Penreach is constantly taking action to measurably and irreversibly change the lives of One and All South-Africans.One of the latest interventions is a uniquely designed Enrichment Weekend Camp – aiming to assist learners who are facing challenges in language and mathematics.
The first group to have benefitted from this unique programme were 10 students who are currently on scholarship at Penryn College. These scholars form part of the Transnet Foundation’s Youth Education Development Programme that targets orphaned and academically gifted students. The main aim of the programme is to promote a culture of academic excellence in South Africa by providing comprehensive educational and psycho-social support to vulnerable youth in strategically targeted areas.
The 10 scholars, known as Transnet Ambassadors, were placed at Penryn College, an independent boarding school in Mpumalanga where English as a first language, is the language of instruction. Whilst the scholars were conversant in English, the transition to an English First Language environment at Penryn was expected to be challenging as they had to adapt to a higher level of English competency immediately. In an attempt to prevent the above from having a negative effect on the learners academically, personally and socially, Penreach invited them to this uniquely designed enrichment weekend camp at the commencement of their scholarship and as part of their transition and integration programme.
Penreach believes by assisting learners to overcome personal, emotional and social barriers first, much more can be achieved academically. This is done through the establishment of trust between facilitators and students and by creating an environment where learners feel comfortable to express themselves without feeling intimidated. The two core components of the programme focused on academic and personal enrichment using purposeful activities such as outdoor games, choreographed dance, debating competitions, chess, building puzzles and legos.
Researcher Margie Owen-Smith seems to support the above. According to her, children who are not able to use the language which they are most familiar with, are “disadvantaged” and “unlikely to perform to the best of their ability”. But according to Owen-Smith, it is not just being able to use an effective communication medium in the learning situation that is at stake. “A child’s self-confidence and sense of self in society are undermined if the home language cannot be used for learning, and these are further undermined by the experience of repeated underachievement. This disadvantage has cognitive, psychological, social and cultural aspects, all manifested in the ongoing failure of our education system.” Thus, by connecting with a child at their individual level of understanding, and then teach in a manner that stimulates learning, is of utmost importance Penreach argues. This however, requires exceptional proficiency from the facilitators. Penreach however, has become a catalyst for improving the quality of education and is known nationally as a model for educational excellence.
Therefor, by combining the above approach with various practical activities that promote critical thinking, listening, memorization, visualization and concentration, facilitators and teachers as well as learners are able to identify and prioritize areas where intervention is most needed. Developing the intervention in such practical way results in a valuable educational as well as a personal learning experience that equip scholars with the necessary learning scaffolding to ensure academic success – especially in the field of language and mathematics. At the same time it allows learners to boost their confidence in communicating in English; it assists them in solving problems and at the end leaves them with a sense of empowerment.
The children’s participation was excellent and all of them said it was the best camp ever. In their closing pledges, they stated that it was a weekend where they have not only grown in confidence, but also learnt that having weaknesses is not only normal but that it is also an opportunity for them to only get better. They said the activities helped them to discover that there were some things that they were good at after all. (They especially enjoyed chess and soccer games)
In a 6 months’ time period (June exam to November exam) scholars increased their English First Language results with an average of 17%. The average improved from 34% in the June exam to 51% in the November exam. In the grade 8 November exams all scholars passed English Home Language and achieved an average of 51.3% for English Home Language where the grade average was 54%.
According to Dr Stephen Sproule, Deputy Head of Academics at Penryn College at the time, the scholars showed very good language aptitude from the very beginning, and with the necessary time and support, these results are expected to increase even more and translate into improved English across all subjects.
According to Ms Sanette Mattheus, Director Scholarships and Bursaries at Penreach, the development of the children’s confidence in expressive and communicative language ability was the biggest contributor to the success seen in the above mentioned results of the scholars.
“We are very proud of our scholars and are looking forward to seeing them develop and grow to be remarkable citizens of our country.”