A Community-Collaborative Approach to Education Reform

By Building Tomorrow

A parent assisting the child access online class through the mobile phone

When the covid-19 pandemic hit the world in early 2020, governments globally ordered lockdowns, which stalled many socio-economic activities. In Uganda, schools were closed in March 2020 and due to technological challenges, the Building Tomorrow staff were concerned that students would be unable to access online learning platforms.

As an organisation that works with Uganda’s most rural and underserved communities, we knew that our traditional, pastoralist learners were at-risk of abandoning the formal education system even before covid-19 hit. “The indefinite closures displaced 15 million learners. We feared that our communities would endanger their children’s education by allowing them to work in order to earn some income for their families. This would stop them from returning to the classroom. We however, relied on our core values of creative ingenuity and collaborative engagement to meet the challenge head-on.”

Ingenuity and Innovative Solutions

The number of 10-year olds unable to read a short, age-appropriate text in Uganda is expected to rise to 78 per cent this year so it was important for us to address the learning poverty rate. To ensure that students in rural communities were able to access foundational literacy and numeracy lessons from home, we adapted our proven Roots to Rise teaching methodology to meet the needs of families safely and effectively.

We conducted surveys that showed 80 per cent of families have at least one mobile phone in their households so we adapted mathematics and reading lessons for delivery via automated, daily phone calls and deployed Fellows and Community Education Volunteers to recruit families to opt-in to the calls and encourage parents to actively participate in their children’s daily lessons. We further introduced new technologies while relying on our organizational strengths and resources. “This would not have been possible if we did not understand the communities we serve, our strengths, and the resources available,” said Edward Munyaneza, Thriving Schools Program Manager.

We encouraged phone calls between fellows and students but this only allowed one fellow to reach one child at a time. Previously they reached 100,000 children in a day. We thus shifted to automated, pre-recorded lessons to amplify their impact and reach. “Organisations should recognize limitations and adapt instead of relying on a pre-conceived plan if it’s not the best fit,” Munyaneza said. “Even if something is working, question how it can be made better.”

Collaborative Engagement, Empowered Communities

Later this year we hope to introduce Roots To Rise Community Camps, to provide small-group literacy and numeracy lessons to over 20,000 students in communities throughout Uganda. This will be done outdoors and in accordance with local health guidelines. This community-based approach to education shifts leadership from schools and teachers who are often transitory and non-residents of local communities, back to the community – ambitious change-makers. Local people, through proper guidance and training, can develop and apply dynamic instruction, organisation, data management, and leadership.

Building Tomorrow fellows are currently recruiting thousands of local community members to be Community Education Volunteers (CEVs) to support the project. Fellows will be provided with tools and skills to master the Roots To Rise curriculum and lead literacy and numeracy learning camps with groups of ten students at a time. The CEV program and investment in the development of community actors ensures a lasting, sustainable impact on education in rural villages throughout Uganda.

“Our community-collaborative approach to education reform empowers our local community members to be active participants in our programmes,” says Joseph Kaliisa, Building Community’s Country Director. “When the community is involved in the education of its children, it’s easy to support learning – even when schools are closed.”

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