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A school closer to home

Using mealtimes to foster language development, improve children's nutrition, and align home and school in rural Kenya and Zambia

 

About the Project

We are developing a new way to address educational disadvantage in rural Africa, through a collaboration between local teachers, families and community groups with academics from Kenya, Zambia and the UK.

The connection between home and school is key to sustainable education: (i) parents must recognise the school’s priorities if they are to support their child’s continuing education; (ii) teachers need to understand their pupils’ home environment so they can build on positive home experiences; and (iii) schools must build on children’s existing skills and knowledge, and fit with their goal of a successful life in their community.

We aim to connect home and school learning by working with teachers from Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) programmes for children aged 4–6 years. Unlike primary and secondary schools, ECDE centres recruit teachers from the local community. The relationship between parents and teachers is therefore closest in ECDE settings, providing a crucial opportunity to build bridges between home and school. It is also a critical opportunity for mitigating early disadvantages and empowering females in leadership roles since ECDE teachers are predominantly female.

 
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What we are doing

 

Phase 1

Language and nutrition are fundamental to all later learning. We therefore aim to:

1.     observe mealtime language and behaviours at both home and school to identify positive practices that are crucial for raising the quality and quantity of child-directed speech;

2.     observe eating behaviours in the home, assess the nutritional quality of foods, and identify practices that improve children's nutritional status.

We are video-recording 80 children in rural Kenya and Zambia during mealtimes at home and at school to better understand social interactions, mealtime structures, behaviours and language. Mealtimes are a particularly rich time for social interaction and provide an authentic setting for natural communication. In addition, we are collecting nutrient data using 24-hour dietary recalls for each child and assess children's language outcomes in a free narrative and storybook-based task.

Data collection is nearly finished and we are in the process of transcribing, coding, and analysing.

Part of our dietary recall data has been published in Nutrients:

https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/13/10/3543

and a detailed description of our methods is available from JMIR Research Protocols:

https://www.researchprotocols.org/2022/7/e36925

Phase 2

Based on the evidence from Phase 1, we will work together with teachers from Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) programmes and our community advisors to identify key messages that are culturally appropriate and achievable, and to co-develop:

1. Teacher and parent networks to share best practice in school and at home. The teacher networks will provide a platform for teachers to share research findings, discuss best practice, and to increase continuity in children’s education from pre- all the way up to secondary school.

2. Parent outreach programmes to be shared within the school and parent networks to provide a sustainable platform for promoting early childhood development, and to further improve continuity in children’s education.

The programmes will have easy-to-implement guidelines for ECDE centres and families on how to increase the quality and quantity of child-directed speech at home and in school, and improve children's nutrition. By raising awareness and sharing positive practices through the programmes, we aim to support parental engagement with children’s learning in ECDE centres, enhance teachers' delivery of the ECDE curriculum to better align with positive home learning experiences, and to share practice with similar programmes in other African communities.

Phase 3

With the evidence base provided through Phase 1 and the networks created in Phase 2, we aim to:

  1. contribute to the development of the new competency based ECDE curriculum of the Kenyan government, which requires a learning nexus between school and home; and

  2. lobby for similar priorities in Zambia.

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