Most weekday mornings, four-year old Khamis Ame Khamis drinks his porridge, bathes, and leaves his home headed for Kisongoni Learning Center in Zanzibar’s Kinyasini village. He nimbly negotiates the unpaved paths, looking forward to his lessons. Khamis knows that when he gets to Kisongoni he will join about 20 peers, with whom he will sing songs and play games while learning his numbers, letters, and sounds. What he may not be aware of as he passes the other thatched roof homes is the effort the community put into giving Khamis and his friends the opportunity to attend Kisongoni.
“We have worked together closely as teachers, parents, and children,” says Khatibu Khamis Hamadi, a village leader who helped establish the center in 2008 with the support of the Radio Instruction to Strengthen Education (RISE) project. Before that time, Khamis and his classmates would have stayed at home until they were eight or nine and able to travel the distance to the formal school on their own. If the learning center were not there, in fact, “Khamis would just be hanging around,” says his mother, Stara Haji Juma.
Including Kisongoni, RISE has helped 180 communities open preschool learning centers in order to help the Government of Zanzibar--a semi-autonomous archipelago in Tanzania--reach its goal of making two years of preschool a compulsory part of basic education for all Zanzibari children. RISE also supports 120 grade 1 and 120 grade 2 formal classrooms. The project now reaches more than 20,000 children per year.
K is for Kima: Learning by Radio
Roosters crow boisterously as Khamis takes his place in a circle of four- and five-year-olds shaded by an open-air shelter. Their RISE-trained community teacher sets a bright blue radio on one of the floor mats and turns the volume on high. Familiar music fills the air and class begins.
Soon, five-year-old radio characters Hamadi and Tatu lead the children listeners through a local forest. Hearing an animal call cackle from the radio and imagining they are with Hamadi and Tatu in the forest, the boy and girl listeners imitate the call, then act out swinging through the trees. “Kima,” they say when asked to identify the animal, using the Kiswahili word for monkey. As Hamadi and Tatu find rocks and write the letter “k” for kima on the jungle floor, Khamis and his friends do the same, writing with rocks and then chalk on their slates.
Hamadi and Tatu are the stars of an Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) series entitled Tucheze Tujifunze. IRI uses radio to deliver high quality educational content that helps students learn and teachers teach effectively. The series is brought to schools and learning centers through the efforts of RISE, a partnership between Zanzibar’s Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MoEVT) and EDC, with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Zanzibari educators with RISE and MoEVT carefully developed Tucheze Tujifunze, which means Play to Learn, for Zanzibari students, using child-friendly teaching methods. Working hand in hand, EDC and MoEVT mobilized communities, established learning centers, and trained teachers. MoEVT officials, with RISE’s support, have tested learners using the IRI program and those in other settings to measure the project’s impact.
With the project coming to an end later this year, that collaboration will be crucial for the continuation of RISE’s activities; the government is committed to supporting the learning centers. In short, says MoEVT’s Principal Secretary, Ms. Mwanaidi Saleh Abdalla, “Collaboration between EDC and MoEVT from start to finish has helped ensure that Interactive Radio Instruction achievements are sustainable and can be fully integrated into MoEVT’s activities.” With MoEVT’s strong, capable backing, Khamis and his classmates can expect centers like Kisongoni to remain open for their younger siblings and beyond.
‘I know she is learning’: Improved Preparation for Primary School
After singing Tucheze Tujifunze’s closing song, Khamis and the other children stay for more learning activities led by their teacher. Finally, class ends and the children make their way home. The lesson stays with them, though. Tatu Ali Juma, the mother of Khamis’ classmate, Tatu Juma Sheha, has noticed it in her daughter’s behavior. “When she comes home I know she is learning,” Juma says. “She likes to sing the songs she has learned and she loves to write and draw on her own. As a parent, it is really encouraging to see my child learning and developing as much as she has.”
Little Tatu is not alone. A recent study assessing learning gains of grade 1 students shows that students who had previously attended a pre-school learning center like Kisongoni scored higher on average than their counterparts who did not attend pre-school. Further, grade one students in classrooms and non-formal RISE centers listening to IRI programs scored 10 percent higher than students in the classrooms that didn’t use IRI. The largest learning gain was in Kiswahili, but math and English scores were also higher among students participating in IRI lessons.
The parents, teachers, and community members see the impact of preschool education and IRI in person. “Those children who are now starting grade 1 [and who passed through the RISE learning center] have gained good principles and skills, even more than we anticipated,” says village leader Hamadi, “and are doing better than those who went directly into grade 1.”
As for Khamis, Tatu, and the other children, the effect of Tucheze Tujifunze is evident in their songs, in their writing, and especially in their step as they eagerly head toward Kisongoni again the next morning.