To bridge academic research with field research conducted in Engikaret, Tanzania, Taylor Lee presents her findings in regards to access to education and the role it plays there. Using the SEED-SCALE model and associated core principles outlined in Just and Lasting Change, she used her research to evaluate Engikaret’s access to education, operating on her belief in its ability to increase opportunities for individuals living in rural, resource-poor environments. Observation and personal communication led Taylor’s investigation with Maasai community members, government agents, parents and youth of the community, as well as community liaisons operating through or in conjunction with Nyayo Discovery. She primarily focused on the general community’s understanding of access to education and how this pertains to community opportunities and well-being…
7th Year Students at ECPS.
Core Teachers: Sion and Priska.
Social change within a community can only be sustained when multi-layered partnerships are organized in the context of community empowerment, wherein the needs and wants of the community are center to the movement. Such is the case with access to education in rural Tanzania. The Maasai of Engikaret have been empowered over the last decade through shifting social values to promote access to education for the community’s youth. I bore witness to partnerships between local leaders, regional government, and outside agencies; all of which empower the Maasai of Engikaret to continuously improve access to education to the benefit of the community’s overall health and well-being.
Principle One: Rising Aspirations Lead to Action
The Maasai of Engikaret live in a resource-poor and geographically isolated area, with an estimated population of 4,000. While resistant to overt cultural change, I found the Maasai of Engikaret open and willingly promote formal education as a means to generate opportunities within the community. The community’s openness to supporting formal education (such as enrollment in primary school) reflects Principal One of the SEED-SCALE model, which asserts that when promoting sustainable community programs, such as access to education, assessment leading to action should begin with evaluating the strengths of the community.
Within these strengths, I could see the hopes and dreams of parents wanting their youth to have the opportunity to attend primary school. As evidence, Engikaret has two primary schools. New Vision Primary School is a privately funded, faith-based school whereas Engikaret Community Primary School (ECPS) is a government funded, public school. While there are resource discrepancies between the two schools, the focus of my observations leads me to conclude that within the larger community context, there is a community-driven want to provide access to education for the youth of the area. Further, within the parameters of Principle One, is the need to assess how communities understand education as it relates to community health and well-being.
Officially, the community supports education, at least through the primary grades for the majority of the community’s children. I gleaned this informal information through participation in multiple Maasai community discussions. I had ample opportunities to meet with the mamas of Engikaret, who repeatedly stated that they want their children, regardless of gender, to be in school. While the position presented by the mamas highlights how the Engikaret Maasai have embraced social change through the verbal promotion of education, it is of interest that there are school-aged youth, primarily girls, who are not enrolled in either of the community’s primary schools. This observation led me to inquire about the rates of girl to boy enrollment within the public school system of Engikaret. Interviews with the public school teachers confirmed that more males are enrolled and supported in school attendance than girls. Perhaps this reflects traditions that “might create obstacles to healthy change.”
Evaluating challenges to healthy change does not mean to focus on the negative; rather Principle One acknowledges that when assessing community strengths one should not “ignore problems.” I suspect part of the reason for lower girl enrollment stems from the Maasai’s traditional gender roles. Traditional expectations of Maasai women are focused on marriage, child rearing, and home duties rather than on building gender equality through access to education. It is not to say the community does not embrace healthy change– from my observations of the Level Seven class at ECPS, I saw more female students enrolled than I had initially expected. Within the Level Seven class ,I calculated 43% of students were female, compared to 57% male. This data reflects a 23% increase in girl enrollment rates within the last generation.
Another obstacle I observed with regards to youth accessing education surrounds the initial rollout of education programs by the Tanzanian government. The government mandate requiring youth aged 7-13 to attend primary school was not initiated nor initially supported by the Maasai. Thus it did not stem from a community-driven desire. Because of this, it appears the Maasai had little involvement with the placement of ECPS. The repercussions are that many primary aged school children walk long distances to and from school each school day. According to teachers at ECPS, children may have to walk up to an hour one-way to access the school building. Parents in the community also have concerns with their children crossing the highway to get to the school building; this is especially concerning for the younger students. As the community has come to support formal education, I was able to observe how the community has taken action to help mitigate some of the obstacles students face on the journey to school.
