Kushanda Preschools in Zimbabwe

Context and Need: The Kushanda Project grew out of the need in rural areas of Zimbabwe for the health services promised by the government after independence. A 1990 UNICEF situation Analysis noted that the poorest, especially, did not access social services. Indeed, they often did not demand them. Once the Kushanda Project was on the ground in communities of Marondera to provide basic health services, priority needs emerged among families whose parents, especially mothers, faced the difficulties of trying to work on farms while children played all around them for broader early care programs.

The Foundation for Education with Production began the Kushanda Project in Marondera in 1984 as part of the broader local development plan of Shandisayi Pfungwa Cooperative which included an agricultural cooperative and employment opportunities. In this area, seasonal farm workers have little economic security and the provision of services such as sanitation, clinics and schools by farm owners is very mixed. The plan of the Kushanda Project responded to the isolation of farm laborers from government services as well as from each other. The project expanded in 1989 into Chinyika, Zimbabwe's largest resettlement area, where food production is difficult due to poor quality soil and the area also suffers from a lack of passable roads, accessible social services and markets. As in Marondera, large distances between communities bred isolation. In both sites, communities expressed the needs for child care and early education.

Objective: to create a model for establishing rural pre-school centers and supporting small village or farm preschools established by trainees.

Approach: The basic approach of the Kushanda Project was one of partnership with communities in which the Kushanda Project worked with the established cooperative of Shandisayi Pfungwa to provide training to community women who would then establish community-supported pre-schools. In this partnership, each community agreed to select and pay a teacher who would be trained to run a community-built preschool center. The Kushanda Project would provide:

Supplementary food provided at the preschools proved essential during Zimbabwe’s recent droughts. Without the commitment of the community to supporting the teacher and school, Kushanda Project would not agree to provide training. It also worked through women’s clubs and adult nonformal education programs to reinforce health education as well as community organization. Through partnership with the cooperative, the Kushanda Project supported a health center as well as curriculum promoting basic literacy and production activities reached beyond the early childhood care and education activities for broader community development.

In order to achieve integration of health, nutrition and education support for holistic child development in Marondera, the preschool teachers themselves were often farm health workers, making them a key resource and point of integration. In 1989, the Kushanda Project brought on additional staff to take community mobilization as well as training parents and the wider community in child health and hygiene. The adult health education component focuses upon working with parents on issues of health and hygiene issues and ignites their commitment as they see quite rapid change in their children in these areas. In this way, the Kushanda Project orchestrated impact on both teachers and parents -- the major caregivers of preschool children -- and enhanced general knowledge of child development among the community to the benefit of children of all ages.

In both areas, Kushanda Project had to make the early childhood education and care (ECEC) model they promoted one that could truly be replicated in communities with limited resources. The training center in Chinyika was modeled true to this ideal. Every effort was made to avoid creating a sense in newly trained teachers that their own villages offer fewer resources and that they could succeed only if they had the greater resources of the training center. From the outset, the Kushanda Project staff felt that there was no point in building a model based on an unattainable standard. The approach strives in every instance to avoid community dependency upon the Kushanda Project for its preschool’s sustainability. As noted by Booker (1995), "The daily challenge was to ensure that parents recognized that Kushanda was not a charity generously bestowing gifts upon poor neglected communities. It offered instead a committed partnership in a process of development, and its scarce resources could only be invested in communities that took responsibility fir their own lives and the institutions which they themselves created to improve their situation" (p. 67). Community mobilization was relatively easier in Chinyika because the communities both stable and full of entire families. Where parents provide one source of energy and support to the preschool, they are complemented by the presence of grandparents, aunts and uncles whose relative attend the preschool.

The first 1989 training in Chinyika targeted committed communities and trained four women over two years. After this first round of training, the curriculum and format was altered to be completed in three months. This allowed the second year of training to include more trainees, as three sessions of three months each were held. After teachers train, they return to their villages to open their own preschools under trees or in abandoned buildings. Over time, these moved to their own shelters constructed by parents. These trainees in Chinyika received follow up support and supervision from the Kushanda Project in the form of almost weekly visits by the training instructors and later the assistant instructors. In Marondera, however, cluster workshops emerged as a solution to the logistically impossible schedule of regular one to two day visits by the trainers. These workshops bring together four to six teachers for three days three times a year for refresher courses and opportunities to share experiences, problem solve together and build group camaraderie. Overcoming this logistical difficulty led the project to discover the value of preschool teachers working within local groups to discuss efforts, overcome obstacles and build professional support relationships.

