Category: Blog

In 2016, Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) conducted a literacy study in which fifty countries participated. The main goal for the PIRLS studies is “to provide the best policy-relevant information about how to improve teaching and learning and to help young students become accomplished and self-sufficient readers.”

South Africa scored last in the study, making it the country, out of the fifty, with the lowest reading culture.

This is a country with over 40 publishing houses and over 100 booksellers (including distributors). This is a country that boasts of a population of 57 million with a fiction best seller list of 3000 copies and 5000 copies for non-fiction titles. It is an absolute shame that a country with such a population, with an established publishing and bookselling industry, would have such low figures for bestsellers.

The lack of reading culture in South Africa is a well-known phenomenon and there has been much discourse around it in the media and in the public at large. A growing number of literature bodies have come up with initiatives to encourage children to read books and for parents to read to their children so we can raise reading culture in the country.

The problem, it seems, is that South Africans do not read books because they do not understand or realise the importance of reading books. And the solution, it seems, is to grow an awareness of reading for us to grow the reading culture and for us to start seeing the publishing and bookselling industry booming.

I would, however, argue differently: South Africans know and realise the importance of reading books. The problem is not that people do not know the importance of reading books and the problem is not that we have citizens who do not like to read books. The problem is that we have a publishing and bookselling industry in our country that does not pay attention to the needs of its citizens to get them to start reading. The nature and rules of consumerism do not apply in this industry and we are shocked that people do not buy books and that people do not read what is published.

Why do people buy what they buy on a daily basis? Fear of missing out, to be liked, to show love or to feel loved, to make their lives easier, etc. However, people also consume what they can relate to, what they can identify with and what validates them. Phillips, J (2012) states that “People care about themselves first, second, third and up to infinity. People are naturally selfish; including me, including you! If you want customers to buy what you have to sell, here is what you need to do: forget about what you want or don’t want, and focus on giving them what they want and getting rid of what they don’t want!”

So, are we as South African publishers and booksellers giving people what they want?

The 2016 Nielsen study shows that 10.5 million books were sold in South Africa in 2015. Eighty percent of these books are non-fiction; and out of the 10.5 million, only 2.5 million were fiction. It is important to note that not all the books sold were South African published or authored. Of the 2.5 million fiction books sold in 2015, only 550 000 were South African titles and of this 550 000, 450 000 were in Afrikaans which then leaves 100 000 copies sold in South African in 2015 written in English and the rest of nine indigenous languages.

In essence then, of the 10.5million books sold in South Africa in 2015, only 23% was South African published, and fiction, and only 0.95% was written in English and the other nine indigenous languages. Clearly, we are not giving our people what they want; we are not writing what they want and we are not writing in the languages they want, otherwise we would not be facing a lack of reading culture in our country.

The history of publishing in South Africa shows that black people in the country greatly consume books that had a western influence. These books represented a certain group of people. A black child could not find his/her identity, experiences, neighborhood and his/her everyday thoughts in the books. Kantey, M (1989:vi) states that, “By 1842 Cape Town had nine presses, seven newspapers and six bookshops (Randall 1983: 105), while the first fully-fledged South African publishing house was started in 1854 by Jan Carel Juta (Donker, 1983: 30). Yet the majority of books continued to be imported from Europe, especially Britain, Holland and Germany, and these importations reflected the colonial view of the times.”

This then shows that we have to fight the impact of colonialism and apartheid in literature and in the publishing world. This, however, cannot only be done by having African writers and content. It has to be done by having literature in all of our indigenous languages and giving it the same respect that the English and Afrikaans literature gets. If we give an English or Afrikaans book a launch just after it has been released, we also need to do launches for books in indigenous languages. If we put together fancy marketing strategies for an English or Afrikaans book, we need to do the same for books in indigenous languages. If we make books in English or Afrikaans trend, we need to make books in indigenous languages trend. We cannot continue to say that Black people do not read when we put minimal effort into literature in their languages.

