#TeacherTuesday: Teaching in Kenya

Posted on Mar 25, 2014

Out of School in Kibera. Photo by AsWeGrow

This is the fifth of a series of ten impressions, launched and executed in collaboration with UNESCO. 

An educational impression of Kibera by Aldo de Pape

Kenya is a country with enormous potential. It has been deemed as one of the fastest growing African nations on many levels. Whether it is through the growth of its economy, technology, science or education – things are definitely happening in this East-African hub.

There are many things I could write about Kenya.  Through AsWeGrow we have been able to help a number of Kenyan schools with the improvement of their buildings, the construction of new classrooms and the accommodation of new learning materials.

In July 2013 we were privileged enough to pay the country a visit and blogged about it shortly afterwards. Kenya indeed has many talents some of which are still very undiscovered or underdeveloped.

An exception to this is Nairobi’s IHub: a place that aims to catalyze the growth of the Kenyan tech community. Among others, IHub aims to match up technology with (higher) education. Through its IHubReseach program the organisation is involved in #ScholarAfrica, an admirable initiative organised by the University of Cape Town and the Carnegie Foundation to link African scientists to researchers elsewhere in this world. Such levels of educational exchange are exemplary but sadly not a reality in other parts of the country.

Only a few miles away from the IHub, you will find Kibera, Africa’s biggest urban slum.

Kibera is as big as it is impressive. The slum is claimed to be the home of over 1 million people (in the absence of any regulatory system this is no more than an estimate). Many of its inhabitants are forced to live in deep poverty with no running water or electricity.

Despite the difficult circumstances in many of its’ houses, Kibera is not a place of misery or despair. A 2012 article in The Economist, described the area as Boomtown Slum offering residence to many creative entrepreneurs all contributing to their hometown through an ingenious social system steered by community leaders each representing a different geographical part of the slum.

The schools in Kibera are held together by a similar group spirit. Many children are being educated by self-made initiatives, supported through small donations, often executed by self-proclaimed teachers.

Attendance to public schools in Kenya is for free but there is definitely a price to pay when it comes to the quality of the education that a pupil receives.

“The government policy says that children are admitted to the school anytime they come. Children go out campaigning to get other children to come to school. We don’t turn away any child. The leaders, the chief, government officials will look for children in the slum to bring them to school, especially those who have special needs. And the local leaders around here try to bring the children to school too.” says Margaret, a school teacher working in the area.

School is not the most popular place to be at in Kibera: “One of the reasons some of the students who live in poverty aren’t learning is because their parents did not learn. The slum is made up of parents who are illiterate. In the slum community I think the literate make up maybe 20%. There are 80% who did not go to school or if they did they did not have a very good education. They don’t see the value of education so they don’t follow up.”

Even though the school system in Kenya is far from ideal, circumstances are not as dire as elsewhere in Sub-Saharan and Eastern Africa.

A poverty fact-sheet of EFA Report states the following:  “In Kenya, children have a better chance to learn, on average, but there is a wide gap between rich and poor, mainly because over half of those from poor households drop out early, while only 16% from rich households do so. As a result, around three-quarters of the poor have not achieved the basics, compared with 37% of the rich.”

The difference between rich and poor is very clear in Kenya when it comes to schooling. People who can afford it will send their children to a private school where they do not have to cope with the daily realities of life in a public school.

“A normal size classroom is 20 foot by 25 foot, with dual desks where 3 or 4 children sit. They children are big 
so they have to squeeze on the desk. There are around 85 children in each class and we put them in groups of 
9-12, quite large. It takes a long time to reach them all and look at their books if you spend 5 minutes on each 

A year ago, we made this video giving testimony to more of the daily problems that a Kenyan pupil in a public school has to encounter. Through its web-based platform for teachers, AsWeGrow has started to capture all the challenges that Kenyan educators have to cope with to keep the quality in their school on par.

Margaret describes her biggest daily challenge as a Kibera teacher as follows: ” There is no training for how to teach in slum schools! We’re given training to teach anywhere where there are children – not even in a school! Even if there is no school but there are children, you teach under a tree!” 

What are your thoughts about teaching in Kenya? Do let us know and send us an e-mail via info@aswegrow.org

Find out more about the #TeacherTuesday campaign on the UNESCO website directly.




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