by Hila Olyan, Programme Manager
Moses, the grade 1 teacher at Lenchani Primary School, can hardly keep his students at their desks as their hands fly into the air ready to answer questions about the story they are reading in their English class.
“Hyena, Dog and Hare are going to a party,” he reads. “What can you expect to find at a party?”
“Chapati!” (an aunleavened flatbread), calls out one child.
“Nyama!” (meat), says the next.
“Music...friends... popcorn...chairs...family.” Every kid wants a chance to answer.
We’ve only read the first page and already every student in the classroom is captivated. Every kid is excited about reading.
As a Programme Manager, the single most rewarding part of my job is visiting the field. Seeing our project schools benefit from the training we are providing to teachers and the books we are delivering to libraries, is not only gratifying but motivating. How can we make this program better? How can we be even more efficient with our resources?
There is no shortage of factors that complicate the project. The distance between schools in the area makes the round-trip visit an event in itself. The rainy season has brought oppressive rainfall and flooding to the region. Not even gumboots and our 4 by 4 vehicle can get us to some of the schools in the interior.
Ma, the language of the Maasai people (who are predominant in Kajiado where we work,) is a further obstacle. Being a tonal language, there is not yet an agreed upon orthography for putting words into print. Books in Ma are few and far between but we are doing our best to improve the situation. Just two weeks ago, Dr. Adelheid Bwire, a Kenyan literacy specialist, met with a small group of our teachers to start the long process of producing manuscripts that we can turn into books over the course of Reading Kenya.
Transport and language notwithstanding, the challenges don’t stop there. Resources are limited (I’m yet to see a full box of crayons or an extra pencil in a Kajiado classroom), children are often hungry, formalized education isn’t something that their parents experienced. For many students, they will be the first (or at least the first generation) in their families to read and write.
“Have you ever been to a party?” Moses asks? “Why do you think they are going to a party?”
Despite the odds, Moses’ grade one class is not only learning basic literacy but as a newly trained Reading Kenya teacher he is practicing child-centered learning approaches designed to promote critical thinking. That’s the goal of our project: to improve the learning outcomes of girls and boys in Kajiado, Kenya.
Through teacher and librarian training, book procurement and community involvement, CODE is addressing the lack of access to high quality education in the public primary schools in Kenya.
From the back of the grade one class, I can see a crate of books just waiting to be read. Looking down at my list of teachers coming for the second training, I can see Moses’ name on the list. He’s only going to get better from here.
“Teacher, teacher, pick me!!”
We’ve got a long way to go still, and many more schools to cover, but it’s been a good day. Just ask the grade one class. They are loving every minute of it.
CODE Programme Manager Hila Olyan is currently in Kajiado, Kenya, to observe teacher training and visit program school as part of Reading Kenya. This project is made possible thanks to funding from the Government of Canada through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.