Education in Kenya is improving

The Kenyan education system is divided into two sections: primary schools and high schools. The primary schools go from kindergarten to class 8 and the high schools are all boarding schools. Students must pass an exam in class 8 to be able to apply for a high school. Only around 30 per cent of children in Kenya will pass the exam at the end of primary school and continue to high school. In 2003, the Kenyan government decided to make primary education free for all children; however, not all of the small communities are able to guarantee this to all. 

Last winter, I went to Kenya for two months to look at the quality of the education system in small communities. I lived with a family in the small town of Ewuaso, which is mostly inhabited by the Maasai tribe, located in the Rift Valley. I volunteered as a teacher in the local primary school and taught mostly class 6, with children ranging from eight to 16. The school had roughly between 300 to 400 children in attendance. Although the Maasai are a nomadic tribe, in the past decade a significant number of them have settled down and one of their main reasons for this is education. They still do move their houses around; now, however, they are always within a few hours walk from the schools so that their children can continue to receive an education. The Maasai children that are in school now are the first generation to receive an education. It is often difficult to keep them in school because their parents don’t always understand what it takes to succeed in school. Attendance is sporadic because parents often need the children to stay at home and care for the animals and their younger siblings. The annual school fee can be difficult for a family with no income. Many Maasai families pick only a couple of their children to go to school and keep the others at home. The children who do go to school receive most of their education in English; the subjects of religion, social studies, math and science are in Kiswahili. The primary school children in this village were provided with a free lunch, which was often the only food they ate all day. Children wear school uniforms and discipline is strictly enforced. Overall, the children loved going to school and learning, but it was difficult because their school was not always consistent. I saw first-hand that the Kenyan government’s promise of free education  is not actually the reality. The government does not provide enough funding for the amount of teachers they need and it only gave roughly five textbooks for every fifty students.

After returning home from the trip, I was able to form a real opinion on what I had learned about the Kenyan educational system. In comparison to the Canadian system,  it may not seem well-run, but the children are receiving an education and it is slowly improving. I went there as a volunteer teacher because they have a huge shortage of teachers, especially in the small villages. Many volunteers who sign up to teach in Kenya, or places with similar needs, don’t always realize that the system itself doesn’t need to be changed. Yes, their education system is run differently from ours, but does this mean we as Canadians are supposed to change theirs or tell them they are doing it wrong? Many people get caught up in thinking that our way of doing something is the right way. This attitude is not just related to education, but it prevails with any aspect of a culture that is different from ours as Canadians. This perspective was the most important thing I learned on the trip, and it was very difficult to come home and have people ask me what I taught them or if I showed them the “right” way to teach.

I think the most important lesson to take from this is that you shouldn’t look at a problem in another country and compare it to something similar here in Canada. Volunteers are the most beneficial when they listen to the people in the communities and find out how they want us to help them reach the goals they’ve set for themselves. The lesson learned is that there is neither a right way nor a wrong way of doing something, but only a different way.

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