South Africa

ART OF LEARNING

From the class to the stage – Making a song and dance about maths and science

From the class to the stage – Making a song and dance about maths and science
Sisonke is working on innovative ways to teach maths and science to primary school learners. Viktor Forgacs / Unsplash.

The Sisonke organisation in Makhanda, Eastern Cape, teaches primary school learners mathematics and science through art, dance, music and acting.

Born and raised in Lusikisiki, nestled in the Eastern Cape’s former Transkei, Luyolo Mapekula has a passion and an unwavering commitment to making a difference in the lives of learners from local schools.

Mapekula graduated with an honours degree in biochemistry at Walter Sisulu University before becoming a technical officer at Rhodes University’s Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology.

In December 2022, he resigned from his position to focus on the Sisonke National Art Education Centre, a project dedicated to teaching primary school learners mathematics and science through songs and acting. Sisonke works with learners from schools in Location in Makhanda

Sisonke, which means “together” in isiXhosa, was born out of a need Mapekula recognised while working with high school learners in 2011.

Loyolo Mapekula aims to build confidence among learners when tackling maths and science.  (Photo: Bukamuso Sebata)

“I had Grade 12 learners from a few local high schools come to me for help with maths and science subjects. So, I started tutoring on Saturdays and then we would have more sessions and after-school classes and I would do that maybe for two hours. My problem was that a few of them would grasp what we are learning while most of them don’t really know the basics of those subjects and have no idea what they are looking at.”

This led to the creation of the Sisonke organisation, which is dedicated to solving this problem.

The organisation provides primary school children with a solid foundation in mathematics, science and geography so they can approach their high school years with greater confidence.

Sisonke creates playful learning environments.

“I started with pottery designs where we held pottery classes with students for about two hours a day where we designed shapes and mathematics signs with the students,” Mapekula said.

“So, we were creating 3D models of shapes like rectangles, squares and circles that they were covering in their curriculum in class. Having the learners engage and interact with their curriculum in such a 3D and fun way was helping them grasp those topics.”

Recognising the effectiveness of their teaching method, Mapekula and his team sought to incorporate art into the learning process. In collaboration with the Rhodes University Drama Department, they developed the ArtMathsSciTech project aimed at teaching mathematics and science using theatre, music, dance and crafts. Learners act out and sing about their curriculum through original scripts, enhancing their understanding and memory retention.

song dance maths science

Learners from Tantyi Primary School and Samuel Ntsiko Primary School in Makhanda line up to play a game about numbers and units of measurement. (Photo: Supplied)

By teaching the basics early on, Mapekula hopes to address South Africa’s urgent need for more professionals in science and maths-related fields.

Mapekula and his dedicated team at Sisonke have seen a marked improvement in learners’ understanding of maths and science since implementing these innovative programmes. 

Mapekula’s vision for Sisonke is not just about teaching maths and science; it’s about instilling confidence and love for learning. By marrying education and the arts, Mapekula and his team are giving learners the tools they need to succeed and become the professionals South Africa urgently requires.

On 13 October, Sisonke held a competition between Tantyi Primary School and Samuel Ntsiko Primary School in which learners explained units of measurement and how body mass is measured. They did this by dancing, singing, acting and reciting poems. DM

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