By Dr. Hawani Negussie
October 6, 2016
In 2012, I spent over six weeks in Addis Ababa, exploring the use and inclusion of indigenous knowledge and cultural practice in pre-primary education programs in the capital and surrounding areas. Fregenet school was one of those schools I had the pleasure of visiting and getting to know both from a theoretical and practical standpoint. I was able to interact with parents, school staff and administrators on their views of using local languages in the classroom to teach and learn from young children. I looked into children’s note books, lesson plans, communication boards and collected sample materials for a more in-depth look. In addition, I spent hours observing a specific classroom to closely understand their methods on embracing Developmentally Appropriate Practices (DAP) in their daily routine.
During my time at Fregenet, I found the school to have a holistic approach to children’s education and development. Classrooms offered several types of indigenous materials suited for children to interact with, explore, share, play which complimented the curriculum provided. The walls in the classroom were print rich promoting visual stimulation while effortlessly encouraging site word recognition among other benefits. The pedagogy employed by the school teachers embraced the constructivist philosophy, where children and teachers co-created the learning with inquiries on subject matters, long term projects and purposeful reflection of children’s backgrounds in the curriculum.
The great sociocultural theorist, Lev Vygotsky, asserted that the main focus of education development in any early learning program should be designed in order to enable children to construct knowledge using their surroundings and scaffold through experiences found in social relationships within specific cultures and communities. One of the strong element found in the Fregenet school was their use of local or native language to teach and communicate with their students. In doing so, children are able to make mental connections and build on their existing knowledge while using the teacher’s guidance and familiar materials available in the classroom to manipulate and gain higher mental function or next stage of development and learning. In addition, what makes this program exceptional, is the fully functioning library available onsite, that not only serves the children but extends to the nearby community. Further, understanding the socio-economic challenges associated with the students served, the school offers freshly prepared breakfast and lunch daily to school children.
I found Fregenet School, the director at that time, the teaching staff, children and parents sharing a space of learning that is rare in our shared and beloved land. This is a school that serves children coming from low to almost no-income families. But yet, they have created this oasis of an educational institution that not only meets their developmental and educational needs but goes far beyond- it’s a place of hope, a place where children are given the right foundation to break the generational cycle of illiteracy. It is my humble opinion, that this school can serve as a model program site for others to follow. It shows how with limited income; an institution can provide quality education that prepares the young not only for primary school but for the rest of their lives.
Dr. Hawani Negussie is a professor of Early Childhood Education and Child Development. She serves as a board member in a local HEADSTART program and has extensive experience working in and developing programs serving the birth-5 population.