In honor of the announcement of the WISE Award winners for 2020, we are reposting our interview with Deborah Kimathi, the Executive Director of Dignitas, an education development organisation in Kenya. Dignitas was one of six WISE Award winners this year for its Stawisha Instructional Leadership Institute. (Dignitas is also a partner of Global School Leaders, the focus of last week’s post.) The WISE awards celebration will take place virtually on October 28th (with free registration) and will include “Building the Future of Education: Conversations with Resilient Innovators.”
This interview was one in a series that included posts from Chile, from Japan, from the Netherlands, Scotland, Liberia, Pakistan, Australia, Canada, China, and Ghana. The “A view from…” series editors are IEN’s Thomas Hatch and Karen Edge, Reader/Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at University College London’s Institute of Education.
IEN: What’s happening with you and your family?
Deborah Kimathi: Kenya announced its first case of COVID19 on March 13th, and on March 15th the government announced national school closures, and social distancing measures that included working from home for those in non-essential services. I spent the next morning in the Dignitas office, setting up our team of 15 for remote working, with no idea of what that would really look like (for a team who are typically 80% in the community delivering training and coaching to our 140 School Partners) or how long it might last for. Now, 11 weeks the team are all still working from home, and being incredibly fruitful despite the challenges.
Ever since, my family and I have been working from home in Nairobi, schooling from home, shopping from home, socializing from home, and everything-else-from-home! My husband and I are both still working full time (or more than), and managing our three children. Our childcare ceased on the same day, so that our nanny could also follow the government’s guidelines. Our oldest two (7 and 9 years old, one lockdown birthday later) are doing some home learning (not their school prescribed program which was 6 hours per day of poorly managed Google Hangouts), and our 3 year old, who was due to start nursery this term, is generally having way too much screen time. My working day currently starts at 5am, and goes until around 10pm, with a variety of interruptions.
IEN: What’s happening with education/learning in your community?
DK: One word comes to mind – inequality. I have two very different ongoing conversations when it comes to education. The first is with my children’s friends’ parents, mostly struggling with schedules, the need for each child to have a device or laptop, how to turn baking into a science lesson, and where to source real butter for said cake. The other, and the more urgent conversation, is with our School Partners and friends, largely in Nairobi’s urban informal settlements. Here, the struggle is not for comfort, the struggle is for survival. COVID19 has brought with it severe social, health and economic hardship, and these hit the poorest communities the hardest. In these communities, more than 60% of families were unable to access public education pre-COVID19, as a result of poverty and systemic exclusion. Marginalised by poverty, these are the same families excluded from a myriad of essential health and education services now, and often fighting a daily, violent war with police in their struggle to exist.
The more urgent conversation, is with our School Partners and friends, largely in Nairobi’s urban informal settlements. Here, the struggle is not for comfort, the struggle is for survival. COVID19 has brought with it severe social, health and economic hardship, and these hit the poorest communities the hardest.
The significant challenge of inequality is, as a result, exacerbated in the most violent way, only bringing harm to children, families, and society as a whole. This raises critical, urgent questions of ‘What happens next?’ When schools reopen, will those who’ve participated in online or home learning be ‘ahead’ of others? How will schools assess progress and promote students to the new school year? How many girls will be married or pregnant, never to return to school? How many families will end up on the street, their children never to return to school? How many children will have died from starvation? How many children will be so scarred by the trauma, violence and anxiety of this season that learning never really resumes?
The significant challenge of inequality is, as a result, exacerbated in the most violent way, only bringing harm to children, families, and society as a whole.
IEN: What do you/your community need help with?
DK: Dignitas is working tirelessly to protect and promote the learning and well-being of children living in poverty. Whilst everything else is disrupted, our vision to ensure all children have the opportunity to thrive and succeed remains core to our COVID19 response.
In an effort to reach and protect these children, we immediately thought of our amazing community of School Leaders and Teacher Leaders. Dignitas has trained over 1,000 educators, and have another 450 educators enrolled for 2020. These School Leaders have already benefited from Dignitas training and coaching and they are also leaders who are rooted in, and passionate about the needs of their communities. Our partnership lays an ideal foundation for them to be further equipped to respond in these times of crisis as community champions of well-being and learning. Dignitas is remotely training and coaching these educators as Community Champions who can work in household clusters to protect and promote children’s learning and well-being.
Dignitas is working tirelessly to protect
and promote the learning and well-being
of children living in poverty. Whilst
everything else is disrupted, our vision
to ensure all children have the opportunity
to thrive and succeed remains core
to our COVID19 response.
To make this possible, we need help in curating more digital content for these educators, the educators need tablets to access and share learning content, families need basic devices or radios to benefit from the government’s education broadcasts, we need to design and print home learning packs for children, and we need to help families with food! The list is long, and we’ve been excited to collaborate with some amazing partners like Safaricom Foundation, Team4Tech, Cosaraf Foundation and Synthetic so far, but the need is huge!
IEN: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful?
DK: I’ve really appreciated being part of some great networks – WISE, Global School Leaders, RELI, Global Schools Forum and others who have curated relevant content and tools, and offered consistent, valuable support. The opportunity to share and learn with peers has helped me to stay focused, inspired and fruitful in this season.
Friends and donors who are authentic partners in our work! Can donor relationships be unhealthy, and have skewed power dynamics? Yes. However, they can also be wonderful places of strategic collaboration, bringing together passionate, committed teams of people and resources to respond to community need in a wise and compassionate way. We’re fortunate to largely experience the latter, and they’ve been amazing thought and action partners for this season.
IEN: What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?
DK: I’m mostly listening to podcasts and recordings of webinars that I’ve missed in the busy-ness! WISE and Africa.com have had great content, relevant to our context, and not afraid to ask the hard questions. In terms of reading, material from Harvard Graduate School of Education and Brookings Institute have offered interesting insight. However, I think my most valuable learning experience in this season has been listening to others – peers in the Kenyan and Global education sector, and the communities in which we work.
IEN: What have you found most inspiring?
DK: People! People who are so intentional in bringing hope and light to others. People giving so generously of their time and expertise. People who don’t have much, always willing to give the most.