Learning Companion: How the school and the community can provide a platform for symbiotic learning in hard to reach areas of Kilifi County, Kenya

September 2018 by Jacqueline Jumbe-Kahura, Lifting the Barriers

Studies done by Youth Alive Non-Governmental Organization in Kenya in 2017 revealed that 74% of class four pupils cannot do class two work in Kilifi County and 7% of the pupils in class eight cannot do class two work.  It further reveals that education status in Kilifi County is below the national government standards as it is ranked 34 out of the 47 counties in Kenya.  According to Kilifi County Integrated Development Plan of 2018-2022, it acknowledges that the teacher pupil ratio in most primary schools is 1:85 which is more than twice the recommended ratio of 1:40 and this makes it difficult for teachers to provide additional support to struggling students.  These observations have also been echoed at the Uwezo Kenya 2012 report and at the Kilifi County Education Board where I serve as a member. The situation is worse for children going to rural schools and from struggling backgrounds as they are not able to read and understand texts, make inferences and relationships between text and reality, write a complete and comprehensible sentence in English and cannot communicate effectively in different situations and this skill gap is reflected as they transit to other classes including universities. They finish school without acquiring the requisite knowledge and skills they need for work and life.  Further, these learners come from families that have little or no education therefore the value of education and related commitment and discipline to study beyond designated class time is not enforced thus they consistently underperform at school and their reservoir of enthusiasm for learning and persistence in school lies at low ebb when they join school. This places a heightened responsibility on the teachers to fill the void which they’re unable to because of large classes, low morale, lack of teachers and lack of facilities and materials for learning.

Weekend Inclusive and School Holiday (W.I.S.H) project is an out-of-school program of Lifting the Barriers Organisation (or LIBA) that provides alternative learning paths by introducing children to Social research at very early age. It offers sustainable, community-driven learning opportunities that support both academic achievement and positive development of young learners from rural areas while at the same time, providing adult supervision during non-school hours.   Children investigate matters directly pertinent to their lived experiences e.g. child marriage, child pregnancy, child abuse, drought, persistent hunger, witchcraft, poor transition, school dropout, social exclusion, among others.  Children are first introduced to the basics of child-led social research through a systematic coaching process which later culminates into each of them listing issues at school, in the family and at the community that are of concern to them and are carefully guided to pick one that interests them and research more on it.  What is important here is the process they engage in this learning journey – it involves critical thinking, a lot of reading and writing, asking many questions, analyzing data, synthesizing different information gathered, and presentation of findings among others.  It is this out-of-school learning process that stimulates and rejuvenates the urge to read widely thus adding value to classroom learning.  Further, they acquire hard skills and soft skills they need to excel, live and work well with others. Participatory learning is re-defined as children take an active and leading role in defining and shaping their learning pathways particularly when they pitch their projects, research finding and learning journey to the wider community and partners during quarterly Education Action Days, calling upon their support to implement their plan of action for their long term projects.  For this to succeed, close collaboration with teachers, members of the community and local leadership to support what’s happening academically in the school day is of great importance because this process connects children across villages and from diverse backgrounds face to face on collaborative projects and it makes it easy for people of all ages and class to participate thus building unstoppable momentum of change in attitudes and behaviours about education. Children have a chance to contribute to their own development life, participate in events and round table discussions, collaborate with peers, mentor other students and in so doing, expose themselves to new ideas and ways of doing and thinking and are expected to apply the new knowledge and skills at school, at home and within their community.

W.I.S.H further develops future leaders’ potential outside the academic curriculum when they identify social challenges facing their communities and are stimulated to take action through community service. The objective is to ensure that learners develop changemaking skills and a social connection to their communities which is essential for them to become future successful leaders, responsible citizens and changemakers.  Special effort is taken to identify children who can act as role models for the others. This eventually changes the mind-set of the average student.

This approach stands out to me as offering valid paths to important improvements in learning and life.  In addition to tracking access and retention rates, grades and transition, I look at the students’ growing ability to speak confidently and lead their peers. We also closely measure their own perception of self-efficacy, whether they can advocate for themselves and strive to educational excellence.

I believe, if I am awarded the Toptal Scholarship for Women 2018/2019, it will be a gamechanger, not just for me, but more uniquely for the children living in poverty and struggling to learn in rural areas of Kenya

To achieve my goals, I will need the following support and mentorship.

  1. Linkages to forums that increase knowledge about child-led social research
  2. Regular contact with my mentor throughout the year(s) to provide an opportunity for feedback and continued reflection to support my project
  3. This project culminates into a scholarly activity including an abstract submission and presentation
  4. Linkages to funding opportunities to support project schools acquire computers and internet connection to serve as a strategic enabler for research and knowledge building