Laughter, learning and looking to the future
Sabina Vigani has been at the forefront of TRECC’s work since its inception in 2015. She leads the small team in Côte d’Ivoire who are driving the changes to make a profound impact on children’s learning and growth. To coincide with the release of the Transforming Education in Côte d’Ivoire: Reflections, Lessons, Next Steps report, Sabina talks about her personal experience in Côte d’Ivoire.
Originally from Switzerland, how do you come to be in Côte d’Ivoire?
This is a long story! I arrived in Côte d’Ivoire in 2006 and worked with several organizations in the areas of democracy, elections, and human rights. I embarked on the amazing journey with TRECC in 2015 and have been happily here ever since.
What do you love about Côte d’Ivoire?
I really believe a wonderful sense of humor is the landmark trait of Ivorian people. I have come to treasure, their ability to parody everything, even in the most difficult circumstances. I love how humor makes life more joyful, and how it often helps de-escalate social tensions.
TRECC’s work is to improve the living conditions of children and young people. Why? What are the living conditions like?
Côte d’Ivoire is a country with enormous socio-economic potential. Yet despite progress in the last decades, Côte d’Ivoire remains in a group of countries with low human development. Many children in Côte d’Ivoire experience a difficult start in life including malnutrition, delayed development and poor education opportunities.
The facts are sobering:
- 87.5% of children between 6-23 months do not have a Minimum Acceptable Diet
- 37.2% of children aged 36-59 months don’t develop properly
- 85% of children don’t have access to preprimary education
- 59.5% of children have not met the minimum competency threshold in reading, and 82.8% in math, by the end of primary school.
TRECC has been supporting the Government of Côte d’Ivoire in addressing these challenges over the last 5 years.
Which aspect of the TRECC program in the last five years are you professionally most proud?
TRECC has built trust, a solid reputation, and constructive relationships with our different partners. This cannot be underestimated given the Jacobs Foundation was then pretty much an unknown to both the Government of Côte d’Ivoire and other donors in the global education space. As a newcomer with significant funds, we had to manage both expectations and sensitivities. We had to demonstrate our commitment was genuine, long-term and our value-add goes beyond financial capital to include expertise and an extensive expert network.
We further had to prove the business case for cocoa and chocolate companies to invest in early childhood development and quality education. Through TRECC sponsored research, we have been able to generate an increasing body of evidence that demonstrates the link between quality education and a reduction of child labor.
On a personal note, I am very proud that the experimental and entrepreneurial mindset we started the TRECC journey with, has stayed with us. There was no template for anything when we started! Setting-up in-country operations was a first for the Jacobs Foundation. As was establishing partnership agreements with private companies, and developing an agreement protocol with the Government. Five years on, we continue to innovate as reflected by the Child Learning and Education Facility (CLEF), an upcoming initiative between the Government of Côte d’Ivoire, UBS Optimus Foundation and 15 global cocoa and chocolate companies.
Which stories can you share where you felt your work had meaning and had touched the lives of real people?
One of my most gratifying moments was to observe enthusiastic children benefitting from education interventions and feeling proud of their learning progress. I saw, for example, in the PEC program children being so excited by the engaging and playful methodology that they requested their teachers to cut break short to go back in the classroom and practice PEC! It was equally fulfilling to hear how teachers felt empowered through applying enhanced teaching practices that helped them master the learning process, support children’s individual needs, to ultimately improve learning outcomes.
Discussing with parents and caregivers involved in parenting sessions has been revealing about how knowledge shared can lead to behavior change. I also met a father from a remote rural community in the West of Côte d’Ivoire who told me his relationship with his child has been transformed through play and positive discipline. And a young mother of a 6-month old girl proudly explained she had learned how talking, singing, and actively stimulating a baby would boost her brain development. This mother had started interacting more frequently and mindfully with her baby, and raising awareness with her relatives and friends.
A final anecdote involves the General Inspector of National Education, the highest-ranking civil servant within the Ministry of Education. We visited together a few schools piloting the PEC program designed to support children struggling with reading and math. In one of the schools, a teacher asked 3rd grade pupils to read a short story aloud. The students read fluently, showing understanding of what they were reading. The General Inspector suspected the pupils knew the story by heart, so he took a text out of his bag and asked the children to read that. The children could also read the new text! The General Inspector was visibly surprised and overwhelmed with joy. He is now one of the most fervent advocates for the PEC program to be scaled across the country.
Looking to the future, where are you most excited to see change in the next 5 years?
We have worked since 2016 towards laying the foundations to achieve impact at scale. We started little but with a vision of scale in mind. Then, we set out on a “path to scale” journey with a pilot phase, selecting the most promising solutions after thorough and independent evaluations, to then support an extension phase with increased government ownership and a larger number of schools and communities involved.
We have needed a lot of patience and nerve to pursue a long, but necessary, road to be sure we are scaling the most effective educational and early childhood development interventions. But now we are ready to scale! We have identified the most effective interventions and secured significant funding. I am looking forward to seeing learning outcomes drastically improve at a national level within 5 years.
Sabina Vigani has been working with Jacobs Foundation since 2014 and has led in Côte d’Ivoire the implementation of the TRECC initiative. Prior to joining the foundation, she worked with several organizations in the areas of democracy, elections, and human rights. Sabina’s areas of expertise are international human rights protection system, electoral processes, support to education systems, program management and facilitation of complex processes.