The power of communities – SDG4

Sustainable Development Goal 4 states:

“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”


Easy to state, but what does it mean and how can we achieve it?

In Tanzania, there are many ‘out of school’ children who are not able to access any type of education due to the location of their homes -many kilometres away from the nearest pre-school or primary school. And if they finally get there -they may not understand much, as the language of instruction is not the children’s home language or mother tongue.

In EQUIP-Tanzania, we have tried to consider the issue from a child’s point of view and have established 1000 school readiness centres with bilingual Community Teaching Assistants (CTAs) volunteering to support these children to access quality educational experiences.

The centres may be quite remote, but at the start of the School Readiness programme where we may expected 15 0r 20 children to join as many as 200 may turn up -anyone from 4 to 12 years of age! Such has been the demand (and official statistics often miss many of the out of school children) that we have suffered from ‘success problems’. The problems exist due to a lack of space and materials and lack of experience for the CTAs, who have done an amazing job in taking on such challenges.

Many headteachers would dearly love to employ CTAs who have such commitment, that when asked if they would like to continue supporting these children after the end of the 12 week SR class -98% of the 1000 CTAs agreed to do so – again voluntarily. We are now trying to provide extra support so that eventually they can be recognised as a pre-school teacher by the Government.

A School Readiness centre demands much support from the community and many communities have stepped up to the challenge. A class may well start under a tree….



due to the interest and demand, community members decide to build a simple structure to protect the children from some of the elements…..


and then finally to start on the road to building a more permanent structure by their own efforts and resources…..


Once they have built the foundations and walls with their own resources the government will take on their proposal and may agree to pay for the roof and basic essentials for a classroom.

Equip-Tanzania are now considering supporting the government to implement their policy of one year pre-school education for 5/6 year olds along with their plans for building of satellite schools for those living in more remote areas.


Watch this space as we revolutionise rural education with 3000 SR centres during 2016. Bringing a taste of quality education to at least 150,000 children.











Chernobyl – birds dropping out of the sky!

Chernobyl – birds dropping out of the sky!

On 26 April 1986, at 01:23 (UTC+3), reactor four suffered a catastrophic power increase, leading to explosions in its core. This dispersed large quantities of radioactive fuel and core materials into the atmosphere and ignited the combustible graphite moderator. The burning graphite moderator increased the emission of radioactive particles, carried by the smoke, as the reactor had not been encased by any kind of hard containment vessel.

But no one knew about it for some time….

…..until birds started to drop out of the sky -dead!

I was teaching at the time and working on a project called School Links International where I was instrumental in developing ‘curriculum links’ with schools around the world.

My class was linked with schools in Kenya, Nigeria , Finland and others.

One morning (just shortly after April 26 1986) children were excited that they had news from their friends in Finland, but also confused, as were the children in Finland. The children in Finland were watching birds dropping out of the sky -and the birds were already dead!They did not know why.

Much later, although news was stifled, the world got to know about the Chernobyl disaster -but our young reporters got to know about the first signs that something terrible had happened, before the news broke.

The power of children communicating with children in other countries.



Location of Chernobyl nuclear power plant


The abandoned city of Pripyat with Chernobyl plant in the distance

I wonder, 40 years on , how those children (now 49/50 year olds) see the news today!







ICT and education in crisis….

ICT and education in crisis situations.

While working in Tanzania I have realised how a simple mobile phone can support education in rural and isolated communities,so I know ICT can make a difference-what about other marginalised learners?

Can Technology Make a Difference for Education in Conflict and Crisis?

Dr. Negin Dahya, University of Washington, commissioned by GIZ and partners

The use of information and communication technology (ICT) has the potential to support, enhance, and enable education for the most marginalized learners in conflict and crisis settings. A recently released Landscape Review fills knowledge gaps about the use of mobile technology in education in emergencies, lessons learned and opportunities.

