“To achieve success in today’s fast-paced, technology-driven and global economy a number of core skills are required to prepare learners for their future workplace.”
This is according to Ms Nezeka Makaula, a grade 8 teacher at the Future Nations School in Lyndhurst. “While most academic curriculums focus on the core academic subjects, which still remain important, many learners aren’t gaining the skill sets required to seamlessly integrate into the business environment.
“For this reason, our 21st century learning approach focuses a lot on project-based learning, where learners are given a specific project with clear outcomes, through which they are guided in terms of the knowledge, hard and soft skills required to complete the task. The projects are linked to real-world scenarios further reinforcing the key concepts being taught,” she explains.
Makaula refers to a recent project completed by grade 8 learners at the school that gave insight into government’s role in South Africa and how the future of our nation impacts their own lives as well as the lives of all the country’s youth. Here learners worked together to create a board game which was then converted into a Q&A based computer programme.
“The importance of government’s role may not necessarily be considered an exciting topic but through approaching it from a game point of view one can ensure that meaningful learning takes place in a more fun and interactive manner.
“At the same time the project required the students to conduct research, work in teams, collaborate, plan effectively, successfully manage conflict, as well as communicate the outcome of their research in their own words. Skills which are critical in any workplace environment,” she adds.
The added benefit of project based learning says Makaula is that it introduces and enhances a number of inadvertent skills.
“In this instance they learnt basic computer programming skills and gained a deeper understanding of their individual strengths and weaknesses. In the end this project ended up building learner characters as there were many instances where they had to reflect on themselves and their teamwork throughout the duration of the project. This allowed for skills development and personal growth which is just as important,” she says
Another successful project based learning initiative also recently completed by Grade 8 learners involves a hydroponic garden. The aim of this project according to Grade 8 teacher Zenzile Nguyuza is to grow their own vegetables and thereafter sell them as a way of giving back to the community.
“While the grade 8 curriculum does prescribe the study of photosynthesis, our project based learning approach allowed us to take it a few steps further in allowing the children to gain an understanding of the plants’ anatomy and explore various ways to plant vegetation despite infertile soil or drought conditions.
“The ultimate take-away for the learners is that contrary to mainstream belief, soil is not required for plants to grow. Advanced agricultural techniques allow you to add the necessary minerals and nutrients into a plant’s water supply without needing soil for the plant to grow. Just about any plant can be grown with hydroponics,” she explains.
For Nguyuza, this project is particularly relevant considering the many drought-stricken parts of the country as well the severe poverty and lack of access to fresh produce in many local communities.
“Following the implementation of the project the children ultimately are equipped with real-world knowledge and skills that goes way beyond learning the theory and fundamental concepts of an academic subject.
“In addition to many of the soft skills required in the workplace such as collaboration, creativity, research and knowledge on how to concisely present their findings in a PowerPoint presentation, the learners also obtained first-hand knowledge of 3D structure design and construction and how to use basic power tools and a water pump,” she comments.
Makaula and Nguyuza are both in agreement when it comes to increased benefits on learning outcomes of project based learning throughout the learners’ school journey.
“Our role as educators is ultimately to prepare our children for the complex, fast-paced, global economy we currently find ourselves in. Gone are the days of the uninspired classroom environment.
“Finding interactive and engaging ways to teach and learn that is the way forward in order to promote creativity, innovation and also instilling confidence in learners. We regard this as critical in securing an optimistic future in the learner’s career prospects and also in the business sector,” concludes Nguyuza.