Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bulembu Gets Schooled

Bulembu Christian Academy students working hard at their various tasks

In the beginning…

No just kidding, that just sounded cool.

Since the establishment of Bulembu in 2006, Bulembu Christian Academy has been operating under the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) program. But this week that is all changing as the school implements the more traditional, more universally accepted Cambridge curriculum.

What is ACE, you ask?

Well, the ACE education program Bulembu currently uses is an American-based curriculum focused on individualized learning that allows students to learn at their own pace. Children learn from “paces”, which are workbooks that allow students to set individual goals in building their understanding in English, Social Studies, Science and Math. This manner of studying differs from a more standard classroom setting, where teachers stand in front of the class and students take notes and raise questions. This is because an ACE classroom has children in their own cubicle, their own modest office space, where they complete their resource books. If they have a question students raise a miniature flag at their station and the supervisor comes to assist them. There is also a monitor who is in the classroom to address administrative inquiries. When a student finishes a pace they go to a scoring table in the center of the room where they mark their scores then they return to their station and move onto the next exercise.
With the ACE system all the students in a classroom work at their own seperate paces

Why is ACE not suitable for the Bulembu context anymore?

Part of the challenge working with ACE is that it is complicated to tell which grade level each individual student is in. They work in groups according to their age, so in a group of 9-10 year olds, some would be working at grade level one, some would be at grade level four, it really depends on the pace material they are working through at the time. So within one class there can be a huge range of work levels simultaneously.

Other ACE challenges include the fact that the exercises encourage short-term memory development but do not do enough to ensure long-term information retention, comprehension and analytical thinking. Another pitfall is that there is very little group interaction and students are not really from a teacher and they are also not learning from one another.

Lastly, one of the primary reasons for changing from the ACE platform is that its qualifications do not open as many doors for students in the future as the Cambridge program does. ACE does not provide students with access to national Swazi or South African colleges. The ACE system lacks collegiate preparation for the children.

So, why Cambridge?
The Cambridge system of education encourages the children to ask questions and take part in classroom discussions

The Cambridge system provides students with a quality of education that enables them to apply for and study at any institution of higher learning around the world. The Cambridge curriculum focuses on developing students’ analytical thinking, which helps to stretch their comprehension, their long-term memory, and their ability to think and write in complete ideas and full paragraphs. All of this ultimately leads to better classroom discussions, which puts the students into the role the intellectual. The Cambridge system also offers students the opportunity to obtain an exit certificate at any point during their education. They can use this to gain meaningful employment or enter a trade school, increasing their opportunities and giving them confidence in their abilities.

The change from ACE to Cambridge also brings with it good news for Bulembu’s bank account. With the ACE system the school spent around R30,000 for eight terms worth of resources, because once a student has worked through and written in their paces, the curriculum requires Bulembu to burn the used copies of the manuals, incurring a higher fee of replacing the textbooks at the end of the year. But with the new curriculum there is a higher initial cost and as well as yearly examination fees, but the textbooks have a three to five year shelf life and the student gets qualified internationally at the end of his or her tenure. Lastly, for one ACE class there are two salaries: one for the supervisor and one for the monitor. But under the Cambridge program there is one teacher. “As we place the monitors into different roles, it will allow us to pay our teachers a little bit more,” Dennis explains. “That gives us better teaching and helps us retain teachers over the long term.”

The Cambridge program provides students with a more teacher focused education. Because of this, Bulembu is putting more emphasis on developing the teachers so they are putting the best into the children. “We are very pleased to have a good team of teachers,” Dennis says. “The still need some development moving forward. Within the teachers there is the general sentiment that the change is positive.”

Teachers at Bulembu Christian Academy have been put through a training program to ensuer that they are prepared for the switch. ”These changes are significant changes which will require a lot from both our pupils and our teachers,” Dennis explains. “As a result, for our teachers we have initiated an intensive period of training which has taken place over the last month with two sessions ranging in length from 1.5 to 3 hours weekly. These will focus on preparing our teachers for the change. We have aimed to prepare them to interpret and understand our new curriculum, to present this curriculum to our learners in the best possible way and to cope with any challenges arising within their classes as a result of these changes.”

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