The Environment and Language Education Trust (ELET) was established as the English Language Education Trust in January 1984 as a result of an initiative of the Urban Foundation and several meetings of representatives from the Departments of Education that were operating in the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). The head of the Department of Applied Linguistics and Teaching English as a Second Language, Professor Keith Chick, was the convener. After several meetings, the concept of an English Resource centre was born and the English Language Education Trust was established with funds from Anglovaal Ltd. and with Mervin Ogle as its first director.
The focus was on the teaching of English in schools where English was the second language of the learners and the teachers, but was the language of learning and teaching. Following a study by the Urban Foundation in the early 80s it was clear that the language of instruction from Grade four onward was a critical factor in the state of declining standards in education generally. Under-qualified teachers were teaching in largely under-resourced schools and thus contributing to a cycle of under-achievement throughout the school curriculum at all levels.
ELET implemented several English language teaching and learner support projects in KZN. Partnerships were formed with the British Council and a significant number of promising teachers were sent to British education institutions on short courses.
In the late 80s and early 90s, with declining health standards in KZN, mainly due to outbreaks of cholera and the spread of HIV/AIDS, ELET began to introduce strong health messages into its English training and learning materials. This trend was to materialise within a few years, into a new project – Project for Health and Sanitation Education (PHASE). At its height in the mid-90s, PHASE was being implemented with funding from the United States Agency for International Development in over a 100 schools in KZN. For unknown reasons, despite its documented success it was not supported by the Department of Education for implementation on a wider scale.
In the early 90s ELET introduced environment education into its training programme in schools and began projects to rehabilitate the environment at schools and in communities which involved the identification and eradication of invasive alien plants and the planting of indigenous trees. Over 20 000 trees were planted in about 200 schools throughout the province.
At the same time ELET also began addressing the challenges of food insecurity at schools by helping establish vegetable gardens in unused land at schools and communities. With these added services the name of the organization was formally changed to the Environment and Language Education Trust.
The most recent addition to the organisation's portfolio of services has been in entrepreneurship development, mainly associated with attempts to make our community gardens projects sustainable through vegetable production and the processing of essential oils.
In summary, ELET’s main activities and services include: English Education & Training (INSET), Environment Education & Rehabilitation and Food Security, Entrepreneurship and Community Development.
Challenges and Opportunities
The perennial challenge to NGOs is one of shrinking donor support. This is an unavoidable consequence of worldwide trends in the present economic turmoil we are experiencing. Another challenge is the current attempts at curriculum reform, which makes in-service interventions difficult.
The current highly prescriptive curriculum with its leanings to highly scripted lessons leaves little space for any curriculum innovation ELET might wish to make. Another challenge related to worldwide industrialisation action and urbanisation is that of food security. As the number of subsistence farmers dwindle as they become factory workers, so does the demand for food increase.
The opportunities these challenges present are many and exciting. The shrinking pots of donor funding have forced ELET to become more self-reliant – hence the organisation’s attempts at self-sustaining projects such as the community enterprises where the agricultural productions is market-related. For example ELET is now supplying vegetables for the schools nutrition programme in a rural area and to a number of restaurants in an urban setting. The establishment and registration of co-operatives in the fields of agricultural production will also open up access to government funding for those co-operatives.
Among other great impacts in the society, ELET’s provision of English in-service teacher training and development has contributed to improvements in English teaching and learning; and the sharing of health messages, such as hand washing, basic water purification, peer based HIV/AIDS awareness raising, growing of vegetables, have improved the health of thousands of school children over the years. The development of enterprises such as large scale vegetable growing, the distillation of essential oils and the production of herbs have all created worthwhile employment for workers and their families.
The eradication of invasive alien plants and the planting of over 20 000 indigenous trees have both helped to rehabilitate our endangered environment at schools and communities and raised awareness about environmental degradation.
To view the Environment and Language Education Trust in the Prodder NGO Directory, click here.