The full report is also complemented by three self-paced online learning modules on ICT4E with refugees. The learning modules can be downloaded here. The review and learning modules identify major trends, patterns, knowledge gaps and lessons learned about the use of mobile technologies in crisis and conflict settings and synthesizes key themes and considerations for practitioners and policy makers in this field. The online modules also emphasize practical examples.

Click here to access the report.

Timor Leste – rising!

I have just received an email from Jorge, my translator when I started working in Timor Leste (East Timor), who then transformed himself into an excellent trainer. He writes:

I have just returned from Lequidoe sub district (Aileu),  the first place where the 100 Friendly Schools project was piloted. I found no more signs of the 1999 destruction with roofless houses and burnt out schools . I met a healthy young generation with happy faces, motivated, better educated who seem ambitious to take over development from the older people in this particular area.
They enjoy electricity in their villages, own motorbikes and trucks, new buildings, new facilities, new dresses, new and qualified teachers and much more…..
A reminder of what 1999 was like..
“Militia set fire to my house on September 1999. I evacuated to Atambua with my parents. We lived in a refugee camp in Soskoe with many other people. I went back to East Timor with my mother”.
Junito Emilio Soares, “Through the eyes of the Children”- UNICEF.
and the hope for the future:

We believe , the young people who have defended this country have the strength and ability for this very important task. With love and devotion we will succeed in rebuilding our nation from ashes and create a better future that is full of peace, freedom,democracy and justice”.

Joanita Moreira da Silva, “Through the eyes of the children”.UNICEF.

Although it has taken more than 14 years to reach this point, we are all hoping that some stability in the country will provide the economic development that can unite the different factions and maintain the progress outlined by Jorge.
Click on p.10 to get some idea of how the schools looked after the militia had stolen everything and then set fire to the schools to ensure the new nation started with nothing but their determination.
This page is from the 100 Schools Booklet ( designed by Shakun Harris and published by UNICEF) and other pages illustrate the re-building of the education system. Most teachers had left the country (they were Indonesian) and so volunteers came ‘from the rice fields into the classroom’  and were enthusuastic learners.
Our first workshops together produced a wealth of learning aids (from whatever we could find, whether it was an old flip flop to a local adhesive that is found in a tree) and enthusiastic new teachers. Jorge came into his own when he offered to run a session at a workshop and was so well prepared and capable that there was no doubting his future as a trainer.
You can see Jorge at the bottom of page 14
Timor Leste continues to rise……

School is dead – long live Education!

When travelling to different countries you realise that many children are not being served well by their schools and  school systems.

Some children may start to ‘fail’ on entering the first year of primary -why? They don’t speak the language of instruction and little accommodation is made for them.

Some children fail to complete primary school and never gain the literacy that they will need to open doors of new knowledge.

Some children are beaten, humiliated, some sexually abused, all in the name of schooling and one assumes , learning? Certainly not education.

Some children have learning difficulties or live with disability and again are laughed at, humiliated and certainly do not have their learning needs considered.

The behaviours of some teachers and other adults who have the huge responsibility of nurturing children and young people do not belong in the arena of learning.

Behaviours may follow a set of beliefs that are handed down -‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. “children need to be disciplined if they are going to pass tests and exams”

The adult knows best because they were beaten and it did not seem to do them any harm (?).

The good news is that this circus of schooling is just about dead, and certainly dying. The bad news is that it may take some time to wither and die, thus losing opportunities for another generation.

However, we can transform these systems with some extra investment (paid for by reducing the global arms production and trade, so that we all win).

We can start with simple things like having a curriculum with a focus only on health and the environment –  thus saving many lives now (improved health and nutrition, reduced disease, increased brain power) and protecting the planet , its peoples, land, seas and animal populations for the future. So the curriculum is no more a curriculum of the past but a forward looking, problem solving curriculum that supports the development of life skills, resilience and cooperative learning skills that can be used in whatever future situation young people find themselves in.

