strengthening primary education

– Tanzania

What are the challenges?

Tanzania has made impressive strides to increase enrollment at the primary school level through its mandate for “fee-free” primary education across the country. However, the rapid increase has not included sufficient investments to improve education quality. As a result, children leave school without age-appropriate reading, writing, or arithmetic skills. A national assessment in 2012 found that by class 7, the last year of primary school, less than half of the students could read a class 2 level story in English. This severely limits the number of students who can advance to secondary school and puts into question the quality of education children actually receive in primary school.

How are our CBO grantee-partners helping?


Our CBO grantee-partners in Tanzania are piloting and iterating on a variety of models to effectively improve children’s learning outcomes. Each partner takes a holistic and innovative approach to address key challenges that limit children’s success in school – including child vulnerabilities, family vulnerabilities, and poor learning environments at schools. They work to increase community involvement in children’s early learning and to develop community-led solutions that could be replicated or scaled by other civil society organizations or government. Because of the link between early childhood and primary school outcomes, two of our grantee-partners have established and are supporting community-based early childhood development programs, especially for groups who are marginalized or otherwise vulnerable to extreme poverty. Other grantee-partners are implementing a variety of approaches at the early primary level ­­­– deploying community-based volunteers to tutor children at home, setting up remedial classes for struggling students, training teachers in child-friendly pedagogy, and creating supportive afterschool learning programs.

Our grant funding not only included direct grants for all five organizations but also included support for the Community Grantmaker, Tanzania Home Economics Association (TAHEA), which has provided funding and support to ten additional small grassroots youth groups as part of their Vutamdogo program. The youth groups are also trained in income-generating activities, and some have even gone on to establish themselves as full community-based organizations.

In addition, with training in social accountability strategies, our CBO grantee-partners are holding government accountable in different ways – from training community volunteers to continuously monitor expenditure and performance of school capitation grants to engaging community members to help renovate school kitchen facilities.

How is Firelight helping?

Firelight wanted to support grassroots innovators who were grounded in their local contexts and were finding creative ways to overcome the barriers that limit children’s achievement. We supported them with organizational capacity building and tailored technical capacity building in learning and evaluation, which allows them to better measure, evaluate, and share the impact they are making in their communities. With better data and measurement of outcomes, our CBO grantee-partners are able to hold themselves accountable to their communities, as well as demonstrate impact of community-based solutions to other government or civil society actors.


In Tanzania, government is often not held responsible for educational outcomes due to weak local oversight bodies and the inability of community-based organizations to engage their communities in holding government accountable. In response, we have been partnering with HakiElimu, a national education advocacy organization, to support our CBO grantee-partners’ engagement with government, policymakers, and critical stakeholders. Through this intensive capacity building in social accountability, our grantee-partners have experienced increased ability to facilitate local action to support children’s learning and to hold government accountable for ensuring children learn the necessary skills and have the necessary resources to become active citizens in society. 

Firelight also facilitated frequent learning and sharing amongst grantee-partners, which has enabled our CBO grantee-partners to learn from each other and adapt best programmatic practices to their own contexts. We hope that the continued sharing and lateral replication of effective models will ideally catalyze wide-scale change in children’s learning outcomes from the bottom up.

What has the impact been?

All five partners have reported great increases in children’s literacy and numeracy through their innovative programs, as well as increased parental and community engagement in their work. Families are more engaged in their children’s learning – reviewing their homework, providing nutritious meals for children at schools, working with teachers to understand their children’s progress, and providing small stipends to teachers and volunteers who are staying afterschool to teach their children. In addition, for youth participating in TAHEA’s Vutamdogo program, as a result of their affiliation, leadership, and service as part of these groups, the youth report greater self-esteem, increased empowerment, and a sense of belonging, contribution, and respect in their communities

As a result of our support, our CBO grantee-partners have demonstrated increased capacity in learning and evaluation, with all organizations scoring above 50% on an assessment of capacity as compared to baseline. Our grantee-partners have also self-reported benefiting from Firelight’s capacity building in a number of ways – from strengthening their project conceptualization to the sustainability of their initiative through new external grant funding.

How are we planning for the future?

We are excited to see our partners building community-driven solutions that not only are impacting children’s learning today but also are able to be replicated and scaled in the future to expand quality primary education practices. It would be our goal to adapt and replicable our CBO grantee-partners’ models as well as their engagement in social accountability, in order to hopefully see more and more Tanzanian children receiving the educational support they need for school readiness, literacy, numeracy, and overall learning, with strong school and home environments that support their learning. 

Communities in action

Safina Women’s Association (SAWA) is a community-based organization what works with rural pastoralist Maasai communities in the Morogoro region of Tanzania to improve the pathway of learning for children from home into primary school. In rural areas such as these, children often have to work extremely long distances to the closest government pre-primary and primary schools. And even when children are able to attend these schools, with Maasai as their first and only language, they quickly fall behind in classes conducted only in Swahili.  

SAWA has stepped in to strengthen two community-based and community-run “satellite” pre-primary and early primary schools – built and run in partnership with communities themselves – that are closer to the children and that help them break down the language barrier between Maasai and Swahili. SAWA trains teachers in bilingual pedagogy, engages community members in contributing material and financial resources to the centers, and helps parents create supportive learning environments at home. When children are ready to attend primary school, they have the capacity and confidence to keep up with their peers and succeed.


As Christina Laini, a mother whose children have attended the satellite school located in Matangani village of Morogoro, says, “At first our children were lacking access to education due to the long walking distance and the language barrier, because we only speak the Maasai language at home. This makes it difficult for them to learn when they get to school. But at our center, teachers apply Swahili and Maasai language.” She continues, “As we are talking now, our children tend to perform much better when they go [from the satellite center] to the [government-run primary] school. My son, when he first went to the mother school, was the 5th in the class out of more than 80 students. That’s the result of the quality that we have here at our center. Even the [government-run primary] schools we recognize our center for its competency.”

Christina goes on to note that even her friends in nearby villages recognize the quality of satellite schools such as Matangani Center, realizing that sometimes they are even providing higher quality education than local primary schools. Even though her Christina’s friend’s lives in a distant village, Christina says, “[My friend] enrolled her three grandchildren to Matangani Center so that they can access the quality education, despite the long walking distance that they will have to walk every day.” 

We at Firelight are proud to stand with communities ­– like those in Matangani – who have come together with the support of organizations like SAWA to invest in the futures of their children and set them up for long-term success.