OUR GREAT MINDS

    by Aaryn Lambert

    Making Education Count

    In Kenya teachers and parents are working together to manage the crisis of overcrowded schools

    School improvement programs supported by Aga Khan Foundation Canada are helping communities manage the crisis of Kenya’s overcrowded and underfunded schools. (Photo courtesy: AKDN)

    Mombasa, Kenya

    At Maweni Primary School, on the outskirts of this coastal city, a group of teachers and parents sit at a makeshift table in the schoolyard discussing ways to organize seating in their classrooms. This isn’t about U-shaped arrangements versus rows. In fact, some of the classrooms in this school don’t have enough desks or textbooks to go around.

    The question is how to manage classrooms overflowing with students who have flooded state-run primary schools since the elimination of fees in 2003. “There are so many kids here and many of them have never gone to school so they have no foundation,” says Prudence Madumadu, whose grandchild attends the school. “The teachers have to spend more time with them.” Teachers have taken to grouping strong students with weaker ones as a way to cope with the strain.

    While Kenya was hailed as an example among developing countries for making a commitment to universal primary education, the decision put an enormous burden on teachers and schools, which were ill prepared for the deluge of new students. Since then, national enrolment has risen to 80 percent from 60 percent, but the quality of teaching and learning is at risk.

    With over 2,000 students, and only 27 teachers, Maweni has the highest enrolment figures in the district. At least half of the students come to school hungry. Dozens have been orphaned by AIDS. Children are under constant pressure to drop out of school to help their families, many of whom depend on occasional day labour in the city to survive. Yet despite huge obstacles, the students here are performing relatively well.

    Maweni is participating in a school improvement program that is helping teachers manage overcrowded classrooms, while giving them a chance to improve their skills, as well as mobilizing parents and the community to support the school.

    “This is one of the best organized schools,” says Patrick Kanyoro, former principal and now a community mobilization officer for the program.
    Aga Khan Foundation and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), with the Government of Kenya, are helping to manage the crisis of overcrowded, under-funded schools with school improvement programs.

    Schools are organized into clusters so teachers and school managers can make the most of scarce resources. Mentors and trainers are assigned to help teachers in subjects like English and Math. In-service training helps teachers stay motivated and up-to-date on pedagogical methods. “Teachers need to feel good about the work they do, they need to feel professional and they need to improve the way they do things,” says Atrash Ali, program manager for Aga Khan Foundation in East Africa.

    The program in Kenya reaches 137 schools in Mombasa and Kwale districts. Nearly 1,000 teachers have been trained along with 1,000 school committee members, made up mostly of parents. As a measure of its success, the Ministry of Education is working with Aga Khan Foundation to scale up the model to create clusters throughout the country.

    It’s an example of the way Aga Khan Foundation has been able to help strengthen local resources, tap local initiative and create momentum for policy changes that will ultimately benefit a much wider population.

    For the teachers and parents at Maweni, there is hope their classrooms will, in time, become a place where children will learn and thrive.

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