Julius Caesar in Africa – ICT helps reinvent Shakespearean drama
The world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Company returns to BAM with a new twist on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Set in present-day Africa and featuring an all-black cast, this visionary production echoes recent regime struggles throughout the continent. TheTech-savvy students at Leqele High School in Maseru, the capital of the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho, are using ICT to revolutionise their English literature classes. Their adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar in an African setting is making literature more enjoyable and accessible for everyone.
Opening up the centuries-old drama to students was proving a complex task. The archaic language was a definite barrier, exacerbated by the limited access to printed texts – Leqele High School lacked books or filmed versions of the play. In addition, teachers felt intimidated by the limited technology available, such as projectors, and some were afraid of making mistakes in front of their students. These factors are part of the reason that the failure rate in English literature is high across the country.
An innovative teacher at Leqele High School, Lucille Kabelo Mahlatsi, hit on the idea of using online resources to make Shakespeare more transparent, universal and realistic. She noted: “Teachers lacked moral support from principals, some of whom fail to understand ICT is a tool that teachers can use. They think it is a subject itself.”
Using two laptops, students were able do online research and convert the text into more understandable prose. Seeking parallels between Julius Caesar and dethroned King Moshoeshoe and other African heroes such as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere helped improve clarity and their understanding of the drama. Lively face-to-face debates as well as a vibrant online interaction ensued on Facebook groups, which the students and teachers accessed via mobile phone: groups for teachers who are trying to integrate technology in the classroom and for literature teachers.
Since the project, both students and teachers have been reaping the rewards. Though the project was carried out in the urban setting of the capital, there are hopes it could spread to rural areas, and to other countries. One teacher in Uganda even suggested collaboration among students on Skype to share their experiences.
The initiative has proven a wake-up call for teachers across the region, who now realise that they do not have to be perfectly skilled at using technology to engage with their students and raise their attention spans. Now some teachers in Lesotho are using mobile phones as books in the classroom, and to prepare lessons before class. They have come to see ICT as a fun tool that enhances rather than replaces the traditional classroom setting.
And pass rates in English literature have improved, now that students are no longer solely reliant on their teacher and can do their own research and reading on the internet. Plans are afoot to launch similar ICT projects in complex subjects such as mathematics and science where the failure rate is also high.