School visit in Kenya

Satyam Vyas

UWEZO is replicating ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) in Kenya. I was there as one of the ASER team to train Uwezo members for the survey. Today, 25th march, 2009, was the second day of training and we did a pilot survey of the school observation tool of the questionnaire. I had been waiting for this moment since I arrived in Kenya three days ago.

The field visit started with confusion, which happens in India quite often; our village guide took us to the private school rather than the government primary school, so I decided that we should go to a public school because most of the components in the school observation sheet are for government schools.
We reached Mwanga primary school at around one in the afternoon and started contemplating how we should enter the school because we were two teams of five members each. While our discussion was going on, the head teacher saw us from his office and he came out wondering why people were grouping outside the school premises. He greeted and welcomed us inside the school campus and took us straight to his office. The two most common words that I learnt in Kiswahili were karibu (welcome) and ahsante (thank you). I was surprised to see the administrative building of the school: there were different cabins for deputy head teacher, senior head teacher and the counselor (girls). There were posters on every wall talking about HIV/AIDS, Gender, Absenteeism, Drugs, Duties of the Teachers, time table, Subject Panel Meeting schedule and so on. There was also a board displaying enrollment by class and the grants the school had received in 2009, in two separate accounts: GPA (General Purpose Account) and SIMBA (Learning Material Account). This was the first time I had seen such transparency regarding monetary grants. In India one has to figure out ways to inquire about the grants.

 Pictures (left to right): Teachers’ cabins in the administrative block, Board displaying grants under two seperate accounts, Posters on the wall of the administrative block.
We went to the school on the day of the mid-term examination; all the children were present. The school is a mixed day school with standards 1-8, with two sections per class.
The school was relatively large with total enrollment of 961 children, 19 teachers (2 male, 17 female). The Head Teacher (Grantone Moreco) mentioned that they required more teachers. The Kenyan government norm for SCR (Student Classroom Ratio) is 50:1 but because of lack of classrooms the SCR here was 60:1. Finally the team was able to get all relevant information from the head teacher, deputy head teacher and his staff. The most prominent difference between interviewing the head teacher in India and in Kenya was that, before answering any question, the first thing a Kenyan school asks for is an official government document. Once they saw the official document they were very forthcoming and transparent about everything related to their school. The head teacher instructed the counsellor to look at the accounts register and give us year-wise grant information in a tabular format. She took around 30 minutes to tabulate it and we got the information in a table format, which was quite a welcome surprise.
Next, we moved on to the second component of the school observation sheet, which was observation of Standard 2. Before going to Standard 2, I stopped in between to see how the children sat in other classrooms. Though none were sitting on the ground, the benches were squeezed beyond capacity by around 30 percent (4-5 children were sitting on the bench meant for 3 children). The children looked quite uncomfortable as they sat there writing the exam. Then I started walking towards the S 2 classroom, while clicking pictures of children running, making faces and dancing. When I reached the room the rest of my team members had already started filling up the Standard 2 observation sheets. We had reached the school around 1 o’clock, so we were not able to find all the children studying in Standard 2 because their class had finished at 12. In this classroom, I could see learning materials everywhere, with the majority of them on mathematics (place value, missing numbers, writing numbers in words) and some of them on Christianity. But the most fascinating thing in the classroom was a small garden inside set aside for experiments related to “use of fertilizers and pesticides”.

Pictures (left to right): Std 2Y Mwanga Primary School, Agricultural demonstration plot inside the classroom Std 2
We got all the relevant information for the Standard component of the questionnaire. However, very important information regarding toilets was still to be collected. There were 33 toilets in the school for boys and girls. In India even one usable girls’ toilet per school is rare. In Sophia’s Mwanga School, although there were toilets, the floors were soiled with faeces and wet with urine while most of the children in the school were bare foot. This is clearly not a desirable hygienic condition, especially in a school where I could see more than ten different posters talking about HIV/AIDS.

Pictures (left to right): Condition of a toilet, Girls’ toilet

Finally we got all the required information relating to the school observation component of the questionnaire and we started heading towards the village for the household component of the survey. This first school visit gave me a completely different view on schools from what I have generally seen in India. Everything is different right from the design of the curriculum, the existence of toilets, instructional materials on the walls, the administrative block, and, extremely important, transparency in displaying grants information. There is a lot to learn from Kenya and apply it in INDIA.

Pictures (left to right): Board displaying the name of the school, children in Mwanga primary school posing for the picture

(All the points mentioned in this blog are based on the one day visit to the Mwanga primary school in Taita district, Coast province of Kenya and is not representative of the district or the country).