Tag Archives: Kenya

A view from Nairobi, Kenya: Deborah Kimithi on school closures and the pandemic

This week’s post features an e-mail interview with Deborah Kimathi, the Executive Director of Dignitas, an education development organisation in Kenya.  Dignitas uses an innovative training and coaching approach to empower schools and educators in marginalized communities to transform students’ opportunities.   Deborah is also a Trustee of UK Charity Raising Futures Kenya, and Country Lead of the Kenya chapter of Regional Education Learning Initiative (RELI) which brings together more than 70 education actors from across the region.

This is the fifth in a series that includes posts from Chile,  from Japanfrom the Netherlands and from Scotland.  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. 

A young learner proudly carries his school books outside a typical partner school. Photo: Dignitas

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!

A young girl, now at home, facing an uncertain future. Photo: Dignitas

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. 

Global School Leaders Respond to COVID-19

How are school leaders responding to the coronavirus outbreak? This week’s post describes the responses to school closures of members of Global School Leaders (GSL). GSL provides preparation and professional development programs for school leaders in India, Malalysia, Indonesia, and Kenya.  Sameer Sampat and Azad Oommen launched GSL to build on and expand work they and their colleagues began at the India School Leadership Institute (ISLI) in 2013. Sampat discussed the initial evolution of ISLI in an IEN interview in 2016.  An interview with Sampat about the work of Global School Leaders and the challenges and possibilities for seeding leadership preparation programs around the world will be published in IEN later this spring. This post appeared originally on Medium

School leaders can respond to GSL’s global survey about their responses to the outbreak in their communities: https://t.co/NEQNCgxu6l

As the COVID-19 crisis deepens and spreads, a strong response by school leaders (SLs) is urgent to mitigate against the disruption faced by children who may be out of school for the foreseeable future. SLs are uniquely positioned to have the respect and personal relationships to guide families on how to support their children at home during this unprecedented, fast-moving challenge.

In our program partner regions in India, Indonesia, Kenya, and Malaysia, schools are shut and public gatherings, including training workshops, are banned. We are bringing our four partner organizations together to provide motivation and thought-partnership as we face this unprecedented crisis. Our partners’ response to taking responsibility within their communities is inspiring.

This blog shares the actions taken by our team and partners to support SLs through this crisis. We hope it sparks ideas that other SLs can localize for use in their own communities. We are still finding ways that our SLs and partner organizations can meaningfully build collective action to support those most in need. If reading this blog sparks any thoughts, suggestions, or feedback, we would love to hear from you.

GSL Response Framework

As GSL, we are focused on supporting playing a leadership role by motivating and supporting our partners to take a collective response. Two primary thoughts are centering us:

  1. We must keep the physical and mental well-being of our leaders, teachers, and students at the top of our actions
  2. This moment highlights the critical leadership role our SLs must rise to in service of their schools and communities. To that end, we must first and foremost model the same care and urgency that we hope to see from our SLs.

We are working with our partners to address the needs of our SLs so that they, in turn, can ensure that every child is cared for and their basic needs are met. Parents see the SLs as community leaders, but SLs are dealing with an unprecedented situation.

Partners are now working through a three-step initial response and sharing updates on weekly network calls. We drafted this tool to codify a framework for action that collects the thoughts we’ve heard from our partners:

  1. Set-Up Communication Channels: Partners are checking in on, finding resources to support, and motivating SLs to ensure that they have the energy and ability to serve their communities, despite the personal challenges they may be facing.
  2. Understanding Community Needs: Based on the information that is emerging from the communication chain, partners are facilitating responses to community needs. Partners are collecting data and sharing regular updates on the assets/ needs of the communities.
  3. Inspiring with Stories of Hope: Partners are surfacing and documenting stories about how SLs are finding ways to respond to provide insight and motivation for others, both in our networks and beyond.

Partner Progress and Resources

Over the past week, our partners have been putting together multiple efforts to support their SLs and communities. Here are a few highlights with attached resources:

Pemimpin GSL (Malaysia)

Dignitas (Kenya)

  • Building communications channels with SLs to understand their needs, which they have captured here
  • Developing a comprehensive plan that includes:
  • Skill-building with SLs on relevant Leading Learning competencies — engaging parents, dealing with trauma, leveraging online and radio learning tools
  • Clusters of Support — ways to bring groups of schools together to distribute resources and check-in on well-being

Inspirasi (Indonesia)

  • Creating a call for SLs to share short video clips of how they’re responding to the crisis
  • Developing a webinar on “School Leadership in Crisis” that will feature a panel of Ministry of Education and Culture officials, local academics, and practitioners
  • Will be delivering their planned last workshop of the academic year via Zoom in mid-April

Alokit (India)

  • Setting up weekly small group calls with SLs from the ISLI program in Delhi and Hyderabad that Alokit co-founders worked with personally to understand their needs. See their notes.

