“Jambo! Karibu Sana, Mzungu!”
When we arrived at the Nairobi International Airport, our Kenyan hosts greeted us with “Welcome to Kenya! You are very welcome here (white person)!”
And so we have been treated throughout the past two weeks. Below is a brief explanation and report of our time in Kenya so far.
What happens when you take ten Canadian teachers from four different provinces and education systems and have them meet for the first time in a foreign African country in order to create PD workshops in three short days for teachers in that culture?
One might be tempted to think they would not have much success.
This was our initial challenge as we arrived in Limuru, just outside of Nairobi. We had very little time to acclimatize to the culture and understand how the education system in Kenya operated. On our first day we were invited to the office of District Education Officer (DOE) in Naivasha so that we could learn more about the area and schools. He was an enthusiastic supporter of our initiative and had arranged thirty-five of the high schools to send two teachers each to our workshops. The following day, the directors of the Kenyan curriculum invited us to Nairobi to the Kenyan Institute of Education (KIE). They gave us an overview of the Kenyan curricula for English, science and maths. As well, they invited us to provide a report of our visits to the schools and with the teachers.
Fortunately, we have been very well supported by our partner NGO, Comfort the Children (CTC), who are on the ground here in the Naivasha area and who arranged our visits with the DOE and KIE. They have gained a good deal of respect here for their own initiatives supporting the local economy through micro-businesses, health care and the environment.
Nonetheless, I had a certain amount of apprehension about the expectations placed on the success of our workshops. We are the very first Teachers Without Borders Canada (now known as Education BEyond Borders) team to work in Kenya. The short visits to one or two schools before our workshops provided insights into the stark realities that teachers face in Kenya – overcrowded classrooms, very very few resources, pressure to succeed at state standardized tests that seemed to focus exclusively on evaluating trivial minutiae through trick questions. A very limited number of university spaces are available each year in Kenya, which exerts great pressure on students to succeed. In fact, a limited number of high school positions are available as well, so the Standard 8 (gr. 8) exams also have high stakes associated with them. Also, while caning was banned a few years ago, we were left with the impression that this mode of discipline was still used in some places by teachers in order to maintain control.
Of course, we also faced a certain amount of tension within our group as we groped to understand the differences between our provincial curricula as we created the content for our workshops. Just struggling to find time between our visits so that we could prepare was trying for us as many of us were attempting to deal with jet lag and huge cultural differences. By the third day, though, we had worked through our differences and had created some great resources and materials for the teachers.
For each of the 7 workshops, we began with a brief 20-30 minute overview of the topic and then broke into groups to promote interaction and dialogue between the Kenyan teachers. The ministry of education here does not provide professional development in Kenya. Teachers have had very little formal professional development opportunities. Two of our workshops challenged the teachers to consider models of informal self-driven professional development within their own learning communities. Other workshops on the topics of project-based and objective-based learning, cooperative learning, assessment, learning styles and study strategies were provided.
The feedback from the teachers was very positive. They especially enjoyed the interactive sessions where participation was encouraged. This is a very different model from the typical Kenyan classroom where teachers lectured from the front to a passive audience of students.
My Canadian colleagues very much have impressed me with their professionalism and creativity throughout the workshops. It has been a privilege to work with them and I have learned a great deal throughout this experience. As well, I have been awed by the professionalism, knowledge and creativity demonstrated by my new Kenyan colleagues.
Noble Kelly, our TWB prez, had hoped we would quietly make our way into Kenya and do a few workshops with some interested teachers; instead, we have made quite a splash here. In rural Kenya, it is difficult not to notice ten wazungu (white people) visiting schools and small towns. At times I have felt like we are a traveling freak show on wheels. This past week, we had follow-up visits to schools at their invitation after the workshops. A few times, while standing amongst hordes of students, I would feel my long fine blonde hair stroked, handled and caressed. Small children have no shyness and run to greet us wherever we are. They especially LOVE to have their photo taken, so at times we have caused near riots by simply bringing out our cameras.
The Kenyans particularly enjoyed Konrad Glowgowski’s workshops. He has been a great companion throughout my TWB experience in South Africa as well as Kenya. Konrad’s fascination with photography knows no bounds. I can confidently report that we now know that he will take photos of absolutely anything and has come close to causing international incidents. He has not been able to upload many of his photos due to bandwidth limitations here in Kenya (my chief frustration here), but I encourage you to check out his flickr site late in August when he has been able to get to a reliable connection. We have had a great deal of fun discovering strangely-stated signs in South Africa and Kenya – we should have a fine collection by the end of the trip. This morning, when we were invited to the Canadian High Commission, we were told not to bring any cameras. Of course, I couldn’t help asking Konrad after FINALLY being admitted, “So Captain National Geographic, what part of NO CAMERAS did you not understand?? Not one, not two, but THREE cameras?!”
Speaking of connections, I have come to a new appreciation of the high speed bandwidth so readily available in North America. Here in Kenya, we have one connected computer in our hotel and although we have rented a modem for wireless access, we might as well not even try to get online in the evenings when the rest of Kenya also seems to be trying to use the Internet. Electricity often fails, but life goes blissfully on. Of course, we are in the coldest part of Kenya in the coldest part of the year, so we have had fires in our cabins every night in order to stay warm.
Our aforementioned visit to the Canadian High Commission went very well as we met with those associated with CIDA (Cdn International Development Agency). They provided us with greater perspective into the roles of NGOs in education in Kenya as well as some ideas of where to look for further support and funding.
We have visited a number of schools and witnessed some astonishing situations where teachers have extremely challenging conditions. Yesterday we visited a primary school in Maai Mahui (pronounced “My Maw Hoo”; where our workshops were held; the “armpit of Kenya” and where the sex trade flourishes) where teachers had classes of 100 students. These students come from very poor circumstances – some are orphans and some are displaced from the recent violence that occurred back in January. The HIV infection rate in Maai Mahui is about 60%. We were able to have a brief meeting with teachers who gave us a glimpse of the harsh situations of their communities and the teaching conditions. When we tactfully attempted to bring their situation to the attention of the Canadian High Commission folks, we were told there were many schools in even worse dire straits.
I have been very moved by a number of the Kenyan teachers with whom we have spoken. They are dedicated, well-educated and articulate men and women who are giving their best in difficult circumstances. The students I have seen (and I have seen thousands by now) are well-behaved, polite, and curious about who we are and what Canada is like. The other day I showed my laptop to a group of Form 3 students (gr. 11 – however, many were between the ages of 18-20) and they told me they had never seen a computer before.
Tomorrow, we will visit a Maasai community who is celebrating an environment day. On Sunday, we head out to the Maasai Mara for a 3-day safari. When we return, we will head north to Laikipia, just past Mt. Kenya, to visit a school there in order to lay the groundwork for another TWB team next summer. Any volunteers for that team?
On August 10th, I return to Canada, a full week ahead of my TWB colleagues. They will be giving workshops to about 80 elementary teachers during the week of August 11th. I have a prior engagement at a conference in Vermont, so I will be very reluctantly returning early.
Please leave a comment – I would love to hear from my friends!