, participation and creativity on the part of both teachers and learners.
Monitoring, evaluation, research and learning constantly inform project design and delivery, and measure the tangible benefits for teachers and learners.
By 2019, the findings indicated that LEAP is regarded as one of the best programmes being implemented, its resources were well-integrated with DBE workbooks in South Africa, and that the programme was making a positive contribution to developing learners’ listening and speaking skills.
Mr Mathanzima Mweli, Director General, Department of Basic Education in South Africa, said: “The Learn English Audio Project is 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 to improve their language skills.”
‘Dr Andile Dube, Education Specialist, UNICEF South Africa endorsed LEAP for the following reasons: “The most marginalised learners need to be at the centre of digital solutions – we must REIMAGINE education through access to quality content, affordable data, connectivity and devices.’’
The goal is now to extend LEAP to other African countries by adapting and developing content for contextual relevance and to also extend it to upper primary and secondary grades.
The success of the programme demonstrates what can be achieved through partnerships focused on strengthening quality, inclusion and innovation. These benefits now need to spread throughout the continent and, to this end, we invite partners interested in scaling LEAP to get in touch with the British Council.
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