Information technology tools can be made accessible to all -particularly those living in disadvantaged areas, in rural and isolated communities or  those living with disability, HIV/AIDS and in poverty.

A drive to use solar powered computers and wi fi connections can now bring a world of learning to anyone who is curious ( note the school in the cloud -Mitra) children and adults alike, where learning is driven by relevant questions asked by interested participants.

Anyone willing to give it a try?

The world of philanthropy could become ‘cool’ and provide much needed seed funding to get real ‘learning for all’ up and running and the new breed of curious and enthusiastic young people can take it on from there.

Communities of learning can be realised where learning centres will take over from schools, where participants will be of all ages, not restricted to ‘one grade learning’ and likely to be open 24 hours, 7 days a week so that all can learn when they are at their most productive in terms of individualised body clocks and rhythms. No more will hay fever sufferers have to endure exams always when their hay fever is at their worst, menstruating girls can  decide to focus their attention when they are feeling comfortable not told to perform on certain days and at certain times.

Exams will be found only in history books as will drawings of canes, paddles and other instruments of torture.

Learning will meet the needs of the individual within the context of their community -both local and global – problems of access to food , water, good health and shelter will be solved overnight as many learners will focus their attention on finding solutions to what their families have been enduring for decades. The results of learning will be seen as practical solutions and theories will be derived from this practice to apply to new problems.

Learning will be organic rather than planned and linear , responding to changes both locally and further afield.

Is this a dream? No it can become a reality if enough people get together and find cooperative solutions to schooling systems which , just like the unsinkable Titanic, are slowly sinking under its own weight of inertia and disinterest.

Long live education!


Sustainable Development Goal 4 (i.e. SDG 4.2) – can we achieve it?

Sustainable Development Goal 4, in particular 4.2:

SDG target 4.2: “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.” 

Even this simple statement demands some unpicking – we have been attempting to increase access to primary education for some time, but quality has remained a more difficult goal to achieve. Development,care and education is a bundle of initiatives that are often left wanting due to the lack of coordination between such ministries as Health and Education.

‘they are ready for primary education‘ also suggests that there is a deficiency at the level of the child rather than the system or society. As mentioned in my previous post it is the responsibility of the family, the community and school to ensure that children have the opportunities for their needs to be met in terms of making the most of the education that is available to them.

A starting point could be the consideration of the language of instruction.

Where children do not speak the language of instruction at home -should they be taught in their mother tongue?

Should teachers be trained to learn methods to provide support to second language learners?

Should assessments take into consideration that children have differing language backgrounds i.e. is the system ready for all the children?

The Tanzanian School Readiness Programme has been piloting an approach which starts to address some of these issues. The programme has as its foundations the need for play, singing and story telling, which have been developed from a curriculum framework devised by the Tanzania Institute of Education (2015).

At the core of the 12 week programme is a set of 12 books (one story per week) around which a variety of activities are structured.


Training Community Teaching Assistants in story telling techniques (Dodoma region)

Activities encourage full participation and a belief that learning Kiswahili through singing, talking and playing can provide the foundation for further and lifelong learning.



Children enjoying singing in a School Readiness Centre in Kilwa,Lindi,Tanzania

It is the first week of the new school year and children from the 12 week School Readiness Programme are already showing how they have benefitted from the Programme. District facilitators have been monitoring standard 1 classes this week and have reported that those children who have attended the School Readiness Programme, instead of being scared to come to school, are now eager to ask questions and have shown confidence in learning with others. Even though they do not use Kiswahili at home, they are confident to greet people, count to 10 and understand some of the instructions given by the teacher,in Kiswahili. This is already a huge step forward for many of these children who previously would have had no access to pre-primary education and may  not have the support of their parents to send them to school at all.


Older children really want to learn, but may miss out on opportunities if they live far away from school. School Readiness brings the school to them!

