Ota means “to dream” in Swahili, and that is exactly what we hope our program will help children do: To dream of a better future for their community and how they can help reach it.
We believe that education is the key to empowering people to think critically and creatively about how to address the needs of their communities. With this in mind, the idea for The Ota Initiative is based upon two key concepts.
- Numerous studies have shown that children who are actively learning year round perform better in school. One notable 20-year study by Johns Hopkins University showed that children from lower-income families fell nearly three grade levels behind their middle-income counterparts because their parents were less likely to be able to afford to send them to camp, stay at home with them or involve them in other activities that kept their brains busy during breaks from school. As a result, children from lower-income families retained less information over summer break than children from middle-class families. Simply put, keeping children actively engaged over school breaks directly impacts their performance in school and the likelihood they will graduate and continue on to college.
- Studying arts and sciences are key to an education. Although some may argue that these two subject areas are vastly different, they both teach children the same key skill: to think about the world around them and how they interact with it. Engaging children in artistic and scientific projects will encourage them to think big and will give them the confidence necessary to pursue their ideas.
In Kayanga, however, there are no school break programs for children, and educational opportunities in the arts and sciences are limited due to lack of funding for supplies. This is where The Ota Initiative comes in…
The Ota Initiative is working to create learning experiences for students in Tanzania during their two breaks from school in the months of December and June. We believe that keeping the children engaged and exposing them to arts and science projects will help them become more effective students. However, more importantly, we want to create innovative thinkers who will analyze the problems they see around them and work to fix them.
Elementary School Program
Our first program is a three-hour daily program that will run for elementary students between the ages of 4 and 8 during the two school breaks. This program will focus on creative projects that will involve the children in story telling, theater, drawing and other artistic endeavors. These activities will relate back to daily scientific subjects that will also be explored through small science experiments as well. Although this program will focus on arts and science, it will also include aspects of leadership development and teamwork skills.
Secondary School Program
The secondary school program will focus exclusively on giving students practice performing lab experiments. Every year in Tanzania, Form 2 students (equivalent of 10th grade in America) must take a series of nationwide tests. If they fail, they cannot continue studying in government schools. However, public school students often fail science subjects because their schools do not have access to lab equipment or the funds necessary to replenish supplies each year.
The Ota Initiative will help the students of Kayanga Secondary gain practical lab experience by hosting a month-long program during the month of June. Enrolled students will spend each week performing lab experiments in four scientific subjects covered in the national tests. The hope is that this intensive program will give students the lab practice they need to then go on and pass the national science tests, which will then permit them to continue studying and gain their high school diploma.