Creative opens innovative early childhood education center in Lusaka

By Jillian Slutzker

February 2, 2016

Grinning widely and bouncing with anticipation, 15 young children in Lusaka, Zambia entered school for the first time on Feb. 1.

As the inaugural class of “Mimi’s Place,” a first of its kind early childhood education center using The Creative Way methodology, these children will access early learning opportunities that boost their chances of success in school.

Targeted to children ages 3 to 6, the program is designed to “build their self-confidence and help their parents understand the progress their child is making as they approach the age of formal schooling,” says Janet Robb, international education expert and a lead advisor in the development The Creative Way method.

Utilizing children’s innate predisposition for learning, The Creative Way provides guidelines for the physical space of the learning environment, as well as teaching pedagogy, curriculum and learning assessments.

At Mimi’s Place, Robb explains, The Creative Way is customized to the culture, social norms and curriculum guidelines of Zambia.

In its pilot phase, the center will serve the children of Zambian staff of Creative Associates International’s USAID Read to Succeed project, which is headquartered in Lusaka.

Mimi’s Place founders say the center is part of a larger strategy and commitment by Creative to recognize local staff through increased workplace support and innovative opportunities to attract more women to the workforce, inculcate a culture of learning and demonstrate the value of preschool education.

Early education for the best start in life

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The center is named for Creative’s late co-founder Mimi Tse, who worked to expand access to quality education to children around the world, no matter their neighborhood or socioeconomic status. Photo by Nephas Hindamu.

Studies show that children who complete a well-designed early childhood education program are more likely to enroll in primary school and have higher achievement outcomes than their peers who did not access such pre-primary learning opportunities.

Early childhood education programs have also been linked to better economic prospects for individuals and countries and may contribute to a reduction in levels of inequality.

“The benefits of a strong educational foundation early in life are tremendous,” says Charito Kruvant, Co-Founder and CEO of Creative Associates International and the driving force behind The Creative Way. “If we hope to build stronger, more stable communities, we must start with the youngest members of society.”

The Creative Way strategy supports the government of Zambia’s strategic plan to ensure that all children have a preschool experience prior to entering first grade. Preschool education is rare in the country, and it is an opportunity about which the parents of Mimi’s Place learners are excited.

“I want [my daughter] to learn,” says Jacob Mtonga, the caretaker of the USAID Read to Succeed office and father of six-year-old Ennea. “None of my children have had an opportunity to go through preschool, as they go straight into grade one. However, the biggest advantage is that it is free education.”

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Mimi’s Place educators lead the children through play, exploration and hands-on experimentation to instill a thirst for knowledge, respect, independence, responsibility, motivation and decision-making. Photo by Nephas Hindamu.

Jomo Simbaya, an accountant with USAID Read to Succeed and the father of four-year-old Bukata says he is confident that by the time his son leaves Mimi’s Place “he will be ready to be in grade one at any primary school.”

Ennea, Bukata and the other learners at Mimi’s Place, say its founders, will get a head start in education.  By learning foundational reading and numeracy skills as well as social studies, health and nutrition skills—all through supervised, safe, fun and exciting play and exploration—they will better prepared for the Zambian schools system.

“Their day-to-day play and learning activities are in sync with the Zambian primary school curriculum, ensuring that their experience gives them a head start for schooling and will be a lifelong foundation for healthy productive lives,” says Bradford Strickland, Senior Associate for School and Community Health at Creative and an instrumental figure in the launch of Mimi’s Place.

Local leadership for sustainability

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The Creative Way strategy supports the government of Zambia’s plan to ensure that all children have a preschool experience prior to entering first grade. The method improves children’s chances of success in primary school. Photo by Nephas Hindamu.

With an eye toward sustainability, two Zambian early childhood educators, trained by Creative in The Creative Way methodology, will lead the children at Mimi’s Place through play, exploration and hands-on experimentation aimed at instilling a thirst for knowledge, respect, independence, responsibility, motivation and decision-making.

The Mimi’s Place team, which also includes two Zambian support staff—a school assistant and a cook—will work hand-in-hand with parents. Local ownership of The Creative Way is key to its success.

“Mimi’s Place has the potential to a showcase, a model for others to emulate,” says Robb. “It is an excellent demonstration of what can be accomplished with locally available resources and professionals when guided by sound methodology and guidelines.”

Honoring a true advocate for early childhood education

Named for Creative’s late co-founder Mimi Tse, who retired in September 2015, Mimi’s Place is a testament to her belief that a strong start in life was invaluable. Access to quality education, she believed, could place children on a path out of poverty and toward success.

Throughout her career, Tse worked to expand access to quality education to children around the world, no matter their neighborhood or socioeconomic status.

“Mimi’s Place in Lusaka, Zambia, is the brainchild of Creative Co-Founder Charito Kruvant and a fitting tribute to one of Creative’s founders, the late Mimi Tse,” says Robb.

With reporting by Nephas Hindamu.

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