One clear way the community has supported the students’ journey to school is seen in how the students move as a group. Many children were observed arriving at school in groups, comprised of family members and neighbors. Within these groups arriving at school, it was apparent that there were always older children with the younger children. The grouping of students to ensure the safe passage to school proves the community of Engikaret has found a community-based approach to supporting access to education. Further, as school enrollment increases, the government, this time with the collaboration of the Engikaret Maasai, is looking to build a second primary school. The hope is to shorten the journey for students. As the community’s aspirations regarding access to education rise, I believe the Maasai community of Engikaret will show a greater capacity to advocate for the building location of the new public school when the time comes.
Rising aspirations is a strong motivator for social change, a motivator that is conceived from the community’s perceived positive development. I believe that as the community observes how access to primary, secondary and university education improves the quality of life for those individuals, they then will promote the equal access to primary school enrollment for more of their community’s youth. For example, in visiting a boma that showed more development than others, such as solar panels to meet the family’s energy needs and buildings that required less maintenance by the females of the family, I asked Patrick (Nyayo Discovery liaison between the community and global visitors) if this family was considered wealthy. His response was not that the family was wealthy but that the family’s son had completed primary, secondary and university education and therefore had the capacity to take advantage of opportunities that impact the health and well-being of the household. I believe Patrick’s response reflects elements of Principle One; social growth begins with improved conditions for some community members that in turn spark interest and participation in social change by others.
Based on my observations, the community of Engikaret is driven to overcome obstacles presented by their geographical isolation and resource-poor living conditions. The value of formal education is held in high regard and desired by the majority of the Engikaret Maasai. For example, I observed at least one primary school aged child enrolled in school per family. Social change is a slow process. However, as the community experiences more access to opportunities because of education, I believe the community’s interaction and support for the education system will increase.
|Mamas of Engikaret
Principle Two: Three-way Partnerships and Malleable Leadership
For large-scale social change to occur, such as empowering communities through access to education, the construct of community needs to be redefined. In the context of empowering people through access to education, “the community” is not limited to the geography of participants. Rather community is defined as a holistic approach involving anyone with a shared vision and capacity to enact change. In this context support for education comes from multi-dimensional partnerships all of which have various degrees of connectedness to the community. I observed how the broader notion of community leads to educational access in the Engikaret area. For example, top-down support is evident through funding for school buildings and supplies by both public and private funders. When evaluating systems as complex as formal, community education, there is a fundamental requirement to have some degree of top-down support. While exclusive top-down support is not associated with community-driven programs, it is associated with a three-way partnership model outlined in Principle Two. The Engikaret region is geographically isolated and resource-poor; thus top-down support alleviates some of the financial strain associated with maintaining a school.
Additionally, Principle Two outlines the need for outside-in involvement as it can spark innovation. This aspect of Principle Two is seen in the observed partnership between Nyayo Discovery and the Maasai of Engikaret. Nyayo specializes in increasing the economic platform of the Engikaret community through increased tourism, cultural awareness and utilizing the human energy of global volunteers. Outside-in support for community development as it pertains to access to education was something I, a participant in Nyayo’s global volunteer and tourism program, was able to experience firsthand.
Because of my affiliation with Nyayo and my background experience as a US teacher, ECPS invited me in to teach several lessons to the Level Seven students. Through this experience, I have come to understand the hardships of educating in the face of adverse conditions, most notably the utter lack of resources. Fortunately, one of the ways outside-in support fosters innovation is through the sharing of ideas, best stated by Taylor and Taylor, “The value of outside-in [support] has little to do with who and everything to do with what.” In this regard, sharing teaching methods with ECPS teachers allowed the growth of resources in the form of easily adopted learning games. In reflection, perhaps this is why the teachers were so eager to learn then employ these games regardless of my presence.
