An update from schools in Gweru
July 10 2017

At Mkoba 4 Primary School in Gweru, Zimbabwe, particular support is provided by ALERT and Antelope Park to support the school’s Special Needs classes.  Staff and project volunteers assist class teachers by providing pupils with individual attention during lessons, assessing students' work, and helping to produce effective teaching aids.  Material support is also given, through maintenance and facility upgrades, as well as the provision of equipment such as computers, books, stationery, and sports gear.  To ensure students are given the level of support they need, the class is divided into three groups: learners in group one receive the most support, group two students are of average level, while those in group three are the most advanced.

English lessons this month have focussed on improving the areas students struggle most with: reading, spelling, and comprehension.

In group two, the students read aloud a story called ‘Coloured Pencils’.  As special needs students tend to take longer to grasp a concept, repetition is important, so the book was read three times.  The children were then tasked with spelling a selection of words from the story.  Reading the story didn’t pose a problem for any of the students, however they did struggle with the spellings; most were able to spell less than half of the words correctly.  Corrections were made and the students tried again, showing some improvement second time around.  Two more books were read next, ‘Animals and People’ and ‘Working in the Garden’.  Comprehension questions were answered well, but the students’ sentence formation still needs a lot of work, so this will be revisited in future sessions.

As well as helping young learners to identify colours, shapes, numbers, letters, animals, and everyday objects, picture books increase a child’s vocabulary; an important building block for reading.  Students were asked to match pictures with words and put them into the relevant category: people, animals or objects.  All students performed well, achieving 90% and above.  They were then asked to use the words to construct sentences.  Half the group managed this task well, while the rest of the students struggled.  Again, sentence structure will be worked more on in coming weeks.   

In group three, the more advanced students read a story called, ‘Lost’, before answering a series of comprehension questions.  The majority were able to answer at least half of the questions correctly, but improvements are still to be made in how answers are structured - using just the relevant words, rather than simply copying the whole sentence from the story.  Two of the students showed great improvement, using perfect sentence construction to give their answers.

The following lesson focused on converting verbs in the present tense to the past tense, for example ‘walk’ to ‘walked’.  Students were given ten words to convert, with all getting at least half of the words correct.

Next, both groups worked on punctuation, adding capital letters, question marks, and full stops to sentences written on the board.  Question marks proved a challenge, with most students struggling to differentiate between a statement and a question.  More work will be done to help with this.

In mathematics, lessons continued with more work on currency, in particular how to convert US dollars into cents and vice versa.  Examples were written on the board before students were given problems to complete on their own, for example “How many cents are in $8.62?” and “600 cents equals how many dollars?”.  The majority of the group managed to answer at least half of the questions correctly.  Those who struggled were given more examples to help them master the concept.  When the group was given a second series of questions, most achieved 100%

The following lesson focused on breaking down coins, for example “How many one cent coins are there in five cents?”.  Again, examples were provided before students were given their own questions to solve.  This time, the performance was poor.  Real coins were introduced and, after several examples, the children became more confident.

Students were then introduced to different shapes, as an understanding of basic shapes - circles, rectangles, triangles, and squares - helps with number recognition.  

Practical and material support is also provided to the Mickey Mouse Pre-school in Gweru, where children have been practicing drawing lines and colouring in to develop the fine motor skills needed for handwriting.  The first activity they were given involved drawing lines to copy a zigzag pattern.  Over the last month, colouring activities have involved identifying objects, such as fruit, animals, and trees, before choosing the most appropriate colour to use for each one.

Playing with young children is important for motor skills development, social development, and for encouraging imagination and creativity.  In a recent lesson, students were introduced to a game called ‘Musical Balloons’.  The children formed a circle, with an adult standing in the middle.  The adult danced to music while the balloon was passed round the circle.  When the music stopped, whoever was holding the balloon joined the adult in the middle of the circle until all the children ended up there dancing together.

About Our School Development Projects

Our aim is to increase the capacity of the schools with which we work to offer higher learning possibilities for their pupils.  All the schools surrounding our project sites are severely resource limited with classes that are over-crowded and lacking educational materials.  Our projects therefore focus on: school building and refurbishment to create improved learning environments; resource provision of educational materials needed to enhance lessons, and teacher assistance to help teachers plan and run lessons more effectively.  All programmes are operated in agreement with the school in question, and with approval from relevant educational boards.

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