A school closer to home

Using mealtimes to foster language development, improve girls' 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 academics from Kenya, Zambia and the UK, teachers, families and community groups

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.

There is currently a disconnect between home and school in Africa, and this is exacerbated in rural Kenya and Zambia by the predominance of non-local teachers who often don't speak pupils' native languages. 

We aim to connect home and school learning by working with teachers from Early Childhood Education and Development programmes (ECDE; 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 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 for girls, and empowering females in leadership roles since ECDE teachers are predominantly female.


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 most crucial for raising the quality and quantity of child-directed speech; and

  2. observe eating behaviours in the home, assess the extent to which girls eat less food or less nutritious foods, and identify practices that raise levels of female nutrition.

We will video record 100 children in rural Kenya and Zambia during mealtimes, at home and at school, to better understand social interactions, and mealtime structures, behaviours and language. We target mealtimes for our observations as they are a particularly rich time for social interaction, and the focus on eating gives an authentic setting for natural communication.

The project is currently in Phase 1.

Phase 2

Based on the evidence from Phase 1, we will work together with teachers from Early Childhood Education and Development programmes (ECDE) as researchers, as well as with 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-network will provide a platform for teachers to conduct their own research, share research findings, discuss best practice, and for ECDE, primary, and secondary school teachers to coordinate to increase continuity in children’s education; and

  2. a parent outreach programme to be shared within the school and parent networks to provide a sustainable platform for promoting early child development, and to work towards developing continuity in children’s education. The programme will have easy-to-implement guidelines for ECDE centres and families on methods to use to increase the quality and quantity of child-directed speech at home and in school, and raise levels of female nutrition. By raising awareness and sharing positive practices through the programme, the aim is to enhance 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 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.