The Maasai Literacy Program is a core element of the African Impact Education and Community Project in Moshi, northern Tanzania. The primary aim of this program is to teach members of the Maasai tribe to read and write, as well as to speak basic, conversational English.
The Maasai Tribe is traditionally associated with being rural agriculturalists. With a strong emphasis on agriculture, many children do not receive any formal education as family livelihoods depend upon children tending to livestock and crops. This has started to change slowly with more children attending school; however, current literacy rates amongst Maasai adults are considerably lower in comparison to other tribes across Tanzania. Many teenagers and young people still have no access to proper education and cannot read or write.
When the African Impact Education and Community Project was established in July 2013, it launched a daily English education program which is offered to members of the local community free of charge. Members of the Maasai tribe registered for these lessons, but we soon realised that, though they were eager to learn, they could neither read nor write.
It became clear to our project team that the needs of the Maasai students differed to those of other community members in English class. After substantial research we developed a literacy program specifically for these Maasai students, and saw attendance grow once the word got out. When we started only 4 students registered for the program; and within months this number increased to between x and x per class, of ages ranging from 19 to 48!
It is inspiring to see people who are in their late forties deciding to make such a commitment to better their education and also to see teenagers gaining such vital skills which they can use to shape the rest of their lives. The fact that these lessons are conducted at no cost to the tribes people is paramount, as Maasai are amongst the lowest income earners in Tanzania, and would otherwise not afford this education.
A comprehensive literacy curriculum was developed by our staff to include letter recognition, phonic sound recognition, with a step by step process leading to reading and writing letters and simple words. Classes have a set and organised structure which include English verbal practice, reading practice, writing practice, testing as well as many interactive games too.
The Maasai are infamous for their traditional dance which is based upon a series of jumps. Our program strives to be interactive and energetic and so we have incorporated a number of jumping games when drilling the alphabet, numbers, and phonic sounds. This keeps everyone involved and interested. Learning as an adult is very different to learning as a child and so ensuring drilling is energetic and participatory is essential.
When teaching basic conversational English, we have introduced a number of role plays to support the learning process. We construct mock conversations between our students, ensuring all role play is relevant to their own situations.
The Impact of the Program
Many of the members of the program work as security guards for nearby hotels. By participating in our program they have learnt key English phrases to use with many tourists. Learning to read and write, as well as to speak English, increases their employment opportunities to a large degree.
The impact of this program extends further than just its students. By starting to read and write, these members of the Maasai tribe have a new appreciation for education – and as a result they see and understand the importance of their children’s schooling.
The program is sustainable as it prepares students for higher level English education conducted in our Community Class Program. This unique Maasai literacy program teaches students to read and write in Kiswahili whilst learning some simple, key English phrases. Once students have successfully completed this literacy program they then graduate into our Community English Class where they learn to read, write and speak English at a higher level. This means that learning doesn’t finish once they have completed the curriculum. Instead it means they advance into the next level and are challenged even further.
Volunteers teach this program alongside our long-term, permanent staff, which means that the program is structured and consistent. Long-term aims are set and progress is closely monitored and continuously evaluated.
The program has been very successful to date – one student has completed the literacy curriculum and has graduated into the Community English Class already. People learn at different paces and learning to read and write is a very slow and patient process, however with this being said – we have seen improvement in every one of our students since the program started in December 2013. We conducted baseline assessments to assess reading and writing ability amongst the students in February. In just one month, when re-tested the ability to write numbers rose from 60% to 88% and the ability to write phonic sounds rose from 32% to a whopping 68%. In the first 3 months of this year alone, there has been approximately 162 teaching hours by our staff and volunteers.
Consistent improvements are being seen – we can only hope that this dedication will pay off and result in a second chance at education and increased employment opportunities for these members of the Maasai tribe.
If you want to be involved in this innovative new program come and join us in beautiful Moshi, Tanzania on the slopes of Kilimanjaro! Click here for more info!