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Learning from each other

Making a link with a school from another country touches the lives of all those involved. A cultural divide breaks down and the vacuum is filled with learning from each other. When that link is with a school in South Africa and takes as its focus shared curriculum projects, the experience and opportunities on offer for both schools are all the more amazing.

At Ursuline High School in Wimbledon, we have forged a partnership with Nomvalo Junior Secondary School on the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

What began as a six-week project in which I visited and worked at the school has now changed shape into an equal partnership between the two.

Link Community Development supports the curriculum projects and exchanges of any school that pays pound;500 a year to twin with another in Africa.

The whole experience made me look at the provision of multicultural opportunities in English and see where they could flourish; the answer is everywhere.

All of Year 78 became involved in a sponsored "Read 4 Africa" which raised the profile of reading and raised more than pound;4000 to inject into their school development plan. It was coupled with what we hope is the first of many joint curriculum projects: the exchange of introductory letters between pupils.

Based on a slideshow that gave glimpses of village and school life in South Africa, our students wrote with sensitivity and warmth about themselves and our cultural similarities and differences. More than just a project for these pupils, the sponsored read and the letter exchange were component parts of six-week units that are now embedded in our English curriculum and schemes of work.

The fiction-based Year 7 unit is an introduction to, and celebration of, Africa. A collection of short stories (Contemporary Short Stories edited by Chinua Achebe, Heinemann) and a volume of poetry (Rainbow World, edited by Fraser Chatterjee, Hodder) were used to explore the themes of race, identity, culture, custom, language, nature and environment, alongside a substantial novel such as Benjamin Zephaniah's Refugee Boy (Windmill).

The Year 8 unit, by contrast, is non-fiction based and, given South Africa's apartheid past, takes protest and liberation as its theme and inspiration. Extracts from Nelson Mandela's (pictured) A Long Walk to Freedom (Abacus) pattern the unit. Purple passages of oratory can be analysed and his life on Robben Island is a spur to all sorts of creative writing. Other multicultural sources could then broaden the unit. Other departments are now interested in setting up their own curriculum projects with the Nomvalo.

Make the Link

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