Another way in which we can increase the rate of reading culture in South Africa is by making books affordable.  Statistics South Africa (2017) states that there were “…over 30,4 million South Africans living in poverty in 2015”. This then means that of the 57 million people we have in South Africa, 30.4 million cannot afford to buy books. We are then working with 27 million people who can buy books. In this 27 million people, the majority are Black people who speak mostly indigenous languages; languages that are accounted for in the 100 000 copies of English and indigenous languages fiction books sold in the country. This then means that the majority of books being published in South Africa are not for the country’s biggest population. The only time writers who write in indigenous languages get something back for their work is when their work is prescribed for schools as set works.

How do we then make books affordable? By taking the books to the right hands instead of the wrong hands. If we say that we publish in Africa, we publish African authors and content, and we publish in African languages; why is it then that we can only find bookstores in urban areas and not in rural areas and townships? Where do the majority of African people live? They are in the townships and rural areas, and not in the suburbs. The question remains then, who are we truly publishing for?

Sifiso Publishers is embarking on a journey to partner with book clubs and different organisations in the rural areas and townships who will act as distributors of books. This will cut out the high percentage of discount in bookstores, which will lower the cost of books and give back to society. If we say we are publishing in Africa, we need to get books to all parts of Africa, even those parts we do not deem “modern” because, they, too, are deserving of their stories and they too read book!

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Many people talk about leadership and what the best way is to lead. Leadership styles and approaches are the subject of many discussions, articles and journals. More recently, servant leadership has become a popular concept with the aim of encouraging more individuals to be servant leaders, but what does it mean to be a servant leader?

My first encounter with the concept was in 2010 when working with an organisation founded by Kurt Hahn. Kurt Hahn was a German educator and a key figure in the development of experiential education. He believed that the greatest thing one could learn and inspire in others, was compassion and that students should have practical opportunities to guide and support them to become compassionate leaders.

How is a servant leader different from any other leader? The confusion about what servant leadership is, can possibly be traced to one of its core differences compared to other leadership approaches. Whereas most approaches to leadership focus on what the leader does, servant leadership is focused on why they do it.

A servant leader is one whose convictions are rooted in personal responsibility, kindness and justice. Servant leaders are driven by a desire to be of service to others and to nurture, guide, develop and help others improve and succeed.

According to leadership guru Ken Blanchard, author of the book Servant Leadership in Action: How you can achieve great relationships and results, there are two aspects of servant leadership. The leadership aspect is about vision, direction, and goals and that’s the responsibility of the hierarchy. Then, once that’s done, now one moves to the servant part of servant leadership. And, philosophically, one has to turn that pyramid upside down and work for one’s people.

People living out a true spirit of servant leadership demonstrates personal literacy in understanding and employing both their own skills and abilities and those of their team to the greatest effect. Self-confidence, determination, motivation, intuitive decision-making, persuasion, negotiation and creative problem solving are all in evidence as is the ability to spot opportunities and take calculated risks, both for the leader and those that they lead.

Blanchard emphasises that the world is in need of better leadership role models and offers a critical reminder at a critical time that only by serving others will we ever truly accomplish great results.

As educators with the responsibility of empowering the future leaders, our challenge is to also inspire the true essence of being a servant leader.

By Tasnim Abed

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2018/04/09/servant-leadership-is-not-what-you-think-ken-blanchard-explains/#590bfbf46a5f

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At Future Nation Schools, we promote ‘authentic’ learning: students are given the freedom to not only express their interests (academic and otherwise) but also to direct the learning process. The role of the teacher is no longer to enforce ideas or prioritise certain concerns over others, but to allow students to ask questions and make decisions in a controlled space where successes are praised, and mistakes, learned from, and corrected. By focusing on what’s important to them and navigating their acquisition of knowledge, we believe students are better prepared to retain and put that knowledge to good use.

On a Friday afternoon, about midway through my first term at FNS, all the boys in the school — students and teachers alike — filled the assembly hall. We had gathered for what the longer-standing teachers called a ‘boys forum’. This is an occasion that takes place once a month that allows for the young men of the school to discuss openly anything that might be concerning them. The girls have their equivalent and had gathered in the park.

