As I got off the plane in Arusha, Tanzania, questions were swirling in my head: Can the Whole Child Model (WCM) really work in Arusha? Will the lessons we learned working in Guinea for 16 years be applicable in a place as different as Tanzania? Will teachers and students here find the model worthwhile?
If STS’s time in Guinea taught us anything, it is that the premise of the WCM is solid—that students are most likely to succeed in school if they have good instruction, reasonable health, and support from allies at school and at home. But I wondered: Doesn’t everybody know this? Are educators in Tanzania already doing all these things?
In time, I would learn that of course teachers and school leaders in Arusha know these things—and are trying many of them—but they also welcomed any initiatives that can help them do this work better.
Our first days
Upon landing, I was greeted by Alice Michelazzi, who would be my partner for the following weeks. Alice has lived in Tanzania for 10 years and knows her way around—a crucial element for starting up this kind of enterprise in a new place.
We spent the first few days meeting with education, health, and special needs officers from the Ministry of Education. From them, we learned that many of the necessary structures are in place, including teacher trainings, health conditions policies, and vaccination programs. More importantly though, these officers expressed strong support for the WCM approach and interest in working with STS over the long haul.
Later that week
Alice and I spent the next few days bouncing along dirt roads through sweeping landscapes of verdant hills and maize fields to visit schools away from Arusha’s center city. In prior visits, STS staff and MOE officers had identified six “startup schools:” Engorkia, Likamba, Songambele, Mzimuni, Kioga, and Ilkisongo.
At each of the schools, Alice and I interviewed principals, teachers, PTA chairs, and local education officials—all through Alice’s fluent Kiswahili plus brief exchanges with anyone who wanted to try their English on me.
We observed a first-grade classroom with 110 students jammed six to a bench, completely engaged in the teacher’s lesson on how to make an “s” sound for the letter s, “t” for t, etc. I marveled at the teacher’s control of the class and her ability to hold the interest of every child in the room.
During our second week, we convened 35 government officials, school teachers, principals, and education supervisors to listen to stories about their work, children’s learning, and how to make schools in Arusha work better.
Participants filled out a “WCM inventory” that consisted of several questions for each of the model’s three components—education, health, and engagement. This helped to initiate discussions about needs in those areas; participants identified several, including the need to increase parental involvement (some families contributed corn for school feeding programs but others did not), classroom construction (some classes had up to 175 children), and teachers’ toilets (some schools have either dilapidated teachers’ toilets or none at all; as a result, teachers often leave the school to relieve themselves, then never return.) Additionally, we learned that teachers in some schools have received training in how to teach reading and math but not on how to assess their students’ proficiencies in these areas to see where additional support is needed.
Indeed, all impediments to children being able to learn well!
Our last few days in Tanzania consisted of meetings with potential local partners. These partnerships will be crucial as STS seeks to build a support system founded not only on the principles of the WCM but also on the capacities of local people and organizations to carry this work forward in the future.
As I look ahead, I am realizing that, like everywhere, Arusha is a puzzle. Parts of the WCM are already in place in some schools; yet in others, critical pieces are missing. As our next step in Tanzania, STS will help teachers in Arusha learn simple strategies for assessing literacy and numeracy as well as approaches for providing practical remedial support in large classrooms. The workshop will be conducted this fall with the support of local partners and government officials.
In this way, we hope to begin building the foundation for a lasting partnership with our schools and local experts who, together with us, can help the young learners of Tanzania have more successful, happier, healthier lives.