Asante Africa Foundation Presents at the CIES 2022 Conference

Apr 9, 2022

Sharing Lessons Learned on a Global Level

The 66th annual Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) conference will be held from April 18 – 22, 2022.

Six thought leaders from Asante Africa Foundation have presented papers that offer reflections and analyses that make clear the importance of this conference.

They also share the impact our organization has at the most grass roots level for the rural adolescents, youth and their families.

As you read these abstracts, you will engage with some of the authors’ reflections on innovations, novel approaches, and lessons learned that have been gained through interventions in East Africa’s education sector.

Lessons that will shape the authors’ engagements at the CIES conference.

Child Safe Learning Continues Outside of the Traditional School Environment

Geoffrey Kasangaki, Country Director, Uganda and Byrone Wayodi, Director of Global Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning

Presentation Date: Friday, April 22, 2022

Throughout 2020/21, over 76% of students in Uganda were unable to sit in a classroom. Education systems have responded to this unprecedented challenge with speed, adaptability, and imagination. Prior to COVID-19, ‘schools’ were simply buildings that grouped people together according to certain criteria. Post COVID-19, digitizing the existing curriculum wasn’t enough. What it means for children to learn has shifted as we “figure it out” for the better.

In 2020/21, the organization partnered with community stakeholders in rural Kassanda and Kyenjojo districts, Uganda to establish community learning centers, in churches, health centers, family compounds, or just a supervised space under trees. Approximated 87 Learning groups, comprising 15-20 youth, met weekly or more frequently for lesson modules, activities, and project-based learning. The groups were composed of younger children ages 8-13 or teens ages 14-20.

Many of the previous school-based club members, now graduated, stepped up to become educators, leading a group while seeking experts and mentors for technical topics. During the implementation we provided necessary materials, hard copy, and digital educational content, health and hygiene kits to these learning groups.

FINDINGS: Community engagement and active participation in the co-creating the local solution: Amidst the strict lockdown guidance, the district government and local community authorities deemed the learning group method to be appropriately safe and healthy, offering the NGO permission to undertake activities, and parents accepting their children to be part of the groups for social support and to continue learning.

The community came together contributing resources such as; professional skills, meeting facilities, food, collectively creating a fast response and low cost approach to child safety and learning. For example, psychosocial support was offered in partnership with experts in the field residing in these communities.

Youth took personal learning responsibility. The crisis created a learning challenge that created opportunities for a diverse student population to collectively co-create lessons to support continuous learning. These groups became a way of staying close to children and their families for their daily needs and challenges. This resulted in hygiene and food packages being delivered to those with greatest needs.

Family involvement critical to learning outcomes: In parallel with the youth learning groups, family engagement discussions were routinely facilitated on how to keep the students safe during the pandemic. Local language materials were developed to educate the parents and their communities.

Introduced digital tools and content stimulated regular active group engagement. Youth, family members, and local leaders became acutely aware of the existing digital divide and the learning potential with the necessary tools. The community quickly grasped the importance of access to low cost digital tools for access to content, assessments, and online lessons. Collectively all are now working at local levels to close the digital gap (power, devices, and technical expertise).

This panel will present evidence based learning on low cost, community led, and child safe approaches that keep children on the path to learning, even in the midst of a pandemic or any large scale emergency.

“Bridging the Gap” Project Ensuring Smooth Transition to Secondary School for At Risk Rural Youth

Theopista Seuya, Country Director, Tanzania
Presentation Date: Thursday, April 21, 2022

Most adolescent youth from rural communities in East Africa are hopeful to transition to secondary school. The Tanzania Education Sector Performance Report Sept ‘21 shows the pre-pandemic net enrollment to lower secondary school is 27% for rural youth. For Tanzanian youth, one of the key deterrents to quality learning and positive outcomes in secondary school is the language of instruction; English. The primary school curriculum is taught in Swahili hence their proficiency, confidence, and understanding in English is low. Additionally, most rural children cannot afford Secondary School admission; exacerbated losses in family livelihoods, businesses failures and, in some cases, death of family breadwinners.

The “Bridging the Gap Project” is embedded within the Wezesha Vijana (“Empower Youth”) Adolescent Program; a tested, rights-based intervention that builds adolescent girls’ health and social and economic assets to keep them in school and build skills and knowledge for healthier lives. Our pre-Form One preparatory program bridges the transition for students that studied in Swahili-speaking government schools, to prepare them for secondary schools taught in English. Program co-developed with youth, teachers, and parents to ensure inclusivity by strengthening learning skills and reducing risks of secondary school drop-out.

