December 6, 2018

Experiencing the Essential Habits: Changing Student Mindsets in Tanzania

“Learning is a relatively permanent change in a person’s knowledge or behavior due to experience.” – Learning in Encyclopedia of Educational Research, Richard E. Mayer

As Opportunity Education Foundation Tanzania enters its third year offering Quest Forward Learning to secondary students in Tanzania, it’s exciting to reflect on the learning and growth that have taken place. Quest Forward methodologies focus on providing students with required, well-researched curriculum materials that help them become more active and engaged throughout the learning process. This creates positive behavioral changes in students and gives them the foundation for a promising future. One of the cornerstones of Quest Forward Learning is what we refer to as the Six Essential Habits. These habits assist Tanzanian secondary school graduates become well-rounded people who create value for themselves, their communities, and their country.

Tanzania’s national examination system causes most students and educational stakeholders to focus on examination results, rather than subject mastery. This system stems from a history of examination performance being the primary way to promote a student from one level of education to the next. The stakes are high when taking national exams. Often this results in students doing everything possible to pass their examinations, whether that be prioritizing memorization of content, or even cheating. However, because of the Quest Forward Learning mindset, examinations are no longer intimidating. Rather, they are a means to test for progress towards mastery. Students are learning how to let go of their fear of failure, as mentors reinforce the importance of learning from setbacks. These students are inspired by their classes and quests. In most Quest Forward schools in Tanzania, students manage their learning without any push from mentors or parents.

The Six Essential Habits are on display in our Quest Forward Learning classrooms. I was once privileged to observe a Form One class, in which they were learning about essential needs in life. I saw how independent these students were while preparing an experiment that involved keeping a grasshopper in a bottle with all its necessities such as food and air, while another grasshopper was kept in a bottle without food or air. Over three days, the students observed the grasshoppers and recorded the outcomes. They were actively involved during the experiment. This experiment demonstrated a great shift in how students acquire knowledge, since these young learners are able to develop a problem-solving mindset. This mindset is very rare in most of the schools in Tanzania. As outlined in the Essential Habits, these students exhibited curiosity, they learned from setbacks, they solved problems, managed themselves, communicated and collaborated, and are well on their way to leading integrated lives. It is deeply rewarding to witness this process firsthand.

The Essential Habits of Quest Forward Learning have allowed students to create value in every area they in which they will be working, due to the fact that their behaviors are permanently changed as a result of their experiences. Rather than sitting passively in a classroom, students are curious, wanting to know more. Our Quest Forward students ask questions about things they do not fully understand, compared with their counterparts who are not following the Quest Forward methodology. They are courageous in their depth of inquiry and their willingness to explore. In addition, most of these students are full of confidence. The level at which they collaborate during classroom sessions with mentors and fellow students shows just how crucial the Essential Habits have been to their growth as thinkers and doers.

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