I am an MA student at UCL, researching community and family literacies. I was lucky enough to visit Mikindani in June this year, working with the amazing EdUKAid office staff who supported and facilitated my research project.  As part of my project, I interviewed and observed incredible teachers, supportive and interested parents, and met many excitable and curious children just starting their educational journey at preschool supported by the efforts of EdUKAid staff.

The amazing EdUKAid staff, who looked after me extremely well on my trip to Mikindani.

I learnt a lot about the importance of local and community-based education interventions from the team, whose education projects are centered around the principles of community ownership and sustainability.

The Tanzanian team work extremely hard to ensure all children are able to access a quality education which prepares them for primary school and beyond. For many reasons, not least intergenerational poverty, which leads to lack of uniform and basic school supplies in the home, helping all families secure access for their children to a decent preschool education is not always an easy thing to do. Preschools in Tanzania are also often underfunded and under resourced, with children using makeshift buildings and desks, and classrooms and being taught by teachers not specially trained in early years pedagogy. Over the last 20 years, EdUKAid have stepped in to fill that gap, have built schools and classrooms, trained teachers in effective teaching practices, built school farms to help schools provide meals for children so they can stay at school. More recently, their work has extended to providing pre-primary ‘satellite’ classes to children in very rural areas of Mtwara who live too far from a pre-primary school to access learning, and inclusive education projects which focuses on barriers affecting girls and disabled children.

A Standard 1 (6-7 years old) classroom, in an EdUKAid supported school. Children are assessed at the end of this year on their knowledge and understanding of reading, writing and maths; colourful environmental print helps children memorise number and literacy facts and reduce cognitive load.

School farms such as this one ensures that schools can feed children at school. In rural areas, this means that children are more likely to attend schools for the whole school day, and they can concentrate and learn more effectively.

On my visits to schools and when I sat in on community and village meetings, I saw first-hand the impact of these projects and how local communities are engaging with these ideas and interacting with the projects to create local and community ‘ownership’ of them. What struck me on my visits was that local communities and village ‘stakeholders’ (teachers, headteachers, local craftsmen and women, parents) are deeply involved in creating, running and changing the projects to suit their own needs. This is something which is very special about EdUKAid – the projects are like an ongoing conversation with communities, in which EdUKAid understand that, for change to be sustainable, it requires constant engagement and collaboration with the local community. Changes become embedded and owned by the community, and part of how things ‘get done’.

A great example of this is the toilet block, and sustainable sanitary towel project – part of EdUKAid’s inclusion initiatives. Children in Mtwara face many barriers to go to school, but girls often deal with unseen issues which can cause them to stop engaging with education and even stop going to school altogether. When they begin to menstruate, girls need both sanitary protection and a toilet to change this at school. This can seem insurmountable to many girls living in rural areas who may not be able to afford sanitary towels and have nowhere during a long school day to change their sanitary pad so they can stay at school. They also face additional shame in a conservative society – some girls simply stop going to school at all. I attended a workshop which tries to deal with some of these issues, initiated at the request of the local community, which had identified the higher rate of attrition from upper primary and transition rates for girls to secondary school.

The workshop gathered together important stakeholders in girls’ education and community lives to work together in groups: teachers, village elders, tailors. They worked together to make a reusable sanitary pad which could be distributed to girls in schools; by making the pad themselves they were then able to teach girls how to make the pads at a later time or create these as an income generating activity. Bringing these important people from several villages together also allowed them to discuss issues relating to menstruation and how it excludes girls factually, and without stigma, to find and share solutions that would keep girls in schools.

School toilet blocks also make a huge contribution to the inclusion of girls. I went to a parents’ meeting about this at a school near Mikindani with Emmanuel Sanga, Programme Director (see picture below). As with the sanitary towel workshop, the local community had identified the issue of girls’ attendance as a particular and specific issue for their local schools, and EdUKAid was working in tandem with community and village stakeholders to solve this problem structurally. The meeting I attended was an ‘awareness raising’ one – creating awareness in the community of the project, asking for help and support (many parents and village members will help with infrastructure work), and taking feedback on position of the toilets and other logistical issues. Many parents volunteered to help, and there was a general and palpable excitement about the new building which would help girls in this community stay in school for longer and make the transition to secondary schools. As with the sanitary pad workshop, talking openly and logistically about the issues girls face when they start menstruating also goes a long way towards destigmatizing them, and supports communities in finding workable solutions. Mr Sanga explained the localized and collaborative approach to me later:

We create awareness in the community, we involve communities in school activities, and parents in schools … Especially when we introduce our projects, we want the community to own that project. We have been working with the schools for 20 years now. Initially some people thought that the projects were about helping, not about partnerships and participation and collaboration to overcome challenges. It is the reason why at EdUKaid we don’t do any projects which don’t have community involvement.

Parent and community meeting about the proposed building of new toilet blocks for girls.

Another example of EdUKAid partnership work: clean water and sanitation provision ensures children don’t get sick and miss school.

A new pre-primary school which built by EdUKAid in collaboration with parents and the school. Pre-primary children had previously been taught in the banda (shelter) at the front of the picture, meaning children would miss lessons for two months during the rainy season. While pre-primary education is fee-free, schools do not always have enough government funding to ensure that children have a place to learn in.   

This collaborative and community-based approach is also taken in the work EdUKAid do in preschools themselves. I visited 6 primary schools in total, and observed many literacy and numeracy lessons in which teachers make huge efforts to include all children, work with local and sustainable materials, and create engaging and colourful environments in which young children can learn. Although nominally preschool is free in Tanzania, government funding does not adequately cover the costs of training, salaries, teaching and learning materials and food for children to attend preschools. This makes it difficult for schools to find extra resources for children’s learning, including basic infrastructure. Given that Mtwara is rural and many families struggle to find income for learning resources for their children such as books and other learning materials, children’s learning experiences in preschools are critical to their future educational outcomes. EdUKAid have worked with parents to create solutions to some of these issues, leveraging community and parental support to make teaching resources which I saw being used in classrooms – this again raises awareness of the importance of preschool education in local families.

A pre-primary (5-6 years old) reading class in an EdUKAid supported school. Children learn basic reading and writing skills in pre-primary which helps to prepare them for primary school and learn more quickly in a large class. I found children ready and excited to learn and achieving well.     

While children in Mtwara district still face many challenges in achieving the same kind of educational outcomes as their peers in other areas of Tanzania, it was clear from the projects I saw while doing my own research that local communities have great power to find sustainable solutions to these problems. EdUKAid are doing a remarkable job at collaborating and supporting local communities to leverage those solutions. 

A pre-primary reading and writing class in an EdUKAid supported school.

Written by Kate Fox