Today Francis and I got to talking about early childhood development (ECD). He was stressing the importance of the early years and said, ”You don’t cut a tree from the top, do you? No… you must ensure a child is fully cooked.”  While that mix of sentiments had me laughing, his point rang true. A child’s educational foundation and early development creates stabilizing roots in many ways.

Many of the kids here have not developed a strong foundation because the schools themselves are weak. At Taragwiti and other rural schools in the division, baby classes, nursery classes and the early primary classes often have unmanageable student teacher ratios, insufficient resources, and other elements that pose major hurdles to quality education. As the Nuru education team works to design a school management plan that will transform Taragwiti into a model for the division, we have to ensure that we develop a strong base for those just entering school while also making up for lost time with the older students.

As we hone in on child literacy and the management structure and interventions needed to affect change against that poverty indicator, we need to pick the most effective approach. Some schools choose to build a system that focuses significant energy on ECD – creating that foundation – and necessitates student retention and continuity. These schools have a very strict enrollment process, admitting only a few students per year who successfully pass screening tests and interviews. The schools that have mastered this approach and have strong leadership rank among the highest in the division in terms of academic performance. They are also inaccessible to many.

While this approach is effective, I believe our approach should also account for kids with flawed or nonexistent educational foundations. Our goal is to create a model for schools throughout the division that are similarly weak, under-resourced and poor performing; schools that tend to serve the poorest of the poor. These schools are full of students who lack a strong academic base.  In answer to this need, our team is working to develop an attack-from-all-sides approach that targets ECD but also addresses the needs of those students who are past the ECD level and behind.

Right now, Francis and I are visiting schools to learn what is working and what is not. We visited Duveskog yesterday and were both impressed with their leadership and academic performance. They face the same obstacles as other rural schools, and yet are the best performing public school in the division. They maintain very high academic standards and mentor their teachers to strive for excellence. Because of their success, students travel great distances, some even relocating, to attend Duveskog.

Duveskog’s school day is packed from 6 am to 6 pm. Despite the fact that they are unable to offer a feeding program, students are eager to learn and immerse themselves in the supplemental activities Duveskog offers – things like debate, drama, music, essay writing competitions and athletics. The government curriculum is augmented by tutoring sessions twice daily, ensuring that no child falls behind and that the entire student body exceeds the standards established by the government. As a result, the head teacher’s desk is completely covered with trophies.

Schools like Duveskog offer examples of outstanding leadership, teacher commitment, academic excellence and student engagement that are invaluable as we develop the sponsor school. Other schools offer examples of what to avoid. I hope we can continue to fuel collaboration and idea sharing between school leaders and teachers. It will help us carve out the correct path forward… and it will set the stage for replicating the things that work and rooting out what doesn’t.