We entered the hall and dragged chairs from the perimeter and set them in a massive circle that continued to grow as latecomers straggled in. The students wanted to talk about bullying. They voiced their concern that others were not being treated as well as they deserved. Still new to the school — unfamiliar with many of the students and unaware of the social dynamics at play — I did not know if those who spoke out were those being bullied, or the bullies themselves, or just third parties invested in stimulating positive change. The mood in the room was somber. Teachers listened, and then probed. Students were encouraged to consider the nature of bullying: what forms bullying could take, and why people bully. Are they modelling what they see at home, are they angry, are they attempting to deny something they lack in themselves by pointing it out in someone else? Or do they simply wish to ‘look cool’ in front of their friends?

One student, as evidence to an example he had given about teasing people who were different, singled out another student who had been the target of much of the recent bullying. I hunched forward on my chair and stared at the ground, immediately uncomfortable. I did not think it wise to so pointedly direct the groups’ focus. I imagined how, in exploring the reasons for the bullying, they might compound the issue and only make things worse. However, tact was shown, and a teacher asked those who had bullied this boy to identify themselves. Bravely, a number raised their hands.

Over the next few weeks I observed carefully — in class and during break time — how students engaged with this boy, and I was pleasantly surprised by their renewed sense of tolerance and respect. It was evident in the way that they listened to him in class, how they chided each other when someone stepped out of line. The school had come together, voiced a serious concern, and chosen to move forward in a mature and inclusive way. I witnessed how at FNS students are not only provided with the space to cultivate their own learning and development, but also how when given the opportunity, they do so.

By Luke

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When I started being a Montessori Directress about a year and 10 months ago, I had challenges with classroom management and children not following the classroom rules, but i have learned that through repetition modelling, children do learn.

My passion has always been to teach children, especially younger children. I have learned that children reveal themselves through work. I have also learned that there is a difference between a Montessori Directress and a traditional school teacher. As a Montessori Directress I have to engage the interests of the child, and also follow the child. Every child does not have to learn the same things at the same time: children learn at their own pace individually. I have also learned that it is not enough for the teachers to give information to the children who are not paying attention. They are not paying attention because they are not interested. Maria Montessori wrote that “Understanding is not enough to be interested, interest is rooted in personality”.

Montessori is all about finding a balance between learning what is required and learning what interests the child as an individual. As a Montessori Directress, I learned that, every child is unique, every child is born with an inner capability to choose what is right for them at that time. The environment must always be prepared and ready, providing the right materials for the child to meet his/her developmental needs. The child has the freedom to choose any

material which allows children to discover their needs, interests and abilities and work independently and be responsible. Children learn things through doing things for themselves at school from Practical Life activities, and also at home by helping in the house and also practising what they have learned at school.

Children learn a great deal from Montessori environment and they also learn how to be independant. They also learn respect for oneself, for others and for the environment. They learn about nature by going outside in the garden and explore the outside world, they develop their senses, co-ordination and more through interaction with nature.

I love and enjoy being a Montessori Directress, because it is an experience and a learning curve for me through the children. As a Montessori Directress I discover and become myself as the children discover and become themselves.

By Nobantu.A.Khumalo

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Many parents accept Montessori Method, and they also want to create a Montessori environment at home to help their children practice. That’s a good idea! But how do we do it? What should we prepare? Is it difficult?

It’s not difficult at all; the most important thing is safety. We could show our children how to do it and let them try to do it themselves.  This work can help them be more independent and gain more confidence. Here are some examples that they could do at home, of course they can do more than this.

Before dinner or any meal, let your child help you set the table. Let him know who’s coming for dinner with your family then he can count how many knives, forks, spoons, glasses etc. you need. And then set the table. You also could let your friends or family know that your child set the table today.

On this work he could practice counting, numbers and quantity, how to set the table and care for the family. Butter the bread It’s good to invite your child to help you prepare the breakfast. Your child could help you spread the bread (materials: butter knife, butter, side-plate); pour juice in the glass (materials: a bottle of juice, some glasses); make a cup of tea (materials: cups, sugar, tea spoon, milk, hot water); cereal (materials: a box/ packet of cereal, milk, yogurt)

For this work he could practise: dry pouring, wet pouring, spooning etc. This helps his fine motor and gross motor development, co-ordination, independence, concentration and sense of order. He could offer grandmother a cup of tea and ask how many tea spoons of sugar she likes, and if she likes milk. That helps his social development, care of others, language development, listening and understanding.

