Khanya and Oracle Think.com bring literature to life
South African and Northern Ireland learners linked through literature
An innovative online learning initiative has been introduced in five South African schools which directly links them to five schools in Northern Ireland. This initiative, hosted by Think.com, a free, password-protected project-based learning environment from Oracle, brings a top-flight author into the classroom to discuss his/her book. The children can also ask questions, through the author, of the characters in the book, they can share their experiences of the book and opinions on characters and situations with learners in another country who may have a very different interpretation to theirs.
This project ' called Linking and Thinking ' addresses two focus areas: it hopes to enhance literacy levels while simultaneously developing ICT skills which will be necessary for the emerging knowledge economy. Not only do the learners read the novel under discussion, they are required to think critically about the issues raised by it and to verbalise these thoughts in either e-mails to the author or their counterparts in Northern Ireland or in online discussion forums. The learners share activities developed by teachers in both countries and they develop activities for each other and mini-websites. This makes learning more dynamic for the learners as they can have an instant input, thus making the learning task more purposeful.
Carol McAlister, Assistant Curriculum Development Manager with C2k (a Northern Ireland project similar to the Khanya project) and manager of the Linking and Thinking project, says, 'It gives the teacher the opportunity to explore the themes of cultural and racial awareness, acceptance of diversity, disability and gender issues.' She also believes that the project provides the teacher with a platform to engage in real debate on the themes that emerge from the text and that it will enrich the learning and teaching experience for all concerned.
The novel used in this project is the much-praised 'The Cinnamon Tree' by Aubrey Flegg. The book features Yola, an African girl who loses her leg in a landmine explosion and goes to Ireland to be fitted for prosthesis. Later, Yola returns to Africa to work in helping clear landmines ' and rescues her young cousin from being kidnapped by fighters and forced into becoming a child soldier. The novel is well chosen as it is relevant to the children in both countries in which the project is being flighted.
A delegation from Northern Ireland, headed by Mr Peter Heaney, visited South Africa to launch the Linking and Thinking project and he continues to give teachers involved consistent support. The process for joining is fairly straight forward: the school simply has to register and then log the learners to the system. Activities will then begin with a 'get to know you' type of activity. A number of Khanya schools, namely Nomsa Mapongwana Primary School, Yomelela Primary School, Goeie Hoop Primary and Somerset West Methodist Primary School, are currently involved in this project and at each school at least one class of approximately 25 learners is linked.
Despite a number of technical challenges encountered in these schools they are all committed to continuing with Linking and Thinking as they believe it will be of great benefit to their learners. Learners who have participated in the project have improved their ICT skills considerably. They can surf the internet, send e-mails, develop mini-websites and generally feel very comfortable and confident around a computer. It has also had a positive impact on the reading skills of many of the learners who feel more confident and have improved their performance.
In the visual age in which we live where children are more excited by what they see than what they read, Linking and Thinking seems to be a way to bring them back to books. It represents a marriage of the written, the visual and the virtual world which may just produce a new generation of readers.