Learning On The Go: UNICEF’s Mobile Kindy Programme in Fiji
Goodbye, see you tomorrow, shouts Teacher Arara as she closes the lock of the white picket fence and waves goodbye to the last few pre-schoolers getting into their cars with their parents.
It is 12:30 in the afternoon and the day quiets down after the usual flurry of morning play and activity at Little Ones Learning Centre in Suva.
Located atop a hill in Tamavua area, Little Ones is one of the city’s leading private preschools and boasts highly-trained teachers and well-resourced classrooms.
Teacher Arara looks out onto the view and enjoys the fresh breeze, but the lull is short-lived. Soon after, she hustles towards the school’s storeroom, counting sheets of paper, packing tubs of paints and brushes, sorting Lego blocks and puzzles, identifying storybooks, and stuffing all of these materials into a big silver metal container – a UNICEF kindergarten-in-a-box kit.
A taxi is hailed and Teacher Arara hauls the case, along with several jugs of water, into the boot. She gets into the taxi and bids the driver to head to Teroro settlement, a few miles from Little Ones. She is off to her next kindergarten class for the day.
Teacher Arara arrives at Teroro greeted by a bunch of beaming young faces eager to help their teacher. They manage to take the metal case and gingerly walk it down the meandering concrete stairs from the road downhill into the community.
They stop right in the centre of the settlement, in a patio propped up by wooden slabs and tarpaulin, bordered by temporary houses, but looking out on an open side to the greenery of Suva’s hills.
Teacher Arara gathers the children and begins her lessons, unloading materials out of her silver container as needed.
The activities at this makeshift kindergarten are similar to those at Little Ones — play-based learning activities so that children can see, touch, and interact with materials as they learn to control their motor skills, make connections between concrete objects and ideas, and socialise with peers.
The class is clearly a pared-down version of a typical pre-school — in fact there are no tables and chairs — but there are enough basic materials to stimulate learning. The class sings rhymes, recites the alphabet, and completes classroom routines, exposing the young children to the type of organised learning that occurs in primary school. The children also enjoy free and healthy snacks — milk, sandwiches, fruit and vegetable sticks — which have become an undeniable draw for the children and their parents.
The class at the Teroro settlement is part of the Mobile Kindy project which provides Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) services in hard-to-reach communities in Suva. These areas are often informal settlements where most families lack access to many social services, including ECCE centres.
By bringing mobile learning environments to these areas, young children are able to attend some form of preschool, gain critical cognitive and socio-emotional skills, and become better prepared to enter formal schooling.
Since the activities are within the community, parents, mostly mothers, are also able to drop in and get exposed to simple but effective learning activities for children. The parents also receive other forms of support, as mobile kindy staff connect them to public services like health programmes, birth registration, and social welfare agencies.
Mobile Kindy, short for mobile kindergartens, is a partnership between UNICEF and the Little Ones Learning Centre. UNICEF provides funding, oversight and technical assistance, while Little Ones is the main implementer of the programme.
In 2016 alone, the mobile kindy has provided education to 300 children in six sites and have referred many families to other public welfare programmes. In addition, following Cyclone Winston, the mobile kindy has gone to affected communities, reaching 138 children in nine communities so far.
Analesi Tuicaumia, director of Little Ones and the Mobile Kindy programme, is proud of what has been achieved to date. She credits the support of UNICEF for emboldening her team to grow the number of sites and to think creatively about resourcing high-quality learning materials.
She shares a recent incident during the entrance exams of a major primary school in Suva. There were two applicants — one from Little Ones and the other from a mobile kindy. Ms Tuicaumia exclaims: “The teacher cannot tell the difference — who is from Little Ones and who is from the mobile kindy! They both did so well.”
On December 8, 2016, the Mobile Kindy held its graduation of its fourth round of students — 31 young children from across all mobile kindy sites who are advancing to Year One in primary school. The Assistant Minister of Health, Alex O’Connor was chief guest at the ceremony. He cited the importance of establishing health, nutrition and hygiene habits in the early years and acknowledged how this was being fulfilled in the mobile kindys.
He said: “Optimising the early years of children’s lives is the best investment we can make as a society in ensuring their future success.”
At the graduation ceremony, Teacher Arara seemed happy, but also tired. She explained that December would finally give her the chance for a longer break, although she quickly retorts, “And next year, we start all over again!”
Source: United Nations Children’s Fund