Learning literature through stage drama

Tuesday March 19 2019

Through stage performance, literature books are

Through stage performance, literature books are brought to life and students are able to understand the content better. PHOTO| FILE 

By Alfred Zacharia

What is of utmost importance to a student, is understanding what is being taught by a teacher. At times, a theoretical approach to teaching doesn’t always reap the right rewards. Students often fail to grasp the basic knowledge that is being imparted. As such, any approach that can ease the teaching and learning process is always welcome at learning institutions. This has seen the rise of digital formats that help students understand science subject and arts better.

Now, another approach is becoming more popular in schools. Students studying literature have been availed to a different approach of learning the subject. Through stage dramas, it is easier for Form Three and Form four students to learn literature books.

This approach was initiated by Ngao Arts group which started the Tanzania Education Theatre (TET), an initiative with a view to dramatize Swahili and English novels and plays which are part of the Form Three and Form Four syllabuses through stage plays.

More than 42,000 students have been reached in 16 schools in Dar es Salaam, but the original goal of the initiative is to reach the whole country, this is according to the managing director of the TET programme, Mr Ali Mohammed.

“We read the books, create our own scripts and perform them before the students using languages and words of the particular books,” he told Success.

Currently, TET is performing one English literature book titled ‘Passes like a Shadow’ and a Swahili one ‘Kilio Chetu’.

The initiative has employed the services of 17 actors to perform the characters in the books.

“We try as much as possible to ensure there’s no distortion of the message from the book. When acting, we try to use the exact words as written in the books,” he added.

It takes up to three months for the actors to master the scripts, according to him.

The initiative was tested and approved by the National Arts Council (Basata). The council acknowledged that drama can help students in learning and understanding literature books.

Basata’s Executive Secretary, Mr Godfrey Mngereza told Success that the initiative comes at a right time when some schools are experiencing a serious shortage of literature books.

He is also confident that, students understand quickly when they see what they read. The visual representation of written work is riveting to the eye and students find this entertaining, hence they are able to engage with what’s being portrayed.

“I am positive that the initiative will help students to recall the books even in their examination after seeing stage performance,” he noted.

He admitted that he used to apply a similar method when he was a lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam.

“I accepted and approved the idea because I’ve also used it before and I remember how it helped my students to understand my subjects,” he said.

He promised to continue supporting the Ngao Arts group with their TET initiative.

Reading literature books at a school library has never been a habit for many students.

A Form Three student, Najma Ahmad, 16, studying Arts at Nyembulu secondary school in the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, confirmed that she has never entered the library with the intention of reading any book.

She however entered once, but only when she was tasked to clean the library and arrange the books on shelves.

“Teachers have been trying so much to convince students to read books but there is little to no response from the students because most of us have no interest in reading books,” she told Success..

Najma is not alone, even Salome Fundikila and Ibrahim Shaban, Form Four students from Nyembulu and Mkera secondary schools respectively, share the same view.

They however, understand that they are required to read at least two Swahili and other two English books as well as poems as preparations for sitting for their final examinations.

“Apart from the country’s current challenges of lacking modern libraries, books and reading awareness, most students are not willing to read books on their own,” Ibrahim noted.

He references the school’s small library that has few books, compared to the demand of the students as the reason for their failure to read.

“We are about 130 students in our class but the library contains only 12 books. Teachers advise us to buy our own books or lend each other,” he said.

Fortunately, according to Najma, Salome and Ibrahim employing stage plays as a form of teaching the literature books is a good solution that keeps students interested in the subjects.

“I had read the ‘Passed like a shadow’ book once, but I did not understand it well compared to when I saw it being performed on stage,” Salome said.

She was easily captivated by the names of the main and supporting characters, understanding their behaviours and characterisations.

“The project saves time and money,” Ms Lucy Mwanjara, a literature teacher at Nyembulu Secondary School said.

She is delighted that the actors used only three hours to present two books to more than 350 students from different schools.

“I spend at least a month and half to teach a single book in my 178 Form Four students class. It is amazing that my students learnt within such a short time and they understood it well,” she noted.

Another literature teacher from Uhuru Mchanganyiko Secondary School, Ms Naomi Modest, said that the initiative will reduce the challenges of shortage of literature books.

“In my class, seven students share one book, taking them up to one month to complete reading a single book,” she noted.

She was amazed at how TET could deliver two books in a single day and be understood by students.

However, some teacher wished for TET to add other books so that students can have more options of which book to use when sitting for an examination.

“They have practised only two books, but students need at least four of them to be on the safe side during examination,” Ms Modest insisted.