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Zilolonge Arts-Literacy Project

The Zilolonge Arts-Literacy Project, which I implemented in a high school in my home town of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, serves as pedagogical intervention against the colonial pedagogical legacy of corporal punishment and rote learning in the Zimbabwean classroom. Despite the high literacy rate in Zimbabwe, above 90%, both teachers and students predominantly view education merely in relation to their economic well-being, and have lost sight of the importance of education for human development, the cultivation of love of learning, student agency and higher order thinking skills. The Zilolonge Arts Project was adopted from Harvard’s Cultural Agents Pretext for Arts Literature Program. Based on the theoretical foundations of Paulo Freire and John Dewey, the program incorporates the arts, including music, theatre, poetry and drawing, into the current literature curriculum in order to increase student agency within the classroom and validate student cultures and experiences. I trained six teachers from a poor high school - Nkulumane High as well as four professional artists how to teach literature through the arts. The teachers and artists then taught approximately seventy students twice a week, for ten weeks in an after school program at Nkulumane High School. Using Chinua Achebe’s work, Things Fall Apart as their foundational text for all of their activities included students painted scenes from the text, wrote poems about characters and themes, dramatized scenes and interpreted character movements through dance. I measured the effects of the program on 1) student reading engagement and critical thinking, 2) student motivation to learn, and 3) promotion of a more egalitarian learning culture and dialogue. Using pre- and post-program interviews, reading enjoyment assessments and detailed ethnographic fieldwork, the program increased student reading and learning enjoyment and ameliorated the fear students had towards their teachers. The school has since kept the program, and I am currently working with a district officer for the Ministry of Education to pilot the project in a different part of the country.