On arrival to the school, we are received by eager head teachers. This will be a busy day, a day in the life of teachers who usually teach bloated classrooms with 60 pupils or more. Curious pupils are seen peeping through the classroom windows which are sometimes pane-less. When we arrive at the school during break time, curious pupils mainly from the lower classes usually throng around our car. Most of them are excited with the sight of “Mzungus” in the car. It is not uncommon to see that most of the pupils are without shoes on or a few lucky ones have old and ragged sandals on. This is just but one day of the many we have spent transversing primary schools in Trans-Nzoia during CCRP research on Agriculture and Nutrition for eight weeks.
Normally, the day’s activities usually begin at 9:30 am when the teachers introduce us to the class seven pupils. In these schools, you can be able to identify a sea of eager faces who want to hear from the visitors. We take turns to acquaint ourselves with the pupils who are listening attentively to us. Among us is a team of Geo-Spatial Engineering, Political Science, Agriculture, Mathematics and Statistics undergraduate and post-graduate students drawn from various universities with and without Kenya. The introductions end up with an applause from the delighted pupils who will be spending the day interacting and learning from us in class and outside class for a better part of the day.
We usually involve the class seven pupils in educative agricultural and nutrition activities using smartphones. Half of the class usually head out into the field with part of the CCRP team. They will be learning about these from their communities while at the same time interacting with university students. The rest are usually left behind with me learning from educational materials in different subjects curated in tablets. By the end of the day, these pupils will have known how to collect geo-points that will aid in creating their school maps.
It is through these interactions that I get face to face with the realities in our education sector. In some schools, the class seven pupils could have as many as 180 pupils. There is no better way to learn about these challenges than to be left with a group of 80 adolescent pupils. With me, I have 10 tablets that are meant to be used by this whole group as a learning tool in Social Studies. Managing such a big group sometimes is usually not only a daunting experience but also a good learning experience as well. More than likely, such a school is usually understaffed and the available staff is usually demotivated while dealing with such numbers. It, therefore, becomes hard for the teachers to deliver the desired quality of education to the pupils.
Due to the overwhelming incidents of poverty among families, one of the head teachers I interacted with intimated to me that some pupils do not go home for lunch since there is nothing at home for them to eat. During a visit in one of the schools, we witnessed two cases of pupils fainting in the early hours of the morning. After my session with the pupils, I went to have a conversation with the school headmaster who revealed to me that when they took the two pupils to a nearby dispensary, the pupils had fainted out of long hours without eating. He continued to note that some pupils only rely on one meal a day.
In another school, after my session with the pupils, one of them came up to me while I was packing up my stuff. The young boy told that he did not have anything for lunch and he cannot go back at home for lunch not only because he comes approximately 5 Kilometers from the school but also because he was unsure about whether he will find something to eat at home. I had not carried any form of snacks with me but the kid told me that on lucky days when he manages to get Ksh 20 from the parents he buys a plate of beans and mandazi from a food joint adjacent to the school. His face brightened up when I bought him lunch that will later help him push on until 4 pm when the school closes for the day. This is why feeding programs in primary schools should be introduced to all pupils. This will help keep the pupils in class.
However, amidst these challenges I met education thirst pupils who were determined to succeed against all odds. In one of the schools, I met Joseph who was one of the top pupils in his class with an average mark of 380. Joseph was also had a hand for art. He drew an impeccable map of the school which was later to aid the pupils while collecting geo-points around the school. He showed me amazing pieces of artwork that he had been working on. If such kind of skills are nurtured, pupils like Joseph would end up becoming exceptional artists in the future.
I also met passionate teachers who had the zeal to make their schools better. They had hope that the government will finally roll out the digital literacy project soon enough. They were glad because of the time we spent with their pupils. These teachers were keen to ensure that the pupils learned as much during this whole duration. They spoke candidly about the visions they had for the schools. Indeed, some teachers acted as real mentors to their students. They inspired their pupils to rise above the adversities and become champions in whichever fields they may wish to venture in.