Hanging up clothes

After the washing machine has finished washing, we need to hanging up clothes. It’s a good time to involve your child to help you. He could help you carry the peg bag, pick up one piece of clothing or anything like socks, and peg it on the clothes horse.

Matching socks

It could be a game, let’s start a socks matching game. When all the socks are dry, take them off the washing line, put all the pegs in the peg bag, bring the socks in and then game starts, the same colour and same pattern socks are put together. We put the same socks together and fold them and then put them away. When your child knows how to do it, you can also have a matching socks competition.

All this work helps them children up enormously. Children want to tell you: please help me to do it myself. Let’s be more patient and give them chance to do the things themselves. It’s really good for them.

By Michaela

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Have you ever wondered why we need to educate our children? Is it about acquiring new skills, new information, new ways of doing things, changes in life style, modifying behaviour, new beliefs, new ways of thinking, creativity, better communication, improved numeracy or reading…

The aim is to empower, to nurture, to build character and to future proof our students. Why then, are they still sitting in rows, using textbooks, being subjected to the chalk and talk teaching approach with minimal student involvement?  Research contends that 2% of people think, 3% of people think they think and 95% of people would rather die than think. This is a frightening fact…we need to act NOW!

We need to bring the fun back into learning. Play helps teams work together effectively and creates meaningful learning engagement. A student experiencing the Fourth Industrial Revolution needs different learning spaces and designs that allow them to work comfortably and to be able to adapt to any form of learening engagement.

Our students are facing an exponential growth in artificial intelligence which implies that their thinking, creativity, reasoning should be fast-tracked to meet the demands of technology. Robotics, and three D printers are gradually replacing human labour: this is threat to future careers and jobs. Again, our approach to teaching and learning should augment innovation, problem solving and designing projects. The aim is not only to acquire new information or knowledge, but to know how to use it to solve problems or challenge the status quo.

The current political turmoil in our country cannot be ignored, it calls for abrupt intervention in the economic, social and political systems. This intervention is not possible if we have students who cannot adapt to this volatile status quo and pervading uncertainty. Students who are given an opportunity to question, self-explore, self-discover and enquire can effortlessly adjust to these fluctuations because they are solutions driven. Curiosity helps them to explore unfamiliar territory and lays the foundation for greater opportunities.

This quote from Albert Einstein Seneca confirms our approach with our future students: ”The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day”.

We need to future-proof our students now!

By Mampho

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The environment in which children grow up plays a huge role in their personal development and their character development. It is vital that the classroom environment allows the child to explore his/her identity in a space that is safe.

It goes without saying that how we teachers manage the issue of gender around our students has a great impact on how well they will do in the classroom. This is also why children grow up believing themselves as being incapable of doing and/or achieving certain things/subjects because they are for a specific gender: for example, Mathematics is for boys and Social Studies is for girls.

This is a subject that has also become intertwined with the family as an institution. Parents often treat their boy children differently to their girl children: somcertain e parents insist that household chores at home are for girls, and others for boys.

Some teachers group our students in categories and do not allow for gender diversity. Who says that only girls can play in the doll house? Or that only boys can play with scooters? What is so important about having a line for boys and a line for girls? Are we not forcing gender stereotypes and depriving our children from discovering who they really are?

There are many ways one can achieve classroom management without enforcing any gender stereotypes on our children.

  • When having the dress-up corner in a classroom, one can have a mixture of items and props.
  • When grouping learners, one can use animal names/colours.
  • Rather than having a boys’ line and a girls’ line, one can have one line where learners line up from 1-10 or 10-1.
  • When addressing learners, one can address them by name rather than ‘my girl’ or ‘my boy’.
  • When planning classroom activities/games avoid games/activities which categorise learners to boys vs girls. For example, a completion between girls and boys. Rather have them compete against each other as equals.
  • When having groups, one can have mixed gender groups.

Children are born with the innocence of being able to socialise and relate to all children of different genders. It is only when they become exposed to norms that separate them that they show unease and awareness in their differences.

