Responding to COVID-19 in Tanzania

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 Tanzania: thousands of children at risk of falling behind in the vital early years of education

When the COVID-19 arrived in Tanzania in March 2020, and reached Zanzibar soon after, the government invoked emergency measures, including the closure of all schools and ECD centres. With this new and challenging set of circumstances, MECP-Z’s dedication and commitment to supporting educators, families and children continued with renewed urgency.

MECP-Z worked in partnership with the Norwegian Association of Disabled (NAD) to adapt existing interventions, and developed new partnerships with LEGO Foundation and Global Affairs Canada (GAC) , to respond to the education needs of young children learning at home – in particular children with disabilities.

Early Childhood Development in Tanzania

Pre-pandemic images from the Madrasa Early Childhood Programme in Zanzibar

Response: supporting children with disabilities and helping families to adjust

Raising Awareness on COVID-19 prevention for People with Disabilities

Prior to COVID-19, MECP-Z had partnered with the NAD, the Zanzibar Federation of Disabled People Organisations (SHIJUWAZA) and a host of various government national and local bodies to implement Community-Based Inclusive Development projects aimed at airing the voices of people with disability. These projects included a campaign to engage parents in discussions about inclusive education, providing information about health services available for children with disabilities, and a teacher-training programme designed specifically for children with disabilities.

At the onset of the pandemic, there was a lack of disability inclusion in the region’s COVID-19 response. MECP-Z worked with Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs) to interview 132 stakeholders to assess the pandemic-related barriers that people with disabilities would encounter. They reported difficulties in accessing important health messages pertaining to COVID-19 prevention, social protection measures and remote learning resources were also inaccessible to students with disabilities.

MECP-Z, in collaboration with SHIJUWAZA, developed a COVID-19 guide to help stakeholders understand the roles and responsibilities each actor has in protecting people with disability, including children, during and beyond COVID-19. The final guideline was published in the local newspaper, the Zanzibar Leo, and published into booklets that were distributed to officials in the Second Vice President office, local government authorities, the Ministry of Health and each of the 11 districts of Unguja and Pemba.


Making Remote Learning initiatives inclusive

Information about the virus was spread over the radio and on TV, but people with hearing impairments were largely left out. MECP-Z and NAD successfully advocated for commercials with general information about COVID-19 be developed with sign language so that people with hearing impairments could access basic and preventive information. Students with hearing impairments were also initially excluded from the educational TV programmes developed to help children learn while schools were closed. MECP-Z and partners worked with content producers to add sign language interpretation to a total of 187 educational TV programmes, several of which were intended specifically for pre-primary level children. An estimated 36,000 children of all ages accessed the educational televised programmes. Additionally, 25 primary and secondary school children with visual impairment were provided with braille notes of all subjects.

Radio Programmes

In partnership with the Tanzania Institute of Education, MECP-Z adapted the national pre-school curriculum into 30 radio shows. Each episode promotes Learning Through Play and gender sensitive activities, stories and songs specifically designed for children under the age of five to help children strengthen essential early learning skills like counting, the alphabet, singing and storytelling.

The live programmes also allocated time for listeners to call in to ask questions and discuss any queries or concerns. The programmes aired on Mashujaa Radio FM, the most popular radio station in Southern Tanzania and the only station with the frequency to reach the most rural areas in Southern Tanzania, as well as on 15 other local stations. One episode, aired in October, focused on nutrition and the benefits of eating fruit, and attracted 66,100 listeners. All the programmes were recorded and are accessible online and offline.


Make a Toy Workshop

Common conditions that often have compounding impacts on children’s development include limited responsive caregiving and lack of early learning opportunities – the latter of which has been significantly exacerbated by the pandemic. MECP-Z conducted a four day “Make a Toy” teacher training workshop with an overall objective to increase play-based learning at home. 60 ECD teachers were engaged to develop handmade learning resources and toys to support pre-primary children’s home-learning. They created and printed out manuals with easy to follow instructions that parents and teachers can use to create ten toys out of easily found materials. The ECD teachers then returned to their communities and conducted training for 386 preschool teachers, 2,594 caregivers, and 60 government officials. Attendees learned how to create materials that they can use to support a child’s learning, growth and development. Collectively, over 8,500 children from 113 schools benefited from the initiative.

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.

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