Making learning fun

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August 7, 2023, Hinda Abdi Mohamoud, Deputy Editor, Bilan Media

A small revolution in early years childcare and education is starting in Mogadishu, thanks to the recent university graduate, Maryan Mohamed Bulle. She is determined to convince childminders that there is more to childcare than keeping them safe and feeding them while their parents are at work.

In 2021, Maryan founded the Initiative for Early Childhood Development Centre (IED) to train people who care for children between the ages of two and six how to encourage their charges to learn, sometimes through playing, and to be aware of their emotional and developmental needs.

In the centre, childminders are busy learning how to make playdough in different bright colours, using cookie cutters to create different shapes. As the women mix the dough, add the dye and cut out the shapes, Maryan explains how doing such fun, playful activities with children teaches them about colours, shapes and improves their manual dexterity.

“I wanted to study accounting,” says Maryan, “but my father advised me to focus on education.”

She explains that she was drawn to early years education which is not at all developed in Somalia. Young children are mainly cared for in childminder’s homes rather than the daycare centres that are so common in neighbouring Kenya and other parts of the world.

When young children in Somalia are cared for in childminder’s homes while their parents go out to work, they learn elements of the Koran and Arabic letters but are not encouraged to learn through play or to develop other knowledge and skills.

“I did not have access to this kind of learning when I was young,” says Maryan. “I now know that early childhood education is crucial so I wanted to change things in Somalia.”

The IED centre runs a variety of programmes, some for women who work in early childcare, some for parents, teachers and childminders, and some for the children themselves. The training for those who work as carers for young children is provided free of charge as the centre has received some funding. Other programmes have to be paid for.

Hal-abuur Macallin is a network for those who provide daycare, training them how to provide a full programme for the children and giving the childminders an opportunity to learn from each other. They are taught how to convert parts of their homes into better environments for young children, including providing dedicated play areas and safer kitchens.

The IED centre assesses the carers every six months and provides tailored training when required.

Daycare worker Maryam Abdullahi is being trained at the centre. “I learned so much that was new to me in terms of engaging with children between the ages of two and six. Previous training didn’t connect theory and practice. Here every lesson is hands-on, from helping children learn how to play to learning how to be aware of and understand their feelings.”

The IED centre’s parent and community programme trains and brings together parents, childminders and teachers so they are all on the same page when it comes to early childhood learning.

The Abaabshe programme provides summer activities for children, focused on emotional learning. It runs programmes during school holidays where children engage in constructive learning and other activities that are not usually available in Somalia.

The Playdate scheme allows parents and their children to spend quality time together.

“When parents are at home they are often busy and don’t have open conversations with their children,” Maryan explains. “Playdate brings them together and focuses on quality interaction.”

Promoting early childhood education has presented challenges for Maryan. “The whole idea is new to Somali people. Many in our community do not believe in it,” she says.

Despite the obstacles, the IED centre is laying the foundation for improved early years learning in Somalia and introducing a whole new way of thinking about how to look after young children.