Wednesday, March 26, 2014

#TeacherTuesday - Kenya: Working to break the poverty-education cycle.

The #TeacherTuesday focus this week is on Kenya.

The UNESCO Education For All Report shares details about how poverty is a key factor in education - and in fact whether primary school children learn the basics. So, this may be obvious and a redundant statement, but readers of this blog are encouraged to learn more through this diagram that shows the impact of poverty on children of primary school age. Note especially that this age range for completion of primary school is 14-18, significantly older than in more developed countries.

 This chart shows Grade 8 students across both poor and wealthy countries.

Review also the statistics from a few years ago about the impact of poverty on girls in developing countries, including Kenya.

Kenyan teacher: Margaret

Let's take a closer look at Kenya, through the eyes of teacher Margaret, who teaches in a school in Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa. 

The following is in Margaret's words from a recent interview transcript.
“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 child.
We have children of all abilities. We are quite supportive and responsive to the needs of children..... We get to about 80% of the children. Around 60% or 70% of the children in my school can read and write when they leave school. The children share books, 1 to 3 children per book. The government sends the books but they get destroyed in their bags and sometimes the children sell their books at 50 to 100 shillings to buy food in the slum. 100 shillings, it’s about US$1.5.
They sell them for their own food because they’re not getting enough at home. They get food at lunch at school but they sell their books to get their supper. 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. It’s not mandatory to have uniforms. So it’s free to come to school. The uniforms help give the school an identity, so you know where the children are from and where they go to school.
There is a poverty line between rich and poor. A child whose parents are working means the child is fed, they are literate, they are able to follow up on their child’s education and learning. Whereas the parents at the school where I teach, particularly since the government introduced free education, it was like the government took the burden off their shoulders and started caring for their children. They believe the government should give everything for the child’s education and they don’t need to do anything extra.
The feeding programme very much increases the children’s concentration. The children love the food and that’s what keeps them in school. If there’s no food, about 50% don’t come to school. It began in 2004 or 2005. Now we have feeding programmes, the literacy levels have gone up.
We also try to help some of the poor students to get scholarships and sponsors. It means 60-70% go to high school in comparison to about 20% before because of this and the feeding programme that means the children are in school all the time. They see doors open up if they finish school.
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. There’s the conflict between the urban setting, the domestic violence, the urban poverty. Some children stay at home and are sick. They are used to the hard life. There are those who are doing odd jobs at home – carrying water for people, going looking for papers to sell – doing odd jobs in the slum over the weekend, fending for themselves.

I have so many memorable students. Oh my goodness! There is a very big number of children who have done well. I’m so excited about all the children in my head! That is my joy. I have one called Denis. We actually did what is called collective learning. He came to school and we had to move him to class 5, then to 6 and then to 7 and then we took him to class 8 and he did very well and he’s now in the university. He came from the slum.
The teachers had to contribute for his university fees. I’m telling you the teachers are lovely here. We do contribute if we can’t find sponsors who can help them. There are those who come back from the university to help us mark the books, and we use them as role models.
Teaching of languages is difficult when teaching the beginner. Swahili is the teaching language for grades 1-3, then we introduce English. But some in middle class did not come to class 1. So there are children who don’t know how to read at all. There are those who have stayed home for 2-3 years and then coming back to school. Other schools around refuse them, but we’ll take any child who comes. Any child who comes to school is admitted. There is a big difference between rural and urban school because they’re not densely populated. The way we do things in urban areas is different. In rural areas teacher to student ratio is 1-40, here is 1-70/100.

I came to this school on promotion in 2003. I was ready to become a senior teacher. I was promoted to become a deputy. I love slum children. All my life I’ve taught in the slum. I’m very comfortable in the slum! I grew up in a setting almost like slum. I normally give myself to them as an example. When you come from a slum, because my father was very poor, I know what it means to be sleeping hungry, struggling with education. My siblings and I have all succeeded because of education. Most of the teachers don’t come from good backgrounds. Most of us grew up in villages but in poverty. It was our ambition that with school you can better yourself because that is how we became teachers, so we tell them that everything is possible with an education.