From my point of view, one of the most important aspects of Principle Two is the malleability of roles, specifically leadership roles. A key contributor to the success of any community-driven program is shifting from outside-in or top-down leadership to leadership by those who are directly impacted by the efforts of social change. While I was not privy to evidence directly showing how roles have shifted in the Engikaret community, I was able to observe leaders among the Maasai that allowed me to infer that the community’s affiliation with Nyayo Discovery has generated leadership roles that may not otherwise exist without the outside-in partnership. For example, I was able to work directly with two Maasai leaders, Loshiro and Peter, who serve as liaisons between the Maasai and global volunteers. The work Loshiro and Peter do represent how an outside agency, such as Nyayo, can foster leadership within the community. Community leaders are better able to embody the needs, wants and realities of the community, which in turn promotes social change from within the community.
Lastly, Principle Two highlights the immense importance of social change derived from bottom-up support. Bottom-up support relies on human energy found directly within the community to meet the goals set forth by the community. Within the context of access to education bottom-up support was seen in the employment of Maasai teachers and support staff at ECPS. From my experience, having systems utilize local employment strategies creates a stronger economic platform for rural communities. Additionally, teachers with a deep-seated understanding of the traditions, values, and realities of Engikaret can offer higher equitability to students. As evidence, Maasai community teachers face unique language barriers. Traditionally the Maasai people speak Maa, however schools across Tanzania teach in Kiswahili and English. Having a native Maa speaker, like those I observed at ECPS, allows more students and families to access education, and educational resources comfortably.
|Maasai children herding after school and before the enrollment age of 7.
NAU students: Aubrey Babcock and Taylor Lee
Principle Three: Assessing Social Change through Community Perspectives
Assessing the progress of any social change program requires that the assessment use community values and realities, in other words, “locally relevant” evidence. I believe that this may be one of the greatest challenges facing the Engikaret community within the context of access to education. Education often is viewed by distant third parties, with mandates and successes outlined for review by policymakers, stakeholders, or partners who may have little insight into challenges facing the community. In reflection, I have come to understand how outside definitions of success or success marked by goals that may or may not be relevant to the community, may have adverse consequences on social change.
Specifically, the progress Engikaret has made in creating access to education can be viewed in two ways. First, it can be viewed from the community’s perspective, a viewpoint that celebrates increased enrollment, even if it means only one of each family’s children is in school. In turn, this same data can be viewed from a value system not aligned with the realities of living in a geographically isolated and resource-poor environment; a viewpoint that is removed from the idea that the family’s immediate livelihood may be in jeopardy if all school-aged children were enrolled. From perspective two, it could be argued that the community of Engikaret is not providing access to education, adversely partners may pull funding due to low success rates.
However, in support of the community’s celebration of progress, ECPS projects that of the Level Seven class, 60% of those students will be promoted on to the secondary level. ECPS projected data unveils the continued progress at providing access to education as seen over the last decade in the community of Engikaret. I believe that when operating under the guidelines of principal three, evaluators must have a clear and consistent guideline for measuring success, one that relies on the realities facing the community.
The Maasai of Engikaret are operating within a framework supportive of social change, inspired and brought to fruition by organizations that recognize community-driven partnerships relevant to improved access to education, result in increased health and well-being of all community members. Evaluating access to education using the SEED-SCALE model allows partners to highlight community successes and build upon them. Secondly, access to education as a community-driven program, will be a sustainable movement if actions are supported through layered partnerships. The most influential of layered partnerships are those that expose the human energy within the community to generate bottom-up support. Lastly, goals, success, and progress must be defined in terms of community realities. Only then can the markers of success or the addendum of goals be aligned to actual community needs and wants.
This week’s blog contributed by Taylor Lee. Taylor has a passion for promoting equitable education in underserved communities, and is currently teaching in rural Arizona with predominantly Navajo youth. While her work is focused on delivering access to high quality science education at the middle grades, embedded within her classroom work is providing youth and families with meaningful experiences that inspire students to seek post-secondary opportunities. She believes that the cycle of poverty, often associated with under-resourced communities, can be broken when youth have equitable post-secondary options readily available. She works in collaboration with community partners to provide such pathways to her students through exposure at the middle grades level.
In addition to teaching, Taylor is currently completing her last semester for her Master of Secondary Education through John Hopkins University. While this endeavor has take n the majority of her focus, she was able to participate in Norther Arizona University’s Study Abroad program during the summer of 2017. She believes that this opportunity to explore the communities of Africa was a life-changing experience which made her a stronger educator.