Lastly, it is a fact of life that gender stereotypes are a part of human life but teachers can help to challenge this by applying an approach of acceptance and inclusivity. They can also make schools a safer place for all children to grow and develop in by talking about stereotypes and affirmation of unconventional choices.

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The importance of early childhood education influences children’s lives beyond question. A good beginning is recognised as the foundation of future development. Scientific studies have proven that children’s learning and mental development begins immediately after birth, and then hits its peaks at the age of 6. It is of utmost importance to create a positive learning experience for the pre-schoolers to lay the foundation for their intellectual, social and emotional development.

The Montessori system is a unique schooling system invented in the early 1900 by Maria Montessori to educate poor children in Italy. This method discourages the traditional way of comparing measurements and achievements using grades and tests. Instead, Maria Montessori focuses on individual progress and development of each child.

Why Montessori learning is the only way to cater for these essential developments:

It encourages independence

All the activities in the Montessori environments encourage independence. It begins with the classroom being prepared to allow the child to do everything for herself but with adult assistance when it is needed. One will find a 3 year old child sweeping floor with a child size broom, or buttering sandwiches by herself with a real butter knife. These children grow in confidence when they are able to do everything themselves without having to ask adults for help.

The activities are also catered in the way that helps the child to identify mistakes without an adult pointing them out to them. However, children the in the Montessori classroom will ask for help when they feel they need it, as opposed to an adult telling the child whether or not they need help.

Social development and collaboration

In a Montessori classroom, children are grouped with children of different ages and are encouraged to help each other. This structure in the learning environment encourages children to share and to work co-operatively to explore different areas of the curriculum. Based on the nature of the classroom environment, children learn to respect each other, develop the skills of collaborative problem solving, and build a sense of community

Learning is actually fun

Children learn about Botany by looking at leaf samples, or learn the names of continents and countries by studying from a sand paper globe. Montessori provides tactile experiences for students to learn form, rather than having them sit in lectures or listen to teachers. Learning in Montessori environment is real and relevant.

Mathematics is exciting too: children in Montessori classrooms learn by using beads to help them connect abstract numbers to something concrete that they can actually feel and touch.

Follow the children

The Montessori classroom is a prepared learning environment where children are free to choose from a range of developmentally appropriate activities. Teachers in the Montessori classroom are there to guide and facilitate the learning experience. The teachers take the lead in the classroom, ensure the ground rules are followed, and encourage children to work independently and at their own pace. Allowing children to direct their own learning enables them to learn in an enjoyable way and develop an enthusiasm for learning, along with self-discipline, independence and positive self-esteem.

Psychologists in the US have expressed that because of  the wide range of activities in the Montessori schools, children from these schools out-perform than those given traditional education.

Montessori education cultivates children’s natural desire to learn and achieve their full potential by providing them the foundation for future growth. Doctor Montessori’s understanding of how and why children learn allows the Montessori classroom to create an excellent foundation for children’s learning that opens the doors to education for life.

By Judy Chen

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Having your Pre-school child enrolled at a school practising the Montessori educational model, leads to the child being self-confident and self-disciplined. This leads to a wide variety of academic and creative skills and interests.

In the school environment the child’s natural drive towards independence must fostered through practical, social and intellectual experiences. The child becomes an active agent in her own education, saying, “Help me to do it myself”. We honour this by helping children move to increasingly higher levels of independence and self-reliance. Children are free to choose an activity independently once it has been presented to him/her, which encourages independence.

The children are encouraged to be actively involved during the three-hour long work cycles, where children choose their own learning experiences. These work cycles are self-guided and observed by the teacher. Children tend to fall into deep immersion and concentration. A child interested in a specific aspect will tend to work on that area exclusively for a period of time before moving onto something else.  Furthermore, not all children need the same amount of time to master the same content. While one child might need more time to master Mathematics, another may need additional time for reading and yet another might require additional physical activity to promote optimal learning. This type of individualisation is supported by our curriculum and environment.

