Responding to COVID-19 in Kenya

Supporting young children, families and pre-schools during the pandemic

Background: AKF's ECD work in East Africa

In the early 1980s research suggested that particular attention should be paid to the lives of young children – it was recognised that events during the early years (proper care, health, nutrition and education) provided the foundation for children’s later success in school and life. In East Africa, the Aga Khan Foundation began implementing the Madrasa Early Childhood Development Programme (MECP) in one local pre-school involving just a few families and teachers with the aim of supporting children’s early development.

MECP has since grown into a regional initiative involving hundreds of communities and set in motion a rich cascade of activities and changes far beyond the impacts on individual children and families. MECP works with communities, civil society, government, and other development parties to deliver affordable, high quality, gender-responsive, culturally relevant Early Childhood Development (ECD) interventions for children aged 0-8.

Over the last decade, MECPs have been working closely with governments in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to enhance delivery of quality ECD interventions focusing on supporting front-line workers in health and in pre-primary education.

Specifically, the MECPs have been working with national and subnational governments to influence ECD policy and practice including strengthening teaching practices through provision of high quality teacher training. To date, MECP has trained over 6,000 teachers, reaching over 270,000 boys and girls through the delivery of the MECP pre-primary model and nearly 400,000 through the delivery of technical advisory services.

Challenge in Kenya: a generation of young children at risk

When the pandemic struck Kenya in March 2020, the government ordered a complete lockdown, including the closure of all schools and early childhood care centres. With a generation of very young children at risk of having their development and education disrupted, MECP-K’s dedication and commitment to supporting educators, families and children became as important as ever.

MECP-K partnered with the Ministry of Education, Comic Relief, Foundations for Learning (F4L), the LEGO Foundation and Global Affairs Canada (GAC) to develop new solutions and adapt existing programming to support educators, families, and children during these particularly difficult times.

These context-specific works build on a suite of resources that were rapidly developed by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) at the outbreak of the crisis to help educators and families support children to learn at home. The resources include activities and lesson plans, as well as guidance and support for mental health and wellbeing.

Early Childhood Development in Kenya

Pre-pandemic images from the Madrasa Early Childhood Programme.

Response: developing resources and adapting programmes to support learning from home

As schools and care centres closed, MECP-K had to work quickly to ensure continuity of care for young children and their families. Whilst the approach across all of AKF’s geographies was similar, in each location AKF and partners worked to ensure that the response addressed context-specific needs and circumstances.


Rapid Assessment Surveys

Immediately following school closures, F4L and GAC supported MECP-K in conducting two rapid assessment surveys with 17 ECD Officers, 67 ECD teachers and 263 parents throughout four counties to determine stakeholders’ concerns and respond accordingly. Findings indicated anxieties around reduced learning opportunities for children and parents’ desire to best support their out-of-school children. The surveys also assessed community awareness of how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and revealed the need to tackle misinformation in some areas.


Creating and distributing ECD and health resources

In some communities, particularly in the early days of the pandemic, there was confusion about how the virus was spread. MECP-K identified that reliable information about COVID-19 needed to be distributed widely. They created colourful posters to communicate eight key messages adapted from the AKDN COVID-19 Response Framework. Posters aimed to raise awareness about the virus, how to minimise the transmission of coronavirus, how to deal with stress, ways for families to practice good self-care during the pandemic, parenting tips for engaging with children, and activities and ideas to support their children’s at-home learning.

MECP-K distributed the posters digitally through social media, WhatsApp and SMS, reaching 857 parents and caregivers. A total of 480 posters were printed and displayed in community centres, clinics, and schools to reach those without access to digital platforms or mainstream media channels.

Resource packages for Home-Learning

MECP-K collaborated with Kwale, Mombasa and Kilifi county governments to identify 30 teachers from each county to develop and distribute key messages for families on making play items, creating a routine and the importance of physical exercise. Each teacher was in charge of distributing these core messages and checking in with parents through phone calls or over WhatsApp, and through occasional home visits. This initiative directly reached 857 families throughout 3 counties.

Additionally, 20 MECP alumni preschool teachers were engaged to work remotely to develop and deliver learning resources to support pre-primary level children’s home-learning. They exchanged ideas, shared photos of the resources they developed, and provided peer-to-peer support over a WhatsApp group chat. Together, they created a resource package with a variety of play-based learning games and activities.

The resource book contains more than 30 activities that foster early academic skills including language, mathematics, environmental science, and religion as well as promote psychomotor development, creativity, and emotional and social skills. Each activity includes a set of expected learning outcomes, instructions, a list of low-cost materials that can be easily found at home. The messages benefitted 776 parents and community members, 892 Children, 78 ECD teachers and ten ECD Officers. Parents, caregivers and educators can continue being active participants in a child’s early development and education by continuing these home learning activities even after children return to school.

The Aga Khan Foundation is committed to making our resources free and open-sourced, so that we can share knowledge and learning – not just throughout our communities, but with peers, development professionals and partner organisations.

Please visit AKF’s Learning Hub to access a wide variety of resources, including the resources discussed here.

Related articles, stories, and factsheets