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IsiZulu goes digital

| November 17, 2010

As a Catholic girls’ school, Holy Rosary Primary School’s ‘Zulu journey’ has been plagued with difficulties.

Natalie Meerholz

During the apartheid regime, many mothertongue Zulu pupils were taught by Irish nuns. Zulu as an additional second language then became an integral part of the curriculum for many years. Due to timetable constraints, the demands of new specialist subjects, and the lack of qualified Zulu teachers, Holy Rosary was forced to review the period allocation to Zulu.

It then became an additional third language subject, a decision that has resulted in a different set of problems. The only time many Holy Rosary pupils speak Zulu is in the classroom, where class time is often spent drilling vocabulary and pronunciation. As pupils are not exposed to the language outside the classroom, retention of key
concepts and vocabulary has been low. Many of our children experience little or no support from home. Teacher frustration has often been high.

A new approach needed

Traditionally pupils had to write and present a piece about themselves in Zulu class. This teacher-guided activity provided many opportunities to reinforce vocabulary and key grammatical concepts. For many of the pupils, though, the thought of an oral presentation in front of the class was an overwhelming and daunting prospect. Another approach – less intimidating and more exciting – was needed to boost the confidence of the girls. And so the idea of ‘isiZulu goes digital’ was

The challenges for Holy Rosary were:

  • to increase the low morale of some of the pupils, who find the learning and pronunciation of an African language extremely difficult
  • to render additional support to pupils inside and outside the classroom. As part of an ongoing effort to ‘revive’ Zulu in the school, the Grade 7 girls were involved in a particular task to ‘kick-start’ the process.

With Zulu speeches already prepared, the girls were challenged to collaborate with other members of the class. In syndicates, they were tasked with preparing a podcast using the content of their speeches. The podcasts had to be educationally based and had to include voice recordings, additional
sound clips and background music. The main objective was to create an instructional clip that would allow other third language learners the opportunity to learn Zulu in a fun and engaging manner.

Podcasts needed to include appropriate pauses for repetition of words and phrases. They would be broadcast to children in the lower grades, and some would be linked to the School Moodle so that other Grade 7 girls could hear the repetition of the content they needed to learn.

Scripts had to include the correct proportion of Zulu and English instruction, and their creation was an incredible opportunity for pupils to practise speaking Zulu informally. During this time, phrases were repeated over and over again by group members to get timing and sequencing correct in preparation forrecording sessions.

The traditional drilling of phrases and vocabulary by the teacher had now taken on a new dimension – the children were doing it themselves and with so much enthusiasm.

Recording an exciting time

Recording included much laughter and excitement as groups collaborated on sound effects and appropriate musical interludes.

During computer sessions in which scripts had to be typed, a backchannel room ( was set up for pupils to interact directly with the teacher. If any problems came up, they were detected immediately by the elected TMO (Today’s Meet Officer), who would respond by informing the teacher that there was a query.

Using this backchannel facility in the classroom gave the pupils a sense of further collaboration. It was a platform in which communication of ideas was instant, and an
area where all could be heard and issues addressed by either the teacher or a classmate in a non-threatening environment.

Links were posted on the School Moodle, allowing pupils to view websites containing common Zulu phrases. Access to these links allowed pupils to add further content to their scripts. The process and framework of this assignment allowed for cross-curricula activity that embraced many of the 21st century aptitudes we want our pupils to
develop – a blend of specific skills, content knowledge and expertise.

Taking it further

After the success of the assignment, an effort is now being made to take the concept ‘isiZulu goes digital’ a step further – by using a thematic approach, curriculum content can be reinforced via podcasts, which will compiled onto a disk and distributed to pupils. A workbook that includes the contents – vocabulary, useful
phrases, reading passages, traditional songs, rhythms and homework assignments – can then be compiled as an additional resource. Our Grade 10 mother-tongue speakers would drive this project and be encouraged to interact with our younger pupils. In collaboration with our high school, we will be in a position to produce authentic learning opportunities, we will be taking Zulu out of the classroom and into the community, we will be providing the source material (of which there is a lack) that is ‘homegrown’, and we will be incorporating real-life skills using technology.

Natalie Meerholz is HOD of the Senior Primary Phase at Holy Rosary PrimarySchool.

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Category: e-Education, Summer 2010

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