With sustainability of the effort always in mind, the Kushanda Project worked with the communities it supported to establish a Federation of Kushanda Preschools (FKP) in 1991. This body links the set of isolated community-based efforts working with the Kushanda Project. It thus builds a supportive network and constituency for ECEC activities in the two target districts. It also works to expand the reach of these efforts through additional training of preschool teachers and organization of parents in support of children's welfare. Booker (1995) quotes one FKP official describing the organization as a three legged stool: "The first leg is the training for pre-school teachers and the follow-up supervision and support, including the provision of mahewu (nutritional supplements) and a few educational materials. This enables our preschools to operate at a high standard. The second leg is the Adult and Health Education component, and the Community Organizer. These help us parents to stay involved in the program because we learn things that improve our lives. And the third leg is our own commitment to pay the teachers’ salaries and to support the program in other ways, like building ECEC shelters and making toys. So long as each of the three legs are strong, it works. It is a stool that our children can sit on and not fall" (p. 74).

Target Population: Children ages three to six are the main target of the Kushanda Project and FKP’s efforts. While there was some early interest in provision of services for infants and children below three, the Kushanda Project maintained that without community agreement on the need for such services and commitment to partnership roles to achieve that provision, they would not go ahead. It has thus far not been a priority.

Coverage: At the end of the Kushanda Project in 1993, 150 teachers had been trained and their preschools served 5,000 children. Today, the FKP consists of 160 preschools whose foundation was supported by the Kushanda Preschool Dissemination Project, plus 60 centers whose foundation the FKP has supported. By 1998, the FKP aims to support an additional 140 centers.

ECD Workers (Preschool Teachers): Women selected by the community are the teachers of these preschools. In Marondera, women who had already been trained as farm health workers were selected, centralizing the support of children's health, care and education at the preschool. In some areas of Chinyika, they are local teachers and in others they are childminders. For both the Kushanda Project and the FKP after it supported their development as professionals.

Training: In Marondera, the training of teachers only takes place where a center exists. The isolation of the farms bred an overall training approach based on intensive on-site training in early childhood and close personal involvement of the trainers. The community health workers were trained on-site over a period of four weeks to establish preschool in their communities: three weeks are held in a residential center and the last of which is on-site. In Chinyika, training is offered three terms a year in six week sessions for teachers and twelve week sessions for supervisors. The longer sessions in this area are necessary to provide the teachers in Chinyika with the child health knowledge that the Health Farm Workers in Marondera had already received.

The training curriculum has five important components:

    1. how children develop and learn;
    2. models for preschool organization and facilitation;
    3. child health and hygiene;
    4. production of play ad learning materials from local resources; and
    5. management of relationships with parents for the children’s optimal development.

The trainees first learn about the ideas in each category, then see the lesson modeled and then try its application themselves. The Kushanda Project holds as a central principle of the training approach that you cannot undertake to learn how to work with children in the absence of children.

Organizational Structure of the Effort: At the project's inception in commercial farming communities, two NGOs managed it: the International Foundation for Education with Production and the Zimbabwe Federation for Education with Production. This effort also involved the members of the Shandisayi Pfungwa cooperative and was undertaken with the support of two foreign donors. Together this group undertook an integrated development project aimed at raising the standard of living of the farm workers. It consisted of not only skills training, material and financial inputs to boost productivity and income of families, but incorporated adult education and literacy, extension training for health and nutrition as well as early childhood education.

Later in Chinyika, the training center was established alongside the primary school at Arnoldine and worked with preschool teachers who would return to their villages to establish additional preschool centers. Here the Project worked with government agencies and established local PTAs to support each preschool. In both areas, the project spread through outreach training and word of mouth to interested and committed communities where the project would take up the partnership to train teachers, establish preschools and heighten knowledge and skills for supporting health child development.

