In Challenging Times, Students Need Essential Habits

In March 2020, all schools closed in Tanzania following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was a difficult time for most of us around the country and the world at large. The closure challenged students and teachers from Quest Forward Schools too, but they had a different experience than most. With the Quest Forward Platform and the support of mentors and parents, these students went on with their studies. The students’ mindset and essential habits, learned at their Quest Forward Schools, played a vital role in making distance learning successful.

6 Essential Habits are woven through the curriculum and the learners’ experience in Quest Forward Schools. Essential Habits are tools that students need to work well with others and live a balanced, mindful, and successful life. They are very relevant for learners both in school life and life after school.

The importance of these habits became more evident during the COVID-19 school break than ever before. In normal circumstances, it would have been difficult to help students without meeting face to face. Mentors might worry about student engagement.

But because Quest Forward students have been developing these habits for success in life, the whole process of learning and mentoring while all were at home was much easier than it otherwise would have been.

Students displayed each of the 6 Essential Habits throughout the school closure, exemplifying their importance in preparing students for the challenges of life.

Express Curiosity: While at home, students continually expressed curiosity and benefited from it, reinforcing the importance of this Essential Habit. They asked relevant questions around topics and content to both their parents and mentors. Moreover, the students engaged themselves in small projects while at home — on their own initiative — to deepen their understanding of the curriculum content. Whenever the students encountered something new while at home, they spent the time thinking about it and shared thoughts with their mentors. They took the time to listen to others’ ideas as well as bringing onboard constructive challenges.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, I learned the importance of being curious. While at home, I spent time observing the things around me that were related to what we learned through quests. I found myself asking my mentors, especially science mentors, so many questions related to what I observed at home… I was able to learn so many things including acid and base topics in Chemistry.” 

— Alexander Uronu, Form III Student at Mtakuja Secondary School

Manage Yourself: Students overwhelmingly demonstrated the Manage Yourself during the COVID-19 break. Students worked independently at home, with much of their time on their own management. They were able to abide by the time table, respond to assignments, and work on quests at their individual pace. Students were also free to seek help, and engaged their families and mentors for support or guidance when they needed it.

“Essential habits helped me to do most of my things on my own without needing mentors’ supervision. One of the essential habits I applied the most was Manage Yourself because I was at home and there were no mentors to remind me every time to work accordingly. I had to be my own leader, set my time table, and make sure I became disciplined enough to follow all that was shared with me by my mentors before the school closure. Also through this habit, I was free to seek help from my parents, friends, and relatives at home whenever I needed help.”

— Julieth Johnson, Form IV Student at Mtakuja Secondary School

Solve Problems: Mentors sent the learners home with life-related problems that needed solutions. While at home, students assessed the problems, identified causes, collected information from different sources, and examined existing solutions. They shared their solutions with their mentors while at home. Some came to school with written solutions as artifacts when school resumed. This essential habit helped learners to understand how to scientifically approach problems, generate solutions, and test them, with little supervision in a home learning environment.

Communicate and Collaborate: Students showed that Communicate and Collaborate was a very significant habit during distance learning. While at home, the learners regularly participated in productive activities with fellow students and their mentors, contributed ideas during discussions, and supported their peers while learning. While in virtual discussions, the students demonstrated leadership skills as well as the ability to step back and be led by others. They expressed ideas respectfully and used those ideas to create high quality artifacts for quests.

“My son has changed a lot, he is now a good communicator, he speaks well and organized and listens to others. He was not like this before. I can say he is very different from the students from other schools.” 

— Mother of Joshua Laizer, Form IV student at Mtakuja Secondary School

Learn From Setbacks: Students persevered working on tasks at home. They made meaningful progress despite the many difficulties they faced, from power and internet disruptions to challenges with school work. Students sought help in innovative ways from parents, mentors, friends, and relatives when necessary to move forward. They did this in the form of one-to-one conversations, texts, and phone calls. Students overcame their own day-to-day challenges. They chose and managed help from their reliable sources and they moved on with their tasks successfully.

Live an Integrated Life: During the COVID-19 break, Quest Forward students shared their work much more with their families. They shared what they do at school and shared artifacts as they produced them. Moreover, they managed to use the locally available resources to support their own learning. Students displayed a lot of creativity integrating their home lives into their school work.

“Students were able to connect what they learned in class and what takes place in the real-life situations, which is what I call Living an integrated Life in the Essential Habits. Some of the students did projects on the coming general election in the country and asked people if they think it will be free and fair and gathered their findings and shared them with me when they came back to school.”

— Mussa Challa, Civics Mentor at Mtakuja Secondary School

During this school closure, I realized that the Quest Forward Learning program in Tanzania is not only helpful in school. It is also deeply powerful away from the school environment, especially in distance learning. Quest Forward Students are uniquely prepared to face any challenges, whether in school or outside of it. Learn more about the positive outcomes at Quest Forward Schools during distance learning.