The old Kikuyu elder leaned forward on his stick toward us. “When the British controlled this valley, we couldn’t send our children to school. They had to work in the fields to pick pyrethrum on the plantations. For a long time after independence, there was only one school in this valley, and many children never went to school. Now, in these times, we sit here together as equals, black and white. There are many schools in the valley and when we don’t send our children to school, the authorities come to our houses to find out why, and to compel us to send them. Life is better now. God has indeed done a good thing.”
I sat there, on a plastic chair in the sunshine, in front of a snug house surrounded by lush fields of cabbages, kale and maize, backed by a small forest and listened. I had driven, with 4 others from the Education Beyond Borders team, on a rutted track across the dusty, dry floor of the great Rift Valley, and up the Eburu Mountains on the other side to reach this beautiful place, to be there with these people on a Saturday morning in August. So I sat there and listened.
And I thought, ‘Yes, this is why I came here, not just to this valley this morning, but to Kenya, and why I relate so strongly to EBB’s vision of teachers connecting with teachers.’ Education is the single biggest factor in improving the standard of living of a community. It empowers people, it gives them independence and more options for their future. It results in healthier mothers and children and plays a vital role in combating crises such as environmental degradation and HIV/AIDS. As a Canadian teacher from Toronto, I don’t have the answers to Kenya’s poverty, environmental, educational and health care challenges. But by working side by side with local teachers, training and empowering them to train others, I am part of something that will continue to address those challenges.
This summer the EBB team in Naivasha trained 15 facilitators to conduct a 5 day workshop on collaborative learning, differentiated instruction, inquiry learning and project-based instruction. These are research driven philosophies of teaching that have large impacts on student engagement, retention and ultimately student success. They are incredibly flexible and adaptable, so that they can be utilized in a large classroom with very little resources and no electricity. The teacher-facilitators have experience using them in their classrooms, adapting them to best suit local contexts and cultures.
Those 15 teacher-facilitators then trained over 120 teachers from approximately 60 local schools. Each of those teachers teach a class of 60 students on average. That’s over 8000 students who will be impacted in Naivasha district this fall when school starts up again! And that doesn’t take into account the fact the other teachers in the school who see the modeling of different teaching methodologies and the positive impact on student achievement, and who begin to experiment with the methodologies in their classes.
I didn’t come to Kenya to offer my expertise (I have none), or to advise teachers on best practices (I don’t know enough about teaching in Kenya to even start). I came to listen, to learn, to share, to observe, to encourage and to empower a group of inspiring individuals who are fighting on the front lines of a battle for a better life for their communities. I left humbled, hopeful and challenged. And I left convinced that what we do, as teachers, every day in our classrooms, where ever we are in the world, makes a difference.
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