In fact, many of the children who turned up for the first School Readiness class were over age (even as old as 12) as they lived too far away from school and their parents could not witness any benefits of attending school, from other children. Girls,particularly, would have been at risk as the walk to school may not have been safe.

The presence of a number of older age children has brought into focus the larger problem of the number of out of school children, many not known to the authorities and so little provision is made for them.

The commitment of the volunteer Community Teaching Assistants (CTAs) has provided the Gov. of Tanzania with ample evidence that as a human resource for the nation, there are many young people who with their knowledge of the families and  community as well as bilingual skills, are often not given enough opportunities to develop their talents in a meaningful way. By engaging more women CTAs we are also hoping that some will gain more training to become a pre-primary teacher and return to their villages.

TatuKilwa_4596Tatu from Kilwa district (Lindi) one of the Community Teaching Assistants. She is using her new mobile phone for receiving messages about the stories and sending back monitoring information.

Simple mobile phone technology has enabled CTAs, often living and working in isolated rural communities can now receive information about the week’s story as well as providing monitoring data in real time. Monitoring data from such diverse and distant locations is a powerful tool for formative interventions, rather than waiting months for paper based data to find its way home and eventually to be acted upon. Feedback to CTAs can also be almost immediate , if necessary.

District facilitators have taken the initiative to use new technologies to develop and maintain an informal but professional network of facilitators across the country (at least across the seven EQUIP-Tanzania regions from the far north in Mara to the South in Lindi) using What’sApp. The atmosphere created and camaraderie developed, amongst the facilitators during zonal training workshops supported the development of this network. Through this network, a participant in a workshop starting at 9 a.m. in Mara can communicate a photo, comment or video clip to any one across the country by 10.a.m Again a very simple but powerful tool for exchanging views and ideas without any downward pressure from ‘above’  -a pure community of practice!

Just in from the WhatsApp network -we heard that training in SRP approaches have been arranged for all pre-primary teachers in two districts, Tarime TC and DC in Mara.

shinyangaSRPBilikiExcited children attending a School Readiness Class

The Headteachers of these schools were so impressed by the SRP’s  teaching & learning methodologies and also received positive reviews from Standard  1 teachers who observed that children who attended School Readiness  classes were far better than others in-(1)Language proficiency
(2)they are active in classroom discussions,
(3)they are confident(not shy like others),
(4)They are better in classroom mannerism-in
comparison to others who did not attend SR Classes (others would have attended a 1 year GoT pre-primary class and would have lived nearer the school).
The Tarime Town Director attended the  ad-hoc training and was also so impressed that he asked the DEO’s office to come with a proposal so that the rest of the pre primary teachers in his Local Government Area to attend another well structured and longer training.The Director suggested that such training should as well involve the STD 1 teachers and it should be on-going.
This is quite an achievement as we really need to influence standard 1 teachers who tend to be more formal, which does not provide a smooth transition from pre-primary to primary education.



The power of stories and storytelling – in Tanzania!

“A lion walked near the village one night, left its paw prints, and was heard giving its blood curdling roar.

The next morning, all the children refused to go out. The Community Teaching Assistant, walked around to all the homes and encouraged the children to come with her as she said in a convincing manner  -” the School Readiness class is a place of safety for all children”

This was a story told by district facilitators during an oral story telling session as part of a reflection workshop in Dodoma, Tanzania.

Facilitators entered into a range of activities such as ‘learning journeys’  ‘force field’ and ‘community participation cooperative book making’, all punctuated with rounds of


singing and dancing – typical of a School Readiness training session. This heady mix of creativity, story telling, puppet making and singing and dancing enables a truly trusting learning environment where participants work together as a family (as one participant stated).

This learning context has ensured that the quality of training is maintained throughout the cascade, as observed in the most remote School Readiness centres.


More on the impact of School Readiness as the children start primary school in the next post…….



note:A lion  can roar as loud as 114 decibels, about 25 times louder than a gas-powered lawn mower.