One of the ways we support schools in making use of technology to transform learning and teaching in Leicester is via BSF ICT Innovation Grants. All BSF school staff can apply for funding to support projects that focus on the use of technology to benefit learning and learners, teaching and school community development.
We prioritise projects which focus on or are clear about staff development, are clear and realistic about what will be achieved, and have put thought into sharing outcomes.
One of the successful projects was the Siyabonga project at Hamilton Community College. the project concluded on the 8th of March with a fantastic event which brought together students from two continents. The videos below capture the excitement of the event and Laura Iredale, the music teacher at Hamilton Community College who proposed and made the project happen, tells us more:
#projectafrica set out to be an epic musical journey spanning 2 continents and 6,000 miles.
It ended up being the experience of a lifetime for everyone involved!
This story actually begins back in 2010 when I moved to South Africa to work for a charity called the COPT (the Community Outreach Programme Trust). The charity is committed to working in the townships of South Africa, with a focus in the areas surrounding Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal. Its aim is to establish sustainable projects within disadvantaged communities with a view to improving quality of life for people living there.
A number of community centres have been established to facilitate this goal, including, Lamontville and Marianhill – the centres participating in our project! These centres run weekly classes and activities which include youth groups, English lessons, music workshops, coffee mornings and crèches.
Whilst in South Africa I was amazed by the diversity of the people, cultures and musical traditions of the country. I was particularly involved in working with the Zulu community, running youth activities, holiday clubs and music workshops.
Although I was leading or teaching these classes, it became evident to me that I was learning so much from them - more about how to live life to the full whatever situation you find yourself in - and how to fully embrace the emotionally and spiritually rich environment that they are a part of.
I left the country the following year in love with its people, its constant smile and its never-failing vibrancy!
It was this love of life and love of music that I wanted to share with my students at Hamilton.
Starting with teaching our children some traditional Zulu songs (African melodies, harmonies and rhythms which would challenge their concepts of Western music), to rehearsing with and getting to know people in South Africa (children 6,000 miles away who have the same love of music as our students but come from an entirely different background) – culminating in the delivery of a trans-continental concert showcasing our student choirs and band and a South African choir over a live Skype link for the simultaneous performance of the concerts’ African influenced repertoire!
Learning about South Africa
Lamontville is home to one of the COPT community centres with a lovely group of young people. The youth were part of #projectafrica and we (both learners and staff at Hamilton) got to know some of them by learning about their lives.
We received fact files written by the children themselves and personal comments from the COPT volunteers who work with them every day and know them best.
We also wrote letters to them which I was able to take over to South Africa when I visited during February half term – some of our students found they had lots in common with the Lamontville guys…especially a love for football!
We had a general idea of the set list from the Hamilton end and this needed to be defined in South Africa. We had taken a number of video logs tracking our progress in lessons and band rehearsals and whilst over there I was able to share the videos with our South African counterparts – which resulted in lots of excitement and a bit of laughter at our attempt at Zulu accents and dancing!
Promoting the Project
We effectively used our ‘Music and Drama’ Twitter account to promote the project under #projectafrica. It became a platform for students to air their views on the project, to share photos and experiences, and for us to communicate important information, project updates, and rehearsal times.
The Live Event
We as the performers we acting as the audience for the South African performances and in turn, when we performed, they acted as our audience. It was a miraculous musical and technological feat!
We lost the internet connection only once during the concert but we filled in with another song and…we were back up and running and able to welcome back our South African friends with an enthusiastic round of applause at the end of the piece!
Specially invited guests included our Principal, the school governors, Kevin Ncube (BBC Radio Leicester reporter), and our BSF partners from Leicester City Council (who helped make this project happen with innovation funding).
It was wonderful to see the many ways the project benefitted our young people. At Hamilton, we believe in developing the spiritual, moral, social and cultural understanding of our students and broadening their horizons!
We are committed to giving our students memorable experiences. Opportunities like #projectafrica enable them to become effective global citizens who feel that they can have a very real impact on the lives of others around the world.
This project really allowed our students to be part of something bigger than just themselves, gain an awareness of the struggles of others less fortunate than themselves and think outside the Leicester box! The connected and engaged with music and with the South African children in a way that was very emotional to witness.
I found #projectafrica was an amazing experience for the whole school and for me. The best bit was when we got to listen to the African children sing all their songs – Charlotte Lee Y7
Similarly, it was amazing to witness the effect this project had on the South African children’s lives.
These children are committed to making a better way of life for themselves and their families – they regularly attend the classes run at Lamontville and Marianhill community centres. However, it’s a catch 22 because there is no government funded schooling in South Africa. Even with the best will in the world, sometimes it’s just not enough to really make a difference and change their lives…with this connection they were able to experience more of the world than they had ever thought possible before. They were able to experience the joys of friendship with children their age on the other side of the world.
After the resounding success of #projectafrica we were left on a high. The support provided by the BSF ICT Innovation fund was key in the delivery of this project and we intend to use the equipment purchased through the project for more exciting projects in the future. We have had the experience now of connecting with South Africa and we have seen how well it has worked - not only in the presentation of our concert, but in opening the eyes of many students both here and in South Africa, to the many possibilities and new horizons open to them as a result of the combination of modern technology and music.
We hope to run this project as a yearly event in school. Some of our students have also been inspired to visit South Africa and we hope to fundraise and take a small group out there in the near future.