The THRASS SMART Project – The Potential to Benefit All African Children

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Who would have expected to see the SMART Board brought into a township like Orange Farm? But that’s exactly what happened last Friday, 9 June when the THRASS SMART project was officially launched at Masibambane College, Orange Farm township by Mandla Maseko, Chief Education Specialist, Children and Youth Literacy, Department of Education, South African Government, and the children, whose first language is either Zulu or Sotho, used the groundbreaking THRASS Phoneme Machine on the SMART Board to teach English to adult visitors.

Who would have expected to see the SMART Board brought into a township like Orange Farm? But that’s exactly what happened last Friday, 9 June when the THRASS SMART project was officially launched at Masibambane College, Orange Farm township by Mandla Maseko, Chief Education Specialist, Children and Youth Literacy, Department of Education, South African Government, and the children, whose first language is either Zulu or Sotho, used the groundbreaking THRASS Phoneme Machine on the SMART Board to teach English to adult visitors.

The THRASS synthetic phonics programme is already being welcomed in the world of education as heralding the start of a new era in the teaching of English in Africa but the launch of this new project at Masibambane College further demonstrates the appeal and success of the THRASS synthetic phonics programme for teaching African children from many different backgrounds and in many different types of schools.

As Mr Maseko rightly said at the opening, much of the success of THRASS has been in independent schools – schools such as St Peter’s Preparatory School in Paulshof, where paired reading is used with older boys teaching boys three years their junior and where there has been a 60 per cent improvement in their spelling grades and a considerable increase in their reading ages since THRASS was implemented last year. Boys are traditionally slower than girls to read so this evidence has generated considerable international interest, with regards to the additional benefits of implementing the THRASS programme.

But he then went on to speak of how “the South African Government wants to consider how it can use a programme such as THRASS to benefit the majority of South Africans in public schools as the teaching of phonics is beginning to show us that we have good methods that we can employ in our schools to actually teach our children the fundamental skills”.

And Mr Maseko and Octavia Sithole (Deputy Education Specialist: Early Childhood) showed their enthusiasm for the project by joining in and dancing with the people with commitment and enthusiasm. It was amazing to see government officials enjoying themselves so much and making the time to dance with the equivalent of ‘township teachers’ accompanied by ‘township children’, playing instruments, dressed in traditional costumes and singing in their different national languages.

And Darryl Geffen, Headmaster at Masimbambane College who has previously described THRASS as “empowering a group of people who were previously disempowered” said at the launch, “Our children need the very best in teaching if they are to grow and make our country prosper. I challenge you to come back here in six months and see how much we as a school will have developed with this amazing new technology, which is so simple to use and easy to understand.”

In addition the appeal and success of THRASS has been seen recently at Farm Schools in the Kwena Basin in the province of Mpumalanga, where some of the schools do not even have running water, toilet facilities or electricity. There Third Year Foundation Phase student teachers from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg who had only received 30 minutes training in using THRASS were amazed how easy THRASS was to use and how quickly the children learnt. The children at the schools, many of whom spoke little or no English really loved using the THRASS resources and the teachers were really impressed.

But THRASS isn’t just for children of normal learning ability. It has also been used successfully in several schools for the Deaf. The following evaluation was received following a THRASS certificate course “You have empowered so many teachers of the deaf, which will have lifelong influences on all present and future deaf children. We will continue to make it work and continue to share what we can with educators of the deaf.”

Thousands of teachers have completed the two-day accredited training course, largely organised by the National Union of Educators, and several hundred student teachers have completed the course, as compulsory modules at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and at the University of Pretoria. At the last course, which ended on the 1 June, at Wits School of Education, the 110 students were unanimous on the benefits of the course. As one future teacher wrote, “I believe this course is helpful for student teachers – it is empowering us. Personally, I was not confident enough to teach phonics in teaching experience but now everything has changed. I am now confident to conquer the world!”

So THRASS really is a programme that is already benefiting African children from a wide range of backgrounds and that, with a small amount of additional investment has the potential to benefit all children in Africa.

The full text of Mandla Maseko’s speech and the videostream of the launch of the THRASS SMART Project can be found at http://www.thrass.co.uk/thrass_smart_sa.htm
Videostreams (including one celebrating The THRASS SMART Project), the THRASS Goes Live! diary, press releases, course evaluations and other articles relevant to “The Day of the African Child” can be found at http://www.thrass.co.uk/africanchild.htm

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 GBP (plus VAT). More information can be found at http://www.phonememachine.com.

Further details about SMART Technologies interactive whiteboards, and their other market leading products, can be found at http://www.smarttech.com

A wide range of other THRASS 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

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

Issued by: THRASS UK News Media Centre http://www.thrass.co.uk/nm.htm to coincide with “The Day of the African Child” – 16 June 2006

Mike Meade, Media Director, +44 1829 741413 Mob: 07970 151 738

Chris Griffiths, International Development, +30 266 203 1207

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THRASS
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