Monday, August 1st marked the grand opening of the Nuru learning center. Schools are currently closed for break and usually youth are idle or put to work during this time. Our goal is to harness that idle time and provide a productive, engaging learning environment.

53 children arrived early that Monday morning curious to see what the learning center had to offer. The team conducted a series of programs throughout the day including writing workshops, creative workshops and free tutoring. The children’s library was also open and staffed with facilitators who circulated throughout the room helping youth deconstruct words and understand concepts, reading to and with them, and teaching them how to use a children’s dictionary to find words they weren’t familiar with.

By Tuesday, the attendance had already risen to 143. The group was diverse, with youth representing a number of villages, ages and learning abilities. Wednesday’s attendance grew to over 200 children, and Thursday’s attendance peaked at 304.

Though the team has been busy responding to the volume of demand, we are also focused on continuous innovation and development. We are working to ensure the team does not fall into old teaching habits – those that emphasize repetition, memory, dictation and create a distance between teacher and student. We want to maintain momentum and continue to hold the attention of the youth as these programs become more familiar.

A main source of this momentum is the creativity that is infused into the workshops. Participants are writing and illustrating their own stories, they are doing role plays to act out new words, and they are using clay to model new concepts. This type of participation coupled with adult attention is foreign to the students and their enthusiasm is evident in the way they concentrate on their writing and reading, ask for help and acknowledgement from the teachers, and proudly display their work on the walls, to their friends and to parents at the end of the day.

Four days in, the team already reported seeing progress in the children’s retention of words and concepts. To better understand where youth are when they first come to us and what type of progress they are making as they participate in our programs, we are preparing to conduct an assessment of a number of youth who frequent the center using the Uwezo literacy assessment tool. This assessment will provide us with a baseline from which to monitor change and progress over time.  We are using the same tool to assess change that stems from our outreach program. So far, we have assessed 100% of students in 4 of the 6 schools engaged in our outreach program. Once we have completed the assessments, we will compile the results and share our baseline findings.

Parents, teachers and schools administrators have also voiced their support for the learning center. We are rallying the parents to help with daily chores like bringing water from the well for use in the latrines and hand washing station. We are also asking for their support in planting a demonstration garden that we can use to provide lunch for the children participating in full day programs. Teachers will be coming next week to make use of the teacher resource library, a small collection of books ranging from lesson planning guides to books on child development and psychology. We hope that access to these resources and observation of student focused teaching methods will help fuel a transition in pedagogy over time.

The learning center has introduced new challenges for our team. Some of those include:

  • High number of kids with little to no ability to read or write in need of significant personal attention and a limited number of staff to respond to this need.
  • Logistical issues such as heavy use of latrines by young children who are not used to using a facility and the need to maintain cleanliness and sanitation of the facility without a staff member leaving a workshop to mop or bring water from the well.
  • Loss of supplies due to students inadvertently or intentionally pocketing them.
  • Very young children attending with older siblings and us wanting to avoid becoming a babysitting facility; there is a need to reiterate the parameters of the center to the parents and children.
  • Preventing children and parents from treating the center as a replacement for the schools once they reopen in September.
  • Challenging staff capacity as they manage the daily operation of the learning center and face the need to prepare for outreach and scaling in September.

The team is working to find sustainable solutions to these challenges while anticipating future challenges. We are incorporating and testing solutions daily but will need to continue this process to prevent stagnation and keep the center and its programs dynamic and engaging.

Schools are on break for the whole of August and when they reopen, we will resume outreach efforts. The learning center will be available to out-of-school youth and will be an after school resource and tutoring center for others. We are also considering opening the center on the weekends when schools are in session. Our goal is to provide as much literacy-focused saturation to youth as possible by going to them (outreach) and providing a platform for them to come to us (learning center).

I look forward to updating you on our progress and the center’s evolution as well as fill you in on our plans to grow the outreach programs and reach the remaining 7 schools in our area this September. Stay tuned.