Did you know that 60 years ago, more than half the world’s population could not read or write? Today this is less than 14% thanks to the global efforts in expanding Early Childhood Education and reducing education inequalities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had damaging effects on the access to education for all learners, especially those in Early Childhood and Foundation Phase learning. In Zimbabwe, more than 4.6 million learners’ education was disrupted and the most affected of these were 65,213 Foundation Phase learners. On average learners were losing six hours of learning per day during the lockdown, which exacerbated deeper challenges in Foundation Phase Education that include a shortage of qualified educators, schools and the high costs associated with providing Early Childhood and Foundation Phase Education.
In an effort to combat some of these challenges brought on by the pandemic, Higherlife Foundation (HLF) in collaboration with Simba Education designed specific learning opportunities focussing on the fundamental Foundation Phase learning outcomes in Numeracy, Literacy and Handwriting.
A learners foundation for successful learning both holistically and academically is dependent on their Foundation Phase years of learning. The philosophy of ensuring that learners’ basic Literacy skills are established allows learners to continue to thrive in all subject areas, as they have a sound understanding.
During the first lockdown, Simba Education, whose school is located in a rural setting, focused on creating learning opportunities and activities that kept learners engaged and learning. They used channels available to other primary schools, such as WhatsApp to deliver their lessons in video and voice note format and daily check-ins to account for all learners; however, this was not scalable.
When the second lockdown came into effect, as HLF we reassessed from the first experience and were ready to implement a new initiative to tackle access to education on a larger scale. We understood that foundation phase learners needed practical learning opportunities despite being in lockdown. We created a guided learning textbook that incorporated achievable learning outcomes and different themes.
The guided textbook provides Foundation Phase learners with Literacy and Numeracy learning opportunities. This textbook can be used by learners of all ages to develop basic Literacy and Numeracy skills. This interactive textbook is ageless, timeless and borderless.
The textbook was distributed to 1,375 early childhood and foundation phase learners across 10 provinces of Zimbabwe during the 2021 lockdown. Every day online lessons for learners who were able to connect received instruction that guided their learning. Recorded videos were available for learners who were not able to access live instruction.
Additionally, we were able to empower caregivers and tutors to teach learners in situations where there was limited access to internet data and the right devices. Tutors were deployed in communities to complement the catch-up strategy implemented by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to accelerate the learning process.
Given the success of the programme, where our learners grasped skills to begin reading and writing from ECD A to Grade 3, we will continue to ensure that learners in our communities who do not have access to early childhood education and foundation phase learning do not get left behind.
Protecting and prioritizing Foundation Phase learning is imperative to reducing the potential damage that the widespread closure of schools will have on learners. Skills, knowledge and concepts learnt in the Foundation Phase years are critical to developing learners competencies, subsequent lifelong learning opportunities.