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CODE in the Field - A Day in the Life of a Kenyan First Grade Student

By Sean Maddox - Director of Development at CODE

KENYA November 23, 2009: Do you remember your first day of grade 1? Perhaps taken to school by an older sibling or parent. Excited to finally be in grade 1, and to meet your teacher. Perhaps even have your best friend in class with you.

Now imagine that on your first day of grade one you found out you had 10 subjects, and in 3 different languages. The national curriculum is based on the Mother Tongue as a subject and medium of instruction up to grade three, English as a subject and Kiswahili as a subject. And we think bilingual education in Canada has challenges.

Now imagine you are the teacher looking at all of these scared, excited girls and boys, who all have parents expecting you to teach their children. Perhaps you are experienced, perhaps you are a new teacher, do you have the mastery of all languages you must use in your instruction. I would imagine your are as scared as many of your pupils.

This is the reality in schools across Kenya every January. Fresh into a new calendar year millions of students arrive to enter this daunting system. Teachers and students alike have few and unsatisfactory resources to meet the challenge of the national curriculum.

While the mother tongue is the medium of instruction, few publishers will produce books or learning materials since there is not sufficient demand backed by resources. As one publisher put it, we are a for profit industry and profit is in text books that are written in English and Kiswahili.

This is truly a daunting situation for the Kenya education system. A system that is grounded in international best practices as illustrated through their policies, curriculum, syllabus and to an extent, their teacher education. However, they admit they struggle to find practical solutions to benefit the child who enters the education system at the start of each year.

It is based on these challenges that CODE is initiating a new project in Kenya with the National Book Development of Kenya. The project will work to support the teaching or reading and writing and the transition to the medium of instruction in English in grade four. As the Kenya national anthem proclaims, "build this our nation together, and the glory of Kenya, the fruit of our labour, fill every heart with thanksgiving." There is much going on and no lack of thanks here in Kenya for the support of CODE.