Africa is home to rich natural resources, diverse cultural wisdom, and vibrant environments with roots in the indigenous education system, possessing the potential to redefine early learning across the continent. However, these assets have only been partially utilized to benefit and inform early education practices. But this is changing! A surge of awareness is recognizing the critical link between indigenous knowledge, local materials, and sustainable educational practices. The Gaffat Community Preschool project in Debre Tabor, Ethiopia, exemplifies this shift, offering a window into the promising future of early childhood education in Ethiopia, the continent, and beyond.
Indigenous Architectural Design
The Gojo Bet is a distinct structure recognized by its cone-shaped top and circular bottom. It is a significant cultural symbol for African communities and other indigenous groups worldwide. Apart from its physical features, the Gojo Bet represents a collective thought and approach that reflects the socio-cultural identity of its locals. Unlike conventional buildings, the Gojo Bet does not separate its areas into compartments. Instead, various sections are openly displayed as cooking areas, rest areas, and other parts that make a house feel like a home. This architectural layout reflects a communal ethos, celebrating shared spaces and interconnectedness within immediate, extended families and society.
The construction of traditional Gojo Bet walls is bound by tradition and passed down through generations. Locals use a combination of natural elements in the surrounding environment to create a durable, well-insulated structure that is in harmony with nature. Even though this practice has been considered “primitive” for a long time, it is now being revitalized through various projects, bringing new life to the profound indigenous knowledge embedded in the construction of traditional Gojo Bet.
If we were asked what made the first construction phase successful, it would be our collaboration with key organizations. The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure‘s support and guidance go above and beyond; their impact is evident in the tangible outcomes observed with ECEE’s preschool construction. This collaboration has disseminated innovative ideas to local engineers, construction workers, and the education bureau, emphasizing the collective responsibility in building sustainable early learning programs. It urges a departure from the conventional approach of simply piling bricks one by one to put children in a concrete or makeshift building. It challenges the status quo; rather than being outcome-oriented, it is broadly invested in the process. Asking the most valuable question of “why” every step of the way. For Early Childhood Education Ethiopia, this aligns with our mission and vision, amplifying our commitment to expand our resources while advancing daily environmental stewardship.
The Community Leading the Change
Early Childhood Education Ethiopia is based on community-led practices. As an organization, we invest in, work with, and employ individuals within the community to bring this monumental project to life. We hired a local contractor, provided temporary jobs for several community members, and opened the lines of communication widely while adopting an equity-minded practice. This resulted in the delivery of the first construction phase (two classrooms and one restroom) on schedule. We held community practice meetings, exchanging ideas between organizations and local community leaders, enriching the collective knowledge base. By learning from one another and collaborating, we can better apply existing indigenous knowledge and sustainable practices in different contexts, creating a holistic ecosystem that benefits children and early education advancement.
What’s Next for ECEE
What’s Next for ECEE
In February, ECEE plans to move into the second construction phase. This phase will involve adding four more Gojo Bet classrooms and two restrooms with 16 stalls. The local community’s collaborative engagement, support, combined traditional knowledge, and technical proficiency continue to lead ECEE’s community preschool project, scheduled to serve 450 children 3-7 years old. Gaffat Elementary School, Debre Tabor University, and the local education bureau partners are critical in this monumental effort. Their continued support adds to the community-driven dimension of ECEE’s initiative, emphasizing the shared commitment to establishing a sustainable early education program that benefits the broader rural community of Debre Tabor and beyond.
What can you do?
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Leading with Children!