Child laborers in Tanzania who participated in the non-formal, radio-based education program, Mambo Elimu, performed as well as students in the state-run public school system, according to recent exam scores from districts where Mambo Elimu was being piloted. Over the past four years, the program, implemented by EDC’s International Development Division (IDD), has grown and taken root in the 10 districts with the highest incidence of child labor in Tanzania. These positive results have convinced the government of Tanzania to take up the program now that the initial funding from the U.S. Department of Labor has ended. The government is currently maintaining more than 175 Mambo Elimu community learning centers established throughout the country, and is broadcasting the radio programs for free.
“Once people in the communities heard about the passing rate of the first cohort, the programs became more popular and the children became more confident. They knew they were enrolled in a program that was solid” says EDC Project Coordinator Suzanne Simard. “And when their children passed the national exam with remarkable results after only two years of schooling, the adults started asking for an adult literacy program as well.”
In Tanzania, where half the population is living in extreme poverty, child labor has become a means of survival for many families. Rural areas are particularly hard hit, with up to one third of local children laboring outside the home in exploitative circumstances as farm workers, miners, domestic servants, and prostitutes. As there are no effective mechanisms to enforce labor laws governing their employment, children routinely work 11 hours a day or more, seven days a week, in hazardous conditions. They are provided inadequate food and lodging and no access to education.
Reaching 10,000 Out-of-School Children
In an effort to bring quality basic education to child laborers and others at risk of being drawn into that life, IDD established a community-based learning initiative across Tanzania, targeting the 10 districts with the highest incidence of child labor. Through support from the U.S. Department of Labor, Mambo Elimu developed and delivered Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) lessons for over 10,000 out-of-school children. IRI is a teaching method developed by EDC that uses radio broadcasts to engage groups of students while their learning is facilitated by onsite teachers. The IRI curriculum includes 400 radio lessons for grades one through four in Swahili, mathematics, English, science, social studies, and essential life skills. Along with the lessons and daily broadcasts, EDC provided solar powered radios, blackboards, print materials, and trainings for mentors. The program has also distributed radios to 1,200 primary schools who are now listening to the program.
The results of the program were impressive: 82-87 percent of the Mambo Elimu students passed the standard national exams, which is comparable to public school students’ scores. When children completed the lessons through the fourth grade, the program assisted them in integrating back into the formal school system or into a vocational program to prepare them for more stable, less dangerous work in the years ahead.
One of the biggest challenges program staff faced was identifying out-of-school children and getting them safely to the centers, given their oppressive work conditions and isolation, says Simard. “We collaborated with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other NGOs to involve whole communities in a comprehensive outreach effort,” she explains. The project developed public awareness campaigns to inform communities about the hazards of child labor, the new educational alternative, and how to help children attend their local program. Staff also identified children who work, negotiated with employers, and then brought the children to the centers.
A Mambo Elimu Classroom
A typical day at a Mambo Elimu center begins with the radio program introducing the day’s activities to an average of 40 children. Each radio segments offers a mix of stories, games, activities, and songs presented by an engaging cast of characters. In addition to the learning activities for students, each program provides support and training for an onsite mentor by outlining the learning objectives for the day. Mentors are guided through the active, child-centered learning methods, which are often new to them. After each broadcast, the mentor turns to a printed guide to lead the children through additional lessons and practice periods. The lessons provide an active, group-learning approach that emphasizes gender fairness and features locally developed materials. The lessons can last up to four hours in total.
According to Simard, the biggest factor in the program’s success was the safe environment it created where vulnerable children felt secure and able to learn. “When mentors and students were asked what the difference was between the Mambo Elimu centers and the other schools, the mentors and children all said the centers are safe, comfortable, and no one gets beaten,” she says. “Kids know they can take risks here, make a mistake, and it will be OK.”
Originally published on June 30, 2006