In 2021, this 11-week program supported 120 graduating primary school students to strengthen proficiency in English as the learning language. This was combined with math, science, and basic digital training. Participatory learning is enhanced through extracurricular activities including sports and games, English debate that improves confidence, and help them set clear personal goals. Because this project has an activity-based approach deepening learnings.

This project is building off of two previous pilots and proof of concepts that were cut short due to the pandemic. In 2019, we learned that the greatest academic improvements were due to proficiency in English as the foundational language of instruction, and Mathematics as the foundational language of business and financial literacy. In our proof-of-concept initiative in 2018 and 2019, this methodology resulted in more confident, high-achieving pupils in Form One with fewer dropouts, particularly amongst girls. There is a noticeable change in how critically and logically these students are solving challenges within their learning environments.

As the new 2022 school year opens in January, It is anticipated that we will achieve a higher transition rate with greater academic success including: increase in children who attend and stay in school, and increased critical thinking, digital literacy, and 21st century skills. Throughout the program and the follow up we will monitor and evaluate Increased understanding in saving and budgeting, personal health and hygiene, and knowing your rights. The youth will experience better quality of life and livelihoods such as developing leadership skills, securing better paying jobs and starting businesses, and reducing poverty through financial contribution.

This paper will share learnings, recommendations, and challenges with the global education community striving to support youth returning to the learning environment with confidence, and capable of managing past traumas and academic stresses.

Positioning and Prioritizing Life Skills in Tanzania: The Values and Life Skills Cluster

Richard Mabala, Chairman of Asante Africa Foundation, Tanzania Board
Presentation Date: Thursday April 21, 2022

Organizer: Khadija Shariff,
Presenters: Richard Mabala, TAMASHA, Doreen Matekele Values and Life Skills Cluster Assistant Lead, Khadija Shariff, Milele Zanzibar Foundation

Life skills and socio emotional learning are competencies that have been increasingly gaining attention and interest in education systems globally. Although they emerged originally in the field of psychiatry, life skills erupted into the educational world in the 1980s and 1990s as a result of the awareness that mere provision of knowledge was insufficient to bring about any significant behaviour changes hence the need to address attitudes and skills as well. Thus, life skills became a part of educational curricula in many countries connected with SRH and HIV and AIDS.

However, in most cases life skills were just ‘integrated’ into other content subjects, such as Biology, with the result that the emphasis was more on the content than the skills. More recently, in various international meetings and documents, psychosocial life skills have been re-christened 21st Century skills with an emphasis on flexibility and employability.

In Tanzania, even before the advent of HIV/AIDS and the inclusion of life skills inresponse, life skills were embedded within the foundation of post-colonial education emphasized by the policy of Education for Self-Reliance espoused by the first president of the United Republic of Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere. Together with an emphasis on work skills which taught students to do hands on activities, and individual creative and critical thinking.

This philosophy declined over the years, but life skills have reappeared to address the Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) as well as HIV/AIDS which reached its culmination in the 2010 National Life Skills Framework. More recently, the Tanzanian government’s interest in life skills and 21st century competencies can be illustrated and is evident in the objectives outlined in the secondary education curriculum in Tanzania which aims “to develop and promote self-confidence and an inquiring mind, an understanding and respect for human dignity, human rights and a readiness to work hard for self-advancement and national improvement”.

Despite this and the expressed interest for developing competency based curriculum, to date life skills continues to be “included” in biology, and more as content rather than competency. This is exacerbated by the fascination with high stakes examinations and school and pupil rankings which ultimately impede their ability to develop these competencies. As a result, students are taught through rote memorization and instead being able to think critically and independently.

A growing awareness of the broader application of life skills and socio-emotional learning in Tanzania is evidenced, for example by the UNICEF backed National Strategy to Re-energise and Optimise Life Skills Education in Tanzania which hardly mentions SRH and HIV and AIDS at all and puts emphasis on 21st Century Skills. However, despite official acceptance and a long list of pertinent recommendations, little has changed as far as adoption and application of life skills in the curriculum. Written documents and spoken intentions are not sufficient enough to transform the teaching and learning of life skills in Tanzania.

