DISCOVER LEARNING (Vumbua Kujifunza)
The Center for the Developing Adolescent, in partnership with Save the Children Tanzania, Dalberg, and Health for a Prosperous Nation, with generous support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is leading Discover Learning (in Swahili, Vumbua Kujifunza). Discover Learning is an innovation project designed for very young adolescents (10 to 11 years old) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This project will provide new insights into early intervention opportunities for improving the life trajectories of adolescents across Tanzania and globally.
Developmental science is providing a deeper understanding of how strategic investments in early windows of learning and brain development can improve life-long health and well-being. Key windows for learning exist not only in infancy and early childhood but also in adolescence. Changes in the brain during the transition from childhood into adolescence (around ages 10 to 11), near the onset of puberty, appear to create new learning opportunities. Positive learning experiences during this time may support healthy pathways of social development in ways that can reduce some behavioral, emotional, and physical health problems that emerge in late adolescence (ages 15 to 19) and negatively impact adult health. Discover Learning is designed to leverage these scientific insights and translate them into an intervention strategy for very young adolescents.
As a first-step proof of concept, we have designed Discover Learning as a 12-session, after-school intervention for 10 and 11 year-olds. Each two-hour session includes team building and collaborative group work, laptop-based learning activities, opportunities to discover the value of learning in shaping one’s future, and time for reflection. Youth work in small (five person), mixed-gender teams with support from an adult facilitator. Key facilitation principles have been designed to complement the content of the sessions to foster gender equity, growth mindset, identity development, curiosity, and effective social and individual learning.
Developmental science offers insights about types of learning that appear to be especially important during early adolescence. These insights inform our approach in four ways. 1) We build upon a core concept of discovery learning. This process of discovering new information or a solution on one’s own (rather than having information provided) creates more dynamic and effective learning. This may be a particularly effective way to learn in adolescence. 2) We focus on social learning and identity development. We emphasize discovery learning experiences in the realm of social, emotional, and identity development, particularly in the shaping of motivational feelings and “heartfelt goals.” 3) We focus on a unique developmental window relevant to gender dynamics. This window (ages 10 to 11) creates unique learning opportunities for girls to gain confidence in social situations and to establish healthy gender norms. Promoting positive social learning experiences in mixed-gender groups will support these outcomes. (4) We use technology. Laptop-based learning experiences tap into natural curiosity, motivation, and willingness to explore, and provide positive opportunities to help youth adapt successfully to the increasing influence of technology in the world around them. As participants have successful learning experiences in their groups, our goal is to better understand how these experiences, during this specific window of development, can shape participants’ identities, spark heartfelt goals, promote positive gender roles, and set the foundation for life-long health and well-being.
The long-term goal of Discover Learning is to better understand how scientific insights about early adolescence and puberty can enhance the impact of effective, scalable interventions to improve sexual/reproductive health and gender-equity outcomes. We will: 1) test these concepts and explore which aspects of the intervention best deliver these key learning experiences; 2) adapt the most promising components into principles to be integrated into a scalable intervention model; and 3) explore the effect of participating in Discover Learning on gender dynamics, beliefs and attitudes about learning, and school achievement. In partnership with the FrameWorks Institute, we will translate the learning from this project to inform work globally with early adolescents.
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