The Federation of Kushanda Preschools was created in 1991 by the parents and teachers of all the preschools involved in the project. This federation joins the isolated communities together. After training in project management, institutional development, decision-making, budget administration, and program supervision, elected FKP officials began sharing planning and management responsibilities with Kushanda staff. By 1993, the FKP took over the management of the Kushanda Project and fully employed four full-time staff (formerly of the Kushanda Project). The FKP General Meeting consists of 300 elected members. This group comprises one teacher and one PTA member from each community, who preside on FKP policy and development. The FKP organizes its network of scattered communities into a voice of demand for national resources. It also offers its working members opportunity to travel to meetings and enjoy the status of representation. By association or membership, the FKP has raised the status and support of the preschool teacher in the villages of Chinyika and on the farms of Marondera.

The FKP has received financial support to establish the Teacher and Community Training and Involvement in Control, Ownership and Management (TACTICOM) project. This program of outreach builds upon the Kushanda Project’s training model and experience by starting with groups of five to ten villages and conducting the teacher training on site and with the participation of the communities. Home visits, toy making sessions and nutrition garden planting with all involved in a child’s development begins from the agreement of the communities and the FKP to partner in this effort. Now the teachers aren't sent to the training center to learn their skills, but the trainers go to the communities for the full training period and work with larger numbers of direct caregivers in each site. Through the TACTICOM effort, 60 new centers have emerged since 1993.

Role of Wider Community: Community mobilization and participation is central to the Kushanda Project and the FKP approach. In the areas of Marondera where the Project works with farm laborers, this is made much more difficult due to the transience of the population. In all areas, efforts at community mobilization find that while the government meant well in committing to provide early childhood support services after independence, this undermines the awareness and willingness of the communities to participate in ECD provision. In Chinyika, the project hired a coordinator to focus upon community mobilization and parents education. This innovation emerged from Kushanda’s realization that the expectations in Marondera that project staff and preschool the teachers could establish and run preschools as well as mobilize and educate communities were unrealistic.

National ECD Policy: After independence the government became actively involved in promoting the establishment of preschools throughout the country. Early childhood education and care was encouraged as a fulfillment of children's right to education and out of the recognition that ECEC can contribute to children's social development and better performance later informal education. The legislation upon which such promotion is based, however, has not been updated since Zimbabwe gained independence and the Old Rhodesian Nursery Education Act cites standards of staff qualifications and space requirements that have little relevance for many of the nation’s communities and their children.

The National Programme of Action of 1982 aimed to provide all children, regardless of socio-economic background, with ECD services and to standardize ECD services throughout the country. The government payment of preschool teachers since 1988 of between $12 and $15 dollars a month, however, has undermined both the status of preschool teachers and built community expectation of government salary provision. The 1992 Programme of Action recognized the importance of community-based ECD. In aiming by the year 2000 to expand preschool program coverage of 3 to 5 year olds from 20% to 48%, it cites community mobilization as a key strategy for achieving this goal. The Government also aims to clarify and implement guidelines and institute a registration and monitoring system.

There is some concern about the standards, however, as they include: pupil-staff ratio of 1:20, presence of a primary school to supervise; approved curriculum; PTA; approved shelter, water, toilets, fenced yard, outdoor playground equipment and a community-based feeding scheme. As these criteria leave most rural preschools and all of Kushanda preschools out of possibility of government support, the FKP membership and its staff feel the need to mobilize additional NGOs and preschools to influence these government actions. The representation of between 7,000 and 9,000 parents is central to the strength of the FKP in this respect. For as Booker (1995) concludes, "only the parents can implement community-based programs and hold the government responsible for its part" (p. 78).

