Marion Atieno is the Head teacher of Kibera Glory Secondary School and the Chairperson of the Network of Schools for Low Income Families. Below are excerpts from a dialogue with her.
Q. When was your organization founded?
A. It was founded in March 2004 after a workshop hosted by IREN Kenya and The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Private Schools serving low income families. Now that participants knew each other and faced common problems, they resolved to work together to achieve certain goals.
Q. Briefly state your objectives.
A. We are out to unite, learn from each other and enhance standards. It is in unity that collective bargaining can be made and mobilization of resources be enhanced. The network apart from leading coordinated and unified approaches to teaching and learning in the private and non formal sector, it is out to provide information on the plight and improvement of private/non formal schools through workshops and seminars. It is a medium of coordinating activities such as games in non formal education sector in slums and drawing of strategic plans for schools.
Q. To what extent have you achieved your objectives?
A. There is a general feeling among schools to work together, which was not previously there. Several schools have been exchanging books, exam papers and expertise. Some schools were able to buy resources through a grant from IREN Kenya. Member schools meet every Monday to deliberate on issues affecting their schools as well as the Network.
Q. What challenges do schools in low income areas face?
A. There is usually a high teacher and pupil turnover. Since most of the parents are poor, fee defaulting is high. This makes the management not remunerate its staff highly leading to the turnover. Schools lack trained teachers. Although many trained teachers are unemployed, they don’t appreciate the pay in these schools and even if they accept, they are always on transit. Most schools have poor resources in terms of books and infrastructure. For instance, it is now a rainy season. Most classes are flooded due to leaking roofs. Some secondary schools lack laboratory equipment and toilets.
Q. Do you face any regulatory challenges?
A. Oh yes. The Ministry of Education hardly recognizes these schools. It is hard for the Schools to be registered. My school for instance has been going through the process for the last two years, yet the process is not yet over. The process is quite tedious and when you embark on it, you have to forget about teaching. You go to the relevant office very early in the morning but don’t get the officer. The officer comes in the afternoon and says he has no vehicle and so you have to provide fare for the inspectors to come to your school or hire a taxi. When they reach the school, they say they did not have lunch so you have to provide this lunch.
Q. Any other challenges?
A. Schools registered by the Ministry of Culture and Social Services don’t go through much harrowing experiences but for the Ministry of Education one has to pay the City Council inspection of schools Ksh. 4,000, then the City Planner is paid Ksh. 10,000 depending on the type of registration that the school requires. No school without a land title deed can be permanently registered.
Q. How do you face the challenges?
A. We try to make our schools as attractive as possible using the meager resources at our disposal by offering teachers a cup of tea. Since most pupils are from poor families we endeavor to prepare some lunch for them. We offer them maize and beans or rice and beans stew. We also do extra teaching. As for lack of resources we share the little we have and improvise where necessary. We don’t buy charts, we draw our own. In my school for example we use tin paraffin lamps in which we put spirit to act as Bunsen burners. For balls, most schools roll polythene papers into a ball. We don’t buy meter rules, students bring straight sticks which we graduate. We don’t just sit waiting for help. Some teachers are being trained while on vacation..
Q. Have some institutions helped you?
A. Yes, AMREF has built several toilets in schools on a cost sharing basis. They construct only two per school, thus the gap is still wide. DERO provided reading material. Though not relevant to the syllabus, it is good for reference.
Q. What is your view of Free Primary Education?
A. The benefits such as learning and teaching tools should trickle down to private schools serving low income families.
Q. Won’t they make private schools cease being private?
A. We are private schools alright, but our pupils are public. A public private partnership approach would help improve our lot. There is great inequality. Some pupils in our schools do well in the primary school exams but are not allowed to join high school. Our staff is not included in student selection panels to recruit secondary school students.
Q. What is your message to stakeholders of education?
A. All pupils and students should be given a fair chance. Private schools should not compromise the quality of education they provide, for good results will speak for them. I encourage as many schools as possible to join the network.
By Josephat Juma
Mr. Juma is an African Executive Writer
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