The Values and life skills Cluster Tanzania (VaLI TZ), a subgroup of the Regional Education Learning Initiative (RELI) was formed in 2017 and is composed of 10 member organizations working on life skills in different contexts in Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar. VaLI TZ is concerned with a) learning what works in nurturing life skills, b) using evidence to advocate for what works in life skills and c) understanding how to best measure life skills in context. In its effort to promote the importance of life skills education for children and adolescents both in and out of school, the Vali TZ cluster has conducted a situational analysis of the challenges and opportunities present in the life skills sector in Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar.

The study has sought to look into how key stakeholders from both government, CSOs, NGOs as well as parents, teacher and community at large, view the status of life skills in Tanzania, what challenges they experience and foresee in implementing life skills and how these issues should be addressed in order to strengthen life skills education in Tanzania. The parents, teachers and students also shared what the challenges are from their perspective and how to tackle them at the grassroots level.

Out of this stakeholder analysis VaLI TZ came up with 5 main positions for what needs to happen to put life skills education in its rightful place as a top priority for the ultimate benefit of the Tanzania children.

The 5 positions are:

  1. Parental Engagement and Awareness building: The study found that parents continue to view life skills as related to SRH rather than the competencies that can help their children succeed in the world today.
  2. Teacher Training and Development: Teachers are neither trained nor well prepared, mentored or supported to build life skills and 21st century skills yet they are the first to blame for not imparting the skills correctly.
  3. Curriculum Reform: Although life skills are mentioned in the secondary curriculum, it is currently included within a carrier subject.
  4. Out of School education/engagement: Life skills are not only taught at school, they are also taught at home or in the community, however, few efforts have been adopted to create a linkage between youth who learn in and out of school setting.
  5. Collaboration and Coordination: Life skills is relevant to a number of Ministries including education, health, and youth each of which sits in a different Ministry, only is it unclear who is the lead Ministry in charge of coordination and encouraging alignment.

This paper will discuss these positions as proposed priority areas for government and other relevant stakeholders to focus on in order to transform the life skills and SEL learning landscape in Tanzania. Each position is structured in terms of a current status, challenges and strategies for implementing and operationalizing each position.

Leveraging Youth’s Creativity, Problem Solving and Resilience Throughout the Pandemic

Gloria Richard Mushi, Youth Livelihoods Coordinator, Tanzania  – AsanteAfrica Foundation
Friday, April 22, 2022
Presenter: Gloria Mushi,  Youth Livelihoods Program Coordinator;
Julieth Kweka, Gender Program Coordinator

It is evident that a pandemic such as COVID-19 exacerbated the daily struggles’ that the youths go through in their quest to find suitable positions in the world of work. It is an obligation for the key implementers, agencies and governments to interrogate further that in addition to the skills acquired, what skills have we impacted upon our youths to be able to cope and gain resilience, and achieve long term economic success amidst the challenging situations through the creation of Youth-Led innovations. Our Evidence Based Approach has presented a practical solution incorporated in youth program models, training and approaches to embrace practices that are adaptive to the ever growing and ever-changing youth economic, industrial, technology and social needs.

Though the pandemic has brought about huge losses in family livelihoods further exacerbated by job losses, shut down of businesses and in some cases the death of family breadwinners. For a number of youths, this was a period of unprecedented disruption of learning, to which some youths and children may never have the chance to go back to schools, colleges and universities. Yet, the evaluation shows that youth have been adaptive to changing economic, environmental and social situations as they have shown resilience and positioning themselves as change makers in the wake of emergencies.

This paper will draw lessons and showcase the efforts shown by youths across East Africa regions documented in a third party evaluation conducted in three East Africa countries in early 2021. These achievements have combat the economic effects of the pandemic within their communities/personal livelihoods. 230 youths empowered through the Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Incubator (LEI) program various income generating activities; that served to reduce their vulnerability and of their community members to the effects of the epidemic, strengthened their personal resilience post epidemic and stimulated their livelihoods.

As a result of the businesses initiated, 35% of the youth reported that they now support the basic needs within their family household such as food items, shelter, and school learning materials for their siblings. 34% of respondents stated that their enterprises had helped reduce household expenses while 20% reported increased income, and 20% stated that they were still receiving benefits from their ventures.

There were numerous “collateral benefits” that links to the youth Leadership and entrepreneurial skills delivered to the rural youths can be replicated further and also draw perspectives from the government officials on what country specific youth development policies are available and how such policy conversations with key government officials and stakeholders can help to empower and sustain these youth initiatives during and beyond the epidemic. Youth translated challenge to opportunity doing good for their communities, and finding their own livelihoods through such initiatives.

