THRASS in Africa - Opening the Door to Opportunities

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The THRASS programme for teaching synthetic phonics has for some time been gaining in popularity in several countries in Africa but the current tour of South Africa by Alan Davies, the British Educational Psychologist who pioneered THRASS, is finding many there welcoming THRASS as opening the door to major educational and other opportunities across the region.

The THRASS programme for teaching synthetic phonics has for some time been gaining in popularity in several countries in Africa but the current tour of South Africa by Alan Davies, the British Educational Psychologist who pioneered THRASS, is finding many there welcoming THRASS as opening the door to major educational and other opportunities across the region.

Dr. Melodie de Jager, author of ‘Mind Moves’ and a professional African commentator, recognises that “a workforce that is literate is vital if our rainbow nation is to grow and prosper. If we want to empower people to move forward in our country, if we want a productive and agile workforce, we need to get literate people. If we want to get literate people, we need to find a system that is as revolutionary as THRASS”. Dr Jean Place, Principal Tutor, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, agrees with Dr de Jager that THRASS is a revolutionary approach to teaching English that provides learners of all ages and abilities not just with handwriting, reading and spelling skills but also with valuable life skills training.

The major contribution that THRASS can make to equipping learners with the skills needed to take advantage of the myriad of opportunities in today’s world is also being recognised by the development of Setswana and Zulu versions of the Phoneme Machine, a ground-breaking computer programme developed by Alan Davies, that uses the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) pronunciation system and moving human lips to demonstrate the pronunciation of sounds (phonemes) and hundreds of frequently used English words. Setswana and Zulu are widely spoken in Southern Africa, along with such languages as English and Afrikaans.

And in the Kwena Basin in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa learning English is becoming increasingly important for the children as it takes over from Afrikaans as the language of the local landowners. A group of Third Year Foundation Stage student teachers from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg on school experience there recently were amazed at the speed and ability of the children to learn using THRASS. Many of them spoke little or no English at the outset but they really loved using THRASS and were soon making amazing progress.

In South Africa the success of THRASS is such that the THRASS Accredited Certificate is already a compulsory module for Foundation Phase student teachers at both the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and the University of Pretoria, and other universities in Africa have also expressed interest in making it a compulsory module.

Teaching staff in the schools where THRASS is used also recognise the way in which it is equipping children with essential life skills and opening the door to opportunity. Darryl Geffen, Headmaster of Masibambane College, Orange Farm township said “As a country we have some major issues to tackle, including poverty and Aids. I believe that if South Africa is to grow and deal with these issues, our children must be able to confidently communicate with the rest of the world. THRASS is empowering a group of people who were previously disempowered.”

The impressive list of delegates from universities, associations and governments all over Africa and beyond to a workshop that Alan Davies and his wife Hilary are sponsoring 5-9 June at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, demonstrates the importance attached to THRASS and to its potential for equipping learners in Africa to take advantage of the many opportunities in today’s world.

Notes to editors

1. THRASS (Teaching Handwriting, Reading and Spelling Skills) is a whole-school synthetic phonics programme for teaching learners of all ages and abilities using pictures and keywords. It helps learners to understand the building blocks of the English language by teaching them about the 44 phonemes (speech sounds) of spoken English and the 120 graphemes (spelling choices) of written English.

2. Using THRASS in a balanced curriculum can more than double the normal rate of progress for learning reading and spelling for primary and secondary school children and also for dyslexics and those for whom English is not their first language. THRASS is a truly international programme and THRASS resources are used by teachers, parents, educational psychologists and speech and language therapists in thousands of schools worldwide, mostly in the UK, Europe, Australia and Africa and there is currently very strong demand for THRASS in Southern and Western Africa.

3. Alan Davies developed the THRASS Phoneme Machine primarily for those for whom English is not their first language, for parents of children starting to read and for children finding reading difficult (including those with speech difficulties, hearing difficulties or dyslexia). It uses the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) pronunciation system (the pronunciation guide at the front of many English dictionaries) and moving human lips to demonstrate the pronunciation of hundreds of words frequently found in children's reading books and give them a good understanding of the 44 sounds (phonemes) and the 120 main spelling choices (graphemes) of English.

4.    The THRASS Phoneme Machine is available to parents and schools and costs only 10.00 GBP (plus VAT), which covers its use on any number of computers at the same address. It comes with a free DVD/CD DualDisc, containing over four hours of video of THRASS in action in the UK and Africa, including two one-hour presentations to parents. More information can be found at http://www.phonememachine.com.

5. A wide range of other resources, including tapes, a CD, worksheets, big books and guided readers is available for parents and schools and can be found at http://www.thrass.co.uk/resources.htm.

Issued by: THRASS UK News Media Centre http://www.thrass.co.uk/nm.htm to coincide with the World Economic Forum on Africa, Cape Town, South Africa, 31 May – 2 June, 2006.

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Chris Griffiths
THRASS
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