Africans Welcome New Era in the Teaching of English

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From 5 – 9 June the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg plays host to a five-day workshop, ‘Time for a New Phonics Approach for Teaching English in Africa?’, and what started off as a workshop to provide an opportunity for local teachers and educators in South Africa to debate issues surrounding the teaching of English synthetic phonics has seen an unprecedented number of enquiries for places from all over the continent of Africa and beyond. Many in the world of education are welcoming THRASS as heralding the start of a new era in the teaching of English.

From 5 – 9 June the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg plays host to a five-day workshop, ‘Time for a New Phonics Approach for Teaching English in Africa?’, and what started off as a workshop to provide an opportunity for local teachers and educators in South Africa to debate issues surrounding the teaching of English synthetic phonics has seen an unprecedented number of enquiries for places from all over the continent of Africa and beyond. Many in the world of education are welcoming THRASS as heralding the start of a new era in the teaching of English.

Alan Davies, the British Educational Psychologist who pioneered the THRASS synthetic phonics method of teaching English and who is a sponsor of the workshop says: “We are completely delighted by this amazing response. Of course, we knew that the THRASS synthetic phonics has been rapidly gaining popularity in South Africa and Botswana, but I understand we now have delegates coming from such places as Ethiopia, Sudan, Namibia, Ghana and Nigeria. We even have delegates from the South African Government, and a representative from the Caribbean Dyslexia Association who is flying in from Barbados.”

Dr Melodie de Jager, author of ‘Mind Moves’ is one of many professional African commentators who publicly state that THRASS is changing the way that English is taught in Africa. She and Dr Jean Place, Principal Tutor, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, agree that THRASS is a revolutionary approach to teaching English that provides learners not just with handwriting, reading and spelling skills but also with valuable life skills training. Dr de Jager says, “A workforce that is literate is vital if our rainbow nation is to grow and prosper. Once THRASS is part of our culture in schools we can look forward to a new era in the teaching of English in Africa.” And following Alan Davies’ keynote address at the recent conference of the National Union of Educators in Johannesburg, THRASS was acknowledged as “having the potential to lessen illiteracy among learners” and “solve the reading problems in our country.”

Evidence of the success of the THRASS method of teaching English can be seen from the Kwena Basin Project, the latest of a series of 10 projects and courses that have been funded by Alan Davies and his wife Hilary. This project aimed to show whether Third Year Foundation Phase student teachers from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg on school experience in a number of Farm Schools in the Kwena Basin in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa could really make a difference after receiving only minimal THRASS training.

The project has delivered some really impressive results with video evidence showing time after time, that THRASS is simple to use and easy to understand, and the Farm School children and teachers absolutely loved it. The student teachers were amazed both at their own ability and also at the speed and ability of the children to learn using THRASS. Many of the children spoke little or no English at the outset and almost every word had to be translated into either Zulu or SePedi but they made such amazing progress that the head teacher of Umthombopholile Farm School said, “The children have learnt so much in the last few days, and have learnt to say many more English words, we will definitely continue with THRASS.”

And word is spreading across Africa. The Botswana Government is to pilot THRASS and, if successful, it will be implemented in all primary and secondary schools. And 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.

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.

Further details of the workshop ‘Time for a New Phonics Approach for Teaching English in Africa?’, to be hosted by the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa 5-9 June 2006 can be found at http://www.thrass.co.uk/witsworkshop.htm along with streamed video of THRASS in action in South Africa, Botswana and Ghana.

The THRASS Phoneme Machine has been developed primarily for those for whom English is not their first language, for parents of children starting to read and for children finding reading difficult. It is available to parents and schools and costs only 10.00 GBP (plus VAT). More information can be found at http://www.phonememachine.com.

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

Notes to editors – more detailed ‘Notes to Editors’ about THRASS in Africa and the benefits of using THRASS can be found at http://www.thrass.co.uk/notes.htm.

Issued by: THRASS UK News Media Centre http://www.thrass.co.uk/nm.htm

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Chris Griffiths
THRASS
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