Next Steps

As next steps, we are building resources that address the following questions that have emerged from the work being done by our partners:

  1. Are there conversation templates for how teachers should be using their time speaking with families during this crisis?
  2. What are some pre-skills we can be working on with SLs to motivate them to more fully interact with teachers and their communities if they aren’t doing so on their own accord?
  3. What kinds of data should partners be collecting? What is the impact we want to be able to have at the end of this and what is the data we need to be collecting now in order to ensure that we’ve done this?

While our contexts are different, our partners are united by a fierce belief in the importance of school leadership in meeting the needs of learners and their communities. We are compiling a list of education-related resources — please feel free to look through these if they are helpful to you. We will be checking in with our partners regularly and will continue to update our community through this evolving situation.

— Global School Leaders

Curriculum and assessment in African countries

This week, we conducted a scan of education news published in the past month from countries in Africa. These articles highlight efforts to increase access and quality of education through the implementation of national curricula and assessments and through initiatives focused on teacher recruitment, salaries, and training.

South Sudan recently launched its first national curriculum. Gurtong.net quoted Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF Country Representative, as saying…

“For now the curriculum is complete, textbooks must be designed and published, teachers need to be trained to implement this curriculum, and school managers, inspectors and supervisors require training to provide the required management and oversight….”

Reports from South Africa (recently ranked “almost dead last in math and science” on this year’s World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness report, as News24 noted) show that even with curriculum and assessments in place, educators need to see their worth in order for them to be useful for instruction. The Daily Maverick recently reported that both the teachers’ union and the Department of Basic Education agree that the current national assessments are not effective, and some teachers’ unions have already promised to “opt-out” of administering the current assessments.

Tensions between teachers and the national government in Kenya also reflect something of a “Catch-22.” In a recent World Bank report, concern was expressed that the quality of education in the country was alarmingly inadequate. On the one hand, many critics of the government, including many teachers, argue that the reasons include the government’s failure to comply with a court order to increase teacher salaries by 50-60%. In response, teachers are engaged in a formal, long-term strike to protest inadequate salary, which they would like to see rise to the levels of other professions. On the other hand, supporters of the government suggest that the teacher strikes are contributing to the problems because they result in irregular access to classrooms for most students. In a stalemate, the Education Ministry ordered schools to close as of September 21st.

According to All Africa, Cameroon’s Education Ministry is taking steps to try to “professionalize” teaching by bringing in Dutch consultants to help refine teacher training, as well as curriculum. According to Roeland Monasch, the CEO of the Dutch NGO Aflatoun, the solution is simple: “He assured that once teachers are well trained, students will do well in class.”

Deirdre Faughey

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Scanning the education news from Africa

To provide links for our twitter feed, every week or ten days, we look for news, research, and other media reports on educational change and improvement from a particular part of the world (Africa and Middle East; Asia & the Pacific; Central & South America; The Nordic countries; Europe; or the UK and Canada). While it’s always hard to determine the “hot topics” through these “non-random” scans of traditional and new media, we’re going to start pulling together some of the links we find in these scans and posting them here a little more frequently. This time, the scan focuses on Africa and the Middle East, and over the past two weeks, we’ve noticed more stories about testing-related scandals than almost any other topic. Maybe it’s just exam season, but the stories have come from Egypt, South Africa, Algeria, Morocco, and Ghana:

  • Helicopters, scanners no match for Egypt’s exam cheats – Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East http://buff.ly/1J8lT8Z
  • allAfrica.com: South Africa: Basic Education On Progress in Group Copying Investigations http://buff.ly/1GnglQZ
  • الشروق أون لاين Education Unions: “Protected and not afraid of punishment… those behind leaked exam topics on Facebook” http://buff.ly/1IoO6Ts
  • Exam Leaks Are a Threat to Morocco’s Education System. Morocco World News http://buff.ly/1H3yQ3I
  • BECE cancellation was a collective decision – Minister of Education | General News 2015-06-18 http://buff.ly/1Gnp59M

Unfortunately, extremism, in this case in Egypt and in Kenya, also continue to be in the news:

  • ‘A trip to the farm’: Egypt canceled these school lessons to combat extremism | Al Bawaba http://buff.ly/1J8m9Fd
  • Education in Kenya Suffers at Hands of Shabab Extremists – The New York Times http://buff.ly/1J8vJI3
  • Kenya: Education crisis looms near border with Somalia as 2,000 teachers flee due to al-Shabaab attacks http://buff.ly/1J8vOLX

In addition to those stories, there were also frequent mentions of basic issues of rights and access to education in the Sudan and Algeria, education budgets and costs in Ghana and Ethiopia, teacher’s pay and teaching education in Uganda and Nigeria respectively. But no scan would be complete without a story or two on world rankings (Morocco) or educational performance (Nigeria):

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