Bringing Quality Education to the Hand of Every Child through Digital Tools and Skills

Simon Mwangangi
Presentation Date: Fri, April 22, 2022

Global access to education by children and youth remains a challenge. In 2019, a UNESCO report shows that a sixth of this global population was out of school. By the end of 2020 over 2.1 billion children were out of schools following closure of learning institutions. Locally, nationally, globally, digital learning must be accelerated to reach every child irrespective of their location, social status, financial status or whether they are in school or not. The lessons learnt from this experience can lift 258.4 million youth and adolescents , if as a community we can work together and accelerate digital tool inclusion.

Globally, education stakeholders have recognized the critical need for a new way of children learning supported by educators and family members. This demands a new definition of the teacher- student relationship in and out of a four walled classroom, and a strengthened role of parents in their child’s education. During the pandemic, community-based learning groups supported by digital content provided insights. Digital tools and usage can improve learning outcomes AND improve the general learning experience of the learner.

The following are some of the ways:

  1. Improve the quality of the content learner’s access.
  2. Improving how educators interact with learners
  3. Improve how educators access learning Instructional core content.
  4. Improve the way Parents interact and support their children.

This NGO, working across UG, KE, and TZ, has architected and developed an integrated solution to provide inclusive access to learning, both academic and life skills for youth in marginalized areas post the pandemic.  The solution makes use of locally curated Open-Source content and Kolibri, a Learning Management system (LMS) leveraging low-cost digital devices, and an implementation framework supporting gradual skill development to ensure all stakeholders develop skills over time, mastery, and then take lead in peer to peer mentoring of children.

This paper will provide relevant data and analysis, coming from three countries and over 30 districts, all in rural limited learning context. An external evaluation in early 2021 assessing our pandemic education methods indicated that 82.6% of learners continued learning if they had digital access and content. Learnings highlighted include low-cost devices, teacher capacity building, and tighter national syllabus alignment  yet versatile and relevant content with limited or no need for connectivity with alternative power sources.  

As the global community re-emerges from the pandemic, our evidence will contribute to the knowledge sharing of digitally supported education programs in the rural context and low-cost model that is contextualized and openly available to educators, learners, and policymakers. Collectively, as we learn from each other, our localized efforts can be accelerated while making a global impact.

Leading from Disruption to a ‘Better Normal’ in Education

Erna Grasz, CEO
Thursday, April 21, 2022

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, so do the risks, challenges, and opportunities we face. The COVID-19 pandemic affected all people regardless of nationality, level of education, income, or gender. But that has not been true for its consequences, which have affected the most vulnerable. Education has been no exception. Those from privileged backgrounds found their way around closed school doors to alternative learning opportunities, supported by their parents, and eager to learn. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds remained shut out when schools shut down. The government-supported schools and most NGOs supporting education in the developing world were no exception to the COVID-19 school closures. As we slowly emerge from the pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to rethink our approaches to educating our most vulnerable young people.

There are many common themes in the challenges of providing quality education and economic opportunities to at-risk youth. Systemic cultural and governmental practices frequently perpetuate the status quo keeping disadvantaged youth, especially girls, from a quality education and the economic opportunities to emerge from poverty.

Accelerated learning in an effort to re-enter the formal learning environment and preventing “dropouts” before they happen are the topics of this panel. We present three papers describing efforts to counter these persistent downward trends in re-integrating children into the learning system. The “Speed School” paper discusses how pedagogy promotes strong student engagement in the learning process, which unlocks the learning and creative potential of former school dropouts and assists them in re-entering formal education. A second paper delivering randomized control trial data will convey evidence and recommendations in utilizing these principles of culturally responsive social, creative and emotional learning to promote student agency in learning.

The “Bridging the Gap” paper illustrates a model to prevent drop-outs for at risk adolescents, particularly girls, through the most difficult transition from primary to secondary school. This paper has assessed the greatest influences of the transition drop out rate and refined a multi week “prep” program tackling those same influences.

While these efforts are a work in progress, there is compelling evidence that these programs are working to fundamentally change the “education landscape” as we have historically known it. Collectively we can establish effective, sustainable, solutions that embrace community and government support to transform educational norms in disadvantaged communities.

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