Most weekday mornings, four-year-old Khamis Ame Khamis drinks his porridge, bathes, and heads 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 is not aware of as he passes the thatched-roof homes is that the entire community has come together to give 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 learning center in 2008 with the support of EDC’s 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, old enough to travel the distance to the formal school on their own.
RISE has helped 280 communities to open preschool learning centers. The effort supports the Government of Zanzibar—a semi-autonomous archipelago in Tanzania—in reaching 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 fully administered by the Government of Zanzibar, reaches more than 20,000 children per year.
Back at school, Khamis joins a circle of four- and five-year-olds in the shade of an open-air shelter. Their RISE-trained community teacher sets a bright blue radio on a floor mat and turns the volume on high. Familiar music fills the air and class begins.
The children write with rocks and chalk on their slates, led by an interactive radio instruction (IRI) program called Tucheze Tujifunze. The series was developed through the efforts of RISE, a partnership between Zanzibar’s Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MoEVT) and EDC, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
RISE and MoEVT worked closely with Zanzibari educators to develop Tucheze Tujifunze—which means “Play to Learn”—for Zanzibari students. That collaboration has proven crucial for the continuation of the project’s activities after the conclusion of EDC’s and USAID’s involvement in May 2010.
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.
A recent study showed that grade 1 students who had attended a preschool learning center, such as Kisongoni, scored higher than their counterparts who did not attend preschool. Further, grade 1 students who listened to IRI programs scored 10 percent higher than students in classrooms that didn’t use IRI.
Originally published on October 18, 2010