I wake up at 4am, I get the bus in the morning and travel for 2 hours to my school. I have my regular duties to perform. I’m a class teacher of grade 6 with 85 children in a class. It starts at 8am, but we normally come early to mark the books. I also take care of the feeding programme so have to measure the food for the day. I have to mark my work. It’s normally a packed day. Today when you called I was issuing text books to all the different children. There is a lot of counting to be done and a lot of different activities.
We end at 3.10pm and then the children have prep until 5pm. Between 6 and 7pm we give an extra hour to some children that can’t do their homework at home because there’s no electricity or space at home. I leave at around 6.30pm. We have to make sure that we clear the compound. Sometimes leave at 7pm. Imagine!  But when I’m doing it I don’t mind. We work for the children. Five days a week.
We use phonetics, and ‘look and say’ methods, using pictures. We teach the syllabus. ‘Look and say’ methods with real objects and cards. The government sends money for exercise books. But the books get filled up before the government can give more so the parents chip in. If they can’t chip in, it’s a challenge. We have identified those who are extremely poor. When they run out, we order extra for them and give them books.
We provide sanitary for the girls because the school population is poor and because we want girls to come. Because of their maturity, the government gives sanitary towels every month. But sometimes their parents and older siblings take them from them.  There are now even higher numbers of girls than boys in my school! We’re very happy about it.
We are 20 female teachers and only 7 male teachers. Even the male teachers take care of the girls! More female teachers is normal in urban areas because females stay with their spouses in the cities. The males are the ones who talk with the boys, and the females with the girls and then we put them together. Female teachers supportive to boys and vice versa.
There are teacher training colleges - 60,000 shillings for a 3 year course. We have in service courses, workshops and seminars, on new trends in education. The training takes place during school hours – 3 week workshops - and then others take place in the holidays. We don’t close the school when we go for training, we rotate training.
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!
I’m supposed to supervise other teachers in their class, but I can’t do that as I have nooooo time but we give an induction to new teachers. I tell them to be responsive to slum children and supportive them and love them the way they are. If nothing else, this child is lucky. Because they’re dirty doesn’t mean they can’t learn! If you can make the child clean in the compound do it, if not, don’t’.
Sometimes the parent s come to the school drunk, so what do you do? We try to talk to the parents. We call them individually. Very few of them actually come to the school.
Class control depends on individual teachers. We try to advise new teachers on how to handle large classes. To put the children in groups so that they learn from each other. 
There is a persistent shortage of teachers. The government has its own way of doing things, but we are getting forgotten by policies. I am praying the government trains more teachers so we break the large classes into small classes of 50 so we produce the best children from the slum. So the numbers are manageable. I am praying the government can support us because we cannot teach our own children. There are some schools with more teachers in other parts of the towns. In the slums we have less teachers
In Kenya you are sent to wherever you are supposed to teach. According to the policy, we are trained to teach anywhere where there are children. We have never known why there are less teachers in the slums. We have never known what happens. We have tried to get teachers for a long time but we don’t get. We have about 5 schools around the slums and shortage of teachers all through.
I am a mother of four. Three boys and one girl. My kids are big now. My biggest, my girl, is now working in the USA, the second is a soldier in the defence forces, the third is in college and the last is in high school, form 2, in the western part of Kenya.
Apparently they didn’t want to become teachers (laughs). I shall be the last teacher in the family! I carry my bag, this work it keeps you busy, no, but it’s what I love. All my siblings are teachers by the way. We are four. And my grandfather was also a teacher! My parents really encouraged me to become a teacher. Because it is teachers - you know we were so poor – and we got a lot of help from teachers.
It was the teachers who brought us up. We were surrounded by teachers 90% of the time who were helping and helping so that’s how we grew up, with their help. Help with reading, my first shoes I was given by my class teacher to go to class 1. I remember a teacher telling us one time that we should never complain about hunger or poverty because that would stop us from getting an education. If we don’t have food today, we go to school and we get that food in abundance in the future.
There is a very big difference between then and now. At that time few girls were in school. When I did primary, out of 28 students, we were only 4 girls. Dropout rates were very high, and of girls even higher.”

This blog post is a contribution to Week 5 of #TeacherTuesday, a UNESCO and EFA initiative. I invite you to also read from my blog:
“Find out more about the TeacherTuesday campaign: read the blogs and join us for weekly tweetchats with the teachers”.

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