Africa A+ Schools project ignites creativity in early education

While most people were still on holiday, the CCDI was abuzz with song, dance, art and games when the first three Africa A+ member schools, iThemba Pre-primary, Chameleon Campus and ABC Pre-Primary, attended the A+ Summer Schools Institute from 4 to 8 January – but behind the song and dance lay a serious intent.

The Summer Schools Institute is a five-day professional development programme that introduces new member schools to the A+ approach. The Institute enables schools to think, plan and nurture children’s creativity and entrepreneurial mindset in order to prepare them for life-long success.

The programme was planned by the Oklahoma A+ Schools (OKA+) in partnership with the Africa A+ team. The OKA+ programme director Rosalynn Wade, and OKA+ Fellows, Cindy Scarberry and Jenny Richard flew to Cape Town specially to facilitate the Institute.

The Africa A+ facilitators (we call them Fellows) attended the Institute as process observers in order to get more deeply acquainted with the A+ approach. The fellows will be supporting the three schools in implementing what they experienced and learned over the five days.

The A+ approach to school transformation is to involve the whole school. Each day the three principals arrived with their full complement of teachers and support staff.

The week was packed with music, singing, drama, creative movement and dance workshops. The participants were first encouraged to connect with their own creativity before making connections between what they had experienced, how they could involve the children, and how the activity linked to the 0 – 4 years National Curriculum Framework and Grade R CAPS. They also learned how to integrate different learning pathways into their curriculum mapping and lesson plans. Howard Gardner’s ideas of multiple intelligences is key to the A+ approach to teaching and learning

The workshops enabled teachers to realise links such as learning language through drama and play-acting; learning about rhythm and patterning though singing and creative movement; learning about different body parts and human movement through dance; learning science through drama and visual arts; and developing the capacity for listening and self-regulation by making music using simple instruments like shakers made from egg shells and drums from empty water bottles.

“It helped us to think out of the box,” said one teacher. “It has taught us that we can use anything to do activities, instead of complaining that we don’t have resources.”

The eight A+ essentials were woven throughout the five-day programme. According to Cindy: “As the A+ approach was being developed, these eight things kept coming up about what made a successful school – so they became the eight commitments or essentials of the A+ Schools.”

These are:

⦁ Arts – we value the arts as a means of facilitating the curriculum in meaningful ways to young children

⦁ Curriculum – we integrate the arts into our learning programmes

⦁ Enriched assessment – we allow children to demonstrate mastery through multiple means

⦁ Multiple learning pathways – we all learn in different ways

⦁ Experiential learning – we learn best through doing

⦁ Collaboration – we can do so much when we work together

⦁ Infrastructure – we organise our time, space and resources to support transformative learning

⦁ Climate – we respect teachers and children and we value creativity

Despite a heatwave during the week, the participants enthusiastically returned each morning eager to explore their creativity and to learn new ways of teaching, learning and planning.

CCDI executive director, Erica Elk, welcomed the schools to the first Africa A+ Institute. In her welcome address she said: “We have inherited a country with issues – unemployment, poverty, social inequality and injustice. The generation coming through our schooling system is not adequately prepared to deal with these complex issues. We have to nurture the next generations differently and create a new stream of individuals who are more creative, with greater capacity for innovation, critical thinking and problem-solving to become our future leaders and pioneers who will contribute to create new values and new value for our society. At CCDI we felt that the best place to start with our pilot was at the beginning – at ECD level – which is why we are so excited to be part of this initiative.”

Africa A+ Project director, Anya Morris said: It was an intense week of doing and learning. Two things pleased me most. The first is that we learned a lot about the Africa A+ approach – the facilitation by the OKA+ team was amazing. The second was the schools’ enthusiasm and commitment to providing the best education for their children.”

The last word goes to OKA+ Fellow Jennifer who summed up the A+ approach: “Everything that we do is in the best interest of our children in South Africa. This is our vision and mission as educators at Africa A+. It’s all about the child”

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