UNITED NATIONS – The Aga Khan Foundation last week marked the 25th anniversary of the Madrasa Early Childhood Development Programme in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan, founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and Chief Guest Kenya’s Minister for Science and Technology, Hon. Dr. Noah Wekesa.
The Madrasa Programme was launched a quarter of a century ago at the request of East Africa’s Muslim leaders who wanted to improve the overall educational achievement of their children while at the same time promoting a secular, integrated curriculum based on the universal ethics and values of Islam and local cultural traditions.
The project has led to the establishment of quality, affordable and sustainable community-based early childhood development centres open to children of all faiths, cultures and ethnicities.
The programme has been developed in close collaboration with the governments in East Africa, and it provides valuable support in meeting national education goals.
The special event, “A Journey in Early Childhood Development,” was attended by government representatives from the region, leaders of the Ummah, pioneers of the Madrasa Programme, teachers, donors and well wishers.
It highlighted the considerable achievements of the Programme in increasing the ability of children from marginalised communities in East Africa to access and succeed in primary and later schooling.
This is achieved through fostering pre-school environments in children’s formative years that are stimulating and developmentally and culturally appropriate.
The involvement of parents and communities has been vital to the success and sustainability of the programme, through both their active participation in management and governance of their pre-schools.
The Madrasa curriculum adapts universal educational principles through the regional context through the use of distinctly local learning aids made from available materials and by close policy collaboration with the East African Ministries of Education.
Teacher training and continuous mentoring on classroom practice are ensured through the regionally established Madrasa Resource Centres (MRCs).
It is through the critical support provided by these MRCs in Mombasa, Kampala and Zanzibar that on-going development and successful implementation of the early childhood curriculum is guaranteed.
“The programme has ensured equal participation of girls and boys in the classroom and provided important employment and leadership opportunities to local women who work as pre-school teachers, trainers and community mobilisers,” says Najma Rashid, Regional Programme Director of the Madrasa Programme in East Africa.
Arif Neky, the Regional Chief Executive Officer of the Aga Khan Foundation in East Africa adds: “The programme has also been an important vector for pluralism in the region, as it has brought together parents, children and community members from different faiths and cultures in a common effort to improve education opportunities.”
The Madrasa Programme has benefited over 54,000 children in Mombasa, Kampala and Zanzibar and has trained over 5,000 teachers and 2,500 school committee members.
Research results indicate that students who have attended a madrasa make a better transition into and through primary school than their peers.
During the event, His Highness the Aga Khan launched a new publication, “School Improvement and Early Childhood Development in East Africa: Experiences of the Aga Khan Development Network.”
The book consolidates research, lessons and best practices of the Aga Khan Development Network’s education programmes for the benefit of both policymakers and practitioners.