The Montessori philosophy and methods are based on universal laws of child growth and can certainly be helpful to your child. Whether Montessori will be helpful to your child, however is another question, for the answer depends upon your conception of your function as a parent. Montessori viewed parents as guardians, not as creators, for it is the child who must create himself. As the child grows she wants to touch and handle the same objects in the environment she sees others using. The parent must encourage this, for it is the child’s innate understanding that she must eventually take her place in the world as an adult that compels him/her to this. Inevitably, the child will want to explore things in the environment which belong to others. For example, “don’t touch” is synonymous with “don’t learn” for the young child.

The parent must so arrange the home that the child is helped to master her environment and becomes increasingly independent of the parent’s help. The child’s room should be simple and orderly.  Everything in it should be appropriate for her size and ability.: low shelves with a few well-chosen toys; a low table with brush and comb, mirror; low hooks to hang clothes on – the latter to be chosen for the ease with which she can get in and out of them.; an accessible place to put his soiled clothes, hang up her towel, etc. It is the child’s instinct and desire for work and serious accomplishment that enables him/her to develop a healthy self-concept and realistic self-esteem.

Therefore, he should be allowed to observe and participate in his parent’s activities at the kitchen sink or garage workbench. An appropriate stool helps him/her into the adult’s world, and the parent has only to slow the pace and expectations for the child to join in making her own sandwich. An over-abundance of toys and many hours of television rob the child of his opportunity for those accomplishments and create an unnatural passivity and apathy toward life. If you accept the Montessori viewpoint of parenthood, you may want to send your child to a Montessori school to complement your approach to him at home.

 

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A truly African education, undoubtedly, has to include music education!

Africa as a continent has had so many struggles over the last few hundred years.  As a result, the education of its children has suffered. We have missed the industrial revolution and all the technological revolutions since. As it stands currently, we are consumers of technology rather than producers. But finally, our continent seems to be mobilising.

These are exciting times; pockets of excellence are springing up everywhere. Significant effort and attention is going into quality education as a means of turning the tide and preparing our youth to be meaningful contributors to the fourth industrial revolution.  But while we race to compete academically with the rest of the globe we mustn’t forget the latent talents that we already have. Natural talents that set our continent apart. Our music.

Africa is truly remarkable in its music. Our children have raw musical talent in abundance. It is an integral part of our continent with its diverse people and cultures. Around the world, choirs sing African traditional songs, fascinated by their polyphonic rhythms and multiple harmonies. Djembes and Marimbas are played throughout the globe. While the rest of the world is trying hard to match up to talents that exist effortlessly on this continent, we should not take these for granted.  In doing so we run the risk of devaluing our own cultural heritage, and ourselves. While our African continent may be economically poor; it is through music that we are able to re-ignite the true wealth of our diverse cultures.

But music is so much more than just culture.

Beyond building a cultural identity, there are considerable benefits to a musical education for our children. Research has shown both academic and social benefits. Academically, nothing fires up all areas of the brain simultaneously as does music. It is a complete brain workout. Children who study music show a higher general intelligence. They have better literacy, language, reasoning and memory skills and are generally better co-ordinated. Not only that, through understanding rhythm and harmony they develop a more ordered and mathematical left brain. Research even suggests that music education can reduce the academic gap between rich and poor students. But there is more.

Music education can also make a significant contribution towards the social and emotional well-being of our children. The emotional and creative expression of music fires the right side of the brain. Making music has been shown to have a very positive effect on behaviour. It creates a sense of achievement and develops a positive self-image. Music is all about collaboration, and not competition. As such, it fosters the spirit of community: I am because we are. It has the power to build cultural awareness and understanding of others. Surely, nothing connects diverse people better than singing or playing music together?

In short, music ticks all the boxes in developing those 21st century skills that progressive education groups are working hard to achieve. With absolutely heaps of raw talent on our African continent, and so many positives in favour of music education, can there be any doubt about the importance of it being at the core of our curriculum? Already, many of our schools, especially the private schools, are doing a great job in this regard. But we need more. Much more.

We need ALL our children to learn to play instruments. We need ALL of them singing in choirs and playing in bands, from Marimba bands to Jazz bands, and from Djembe drum circles to Orchestras. The knock-on effect will be immense.

Parents and schools: let’s work together! Let’s all get with the beat!

Written by Amber Vishwakarma

Amber is the Grade 1 teacher at Future Nation Schools, Lyndhurst.

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