Jo Ailwood and Stephanie Bengtsson on integrating early childhood services through care

Dr Stephanie Bengtsson and Dr Jo Ailwood have been involved in a teacher training research project in Zimbabwe since 2013. This talk looks at how the concept of care can be used to integrate early childhood services.

A mapping of age phases across sectors is presented and the meaning of the word ‘care’ is discussed. School can be a centre for care, particularly in vulnerable communities. The speakers were working in partnership with Children in the Wilderness, a non-profit organisation facilitating sustainable conservation through leadership development and education of rural children in Africa to support a school in western Zimbabwe. In 2014 it was quite early on in the school’s rehabilitation period. Typical of a rural school in Zimbabwe, the school faced a shortage of qualified teachers and was lacking in physical equipment and supplies. After two years of rehabilitation work there has been significant development at the school.

A number of activities which constitute care work in the school were observed by the research. This includes:

  • Water, sanitation and hygiene structures and life-skills practices with a deep and clean water hole, handwashing facilities (using drums and ‘tippy tappy’), and Blair toilets. Teaching children to care for themselves starts with pre-school age children.
  • In terms of health: vaccines were delivered through the school; teachers deliver a curriculum around HIV/AIDS and other health issues; appointment of a teacher to act as a dedicated health and nutrition officer.
  • For nutrition there is a deworming and micro-nutrients programme; a school-feeding programme with community involvement; agriculture curriculum and a school garden; and hygiene rituals around school meals.
  • In terms of education the school provides care through qualified (or qualifying) teachers for early childhood development and primary years 1-3. Play and teacher led learning provide social interaction, and cognitive and physical development.
  • The school as a hub supports social protection and community functions such as birth registration, eco-clubs, leadership camps, School Management Team, and orphan response.

In this case, care represents an effective means of integration and cohesion across the early years of schooling and also serves community and school members outside of those years. It is helpful to relate the school’s experience to Tronto’s three P’s of care: purpose, power, and participation. The purpose of school is education, but the school must also be purposive about providing caring relationships with the family and the community. The school has the power of authority in information and can become a site for gathering, meetings, vaccinations etc. Finally, participation through community care and engagement gets cemented around the school setting. Through a care-based approach, the case study school is beginning to feel more robust than in 2014.

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