Hoerskool Zwartberg – Helping learners to find their voices
At the beginning of 2006, a programme of conversation classes was launched at the Hoёrskool Zwartberg initiated by a local resident called Penny Alder. Together with teachers at the school, a need had been identified to enhance the thinking and communication skills of learners who would soon leave school and have to function as independent adults. The traditional curriculum helps learners to improve their language capacity, but there are not necessarily enough resources available for additional processes which may help learners. Penny’s idea was to gather volunteers from the town, who would be willing to give their time and energy to provide an opportunity for learners to have facilitated conversations in which they could develop their skills. Helene Smit became Project leader in 2006, and ran the project for three years. She started the project again in 2012, and it is now run under the auspices of the Depth Leadership Trust.
Every week or fortnight, with the support of the school, we offer conversation classes to grade 8 learners at the Zwartberg High School. Mariette Heskwa runs the project administration. Each class is about 40 minutes long. Our vision is to help learners to develop the courage to stand up in a crowd and appropriately say what they think and feel and eventually learn that what they say matters.
The learners themselves choose what they want to talk about, and the facilitators facilitate the discussion, but they do not tell learners what to think. In this way, learners are able to develop their own thought processes and to debate different viewpoints amongst themselves. The most important thing is to help learners to develop the capacity to think for themselves and be able to stand up for what they believe.
Ricky McKnight (the school headmaster) and the teaching team have been very supportive of the project and have commented that they have noticed an increase in the confidence and communication capacity of learners who have been part of the conversation classes.
There have been several dedicated volunteers and many of them have commented how much they themselves have learnt through the project.
Topics discussed by the Hoërskool Zwartberg Grade 11 classes
Examples of the kind of topics the learners ask to discuss are given below:
- How to study –skills
- Sexual harassment
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Teen pressure
- Body language
- Violence / jealousy
- Teenage pregnancy
- Teenage suicide
- Obsession about money
- Paranormal activities
- Strange animal behaviour
- Helping others
- Finding right person
- Favourite movie character
- Qualities to look for in opposite sex