National Structures, Roles of Institutional Stakeholders: UNICEF's situation analysis notes that while parents and community finance the construction and maintenance of ECEC centers, the Ministry of Education and Culture is responsible for curriculum, teacher training, standards control and the payment of allowances of ECEC teachers. The ECD section in the Ministry of Education comprises five people in the Schools Psychological Services Division and its points of action are: 1) standardization and regulation; 2) curriculum development; 3) TOT and teachers; 4) infrastructure -- new and repairs. Unfortunately, the stated minimum requirements and standards are out of reach of the vast majority of rural ECD centers. BvLF estimates in 1994 that 164,000 children were attending centers that did not meet infrastructure requirements. Booker (1995) further reports that this Ministry has no budget for direct financial support to centers and that its training initiative begun in 1988 ran into substantial language and logistical difficulties and did not involve parents.

Inter-ministerial Coordination: The Kushanda Project works in close collaboration with the Ministries of Health and Education at the local level as well as the local Rural Councils of Marondera and Chinyika. The Kushanda Project was designed to extend the work of these agencies to meet additional needs and serve previously unreached populations.

Partnership with other Organizations: In addition to the above partners, the two NGOs that managed the Kushanda Project and now the FKP itself also work with and through farm owners, workers’ councils, parent committees and local schools.

Program Quality and Effectiveness: Several factors reflect the success and progress of the project. First, teachers in preschools not associated with the Kushanda project have asked to be included in the workshops. Second, in Marondera, teachers report that their best students are those that have attended the preschool and the health monitoring books used in the centers have documented the improved growth and hygiene of the children as well as the decreased frequency of illness. Finally, Booker (1995) reports that the Ministry of Education district trainer in Chinyika found the Kushanda training content and the location of the center next to an actual preschool an improvement upon the theory-based training of his Ministry.

Donors, Sponsors: The original sponsor of the Kushanda Project was the Bernard van Leer Foundation (BvLF), but when funding ended in 1993, the project was taken over be a federation of parents’ associations, the FKP. Now, BvLF supports the training and outreach efforts of this group.

Economic Costs and Financing

Fees: The fees in villages of Chinyika vary from $1 and $3 per child per month on average. These amounts are agreed upon by the community and are used to pay the teacher salaries. As there are often two teachers and between 35 and 45 students in a preschool. This means that two teachers split between $45 and $135 a month.

In-kind Contributions: these range from community resources for building the preschools themselves to parents' time for preschool management as well as time and materials for making toys form the local environment.

Recurring Costs: The nutritional supplements and stationery materials for training, as well as the instructor salaries are continued costs of supporting the Federation preschools. The latter are supported by the new grant from the Bernard van Leer Foundation -- and other sources?

Salaries of Teachers: these are covered from the above fees as set by the parents of preschool children and the PTA in the community.

Sustainability: The Kushanda Project has supported the establishment of a sustainable preschool model for rural Zimbabwe. In partnership with communities, it has created village-level institutions supported by PTAs and the FKP outreach supervisors. In addition, it has established the Federation of Kushanda Preschools itself, a nascent movement in two districts of the country bringing together concerned parents and citizens mobilized in support of child development programs and policies. Some aspects of the effort, such as the local centers and changes in behaviors beneficial to children's development are sustainable over the long term, while others, such as continued outreach and training and nutritional supplements, depend upon continued funding.


  1. Balance of igniting community intention with supply of external support (material and technical).
  2. Institution building at the community and cross-district level
  3. Convergence of health, education and nutrition via training emphasis upon trainees knowledge;
  4. weekly follow-up support to trainees, cluster workshops for supportive local network;
  5. Realism of model and training approach vis-à-vis materials and proximity to children;
  6. community commitment contributes to sustainability.


  1. Preschool teachers' salary needs,
  2. Government myopia vis-à-vis realistic child development policy, support mechanisms inclusive of community-based efforts;
  3. Government promise of ECD provision undermines community willingness to take responsibilities and roles;
  4. Sustainability of nutritional supports in the absence of external provision -- especially in the neediest communities.



Booker, Salih. We Are Your Children: the Kushanda Early Childhood Care and Education Dissemination Project Zimbabwe 1985-1993. BvLF 1994.

Building on People’s Strengths: Early Childhood in Africa, BvLF 1995.

Children and Women in Zimbabwe: A Situation Analysis Update - 1994. UNICEF 1994.

Zimbabwe Country Paper presented at: Achieving Education for All by the Year 2000, Mauritius. May 1994.