Wednesday, July 15

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Academic Day

Nakuru West Secondary, school to eight our children at the center, hosted Academic Day yesterday. It included a meeting for parents where teachers discussed the average class scores of the students in standard 7 and how everyone could help improve them scores to the level of Moyo Secondary, a school only about a 10-minute walk away. I learned a lot. Not so much from the meeting proper since only about 40 minutes of it was in English and the other 200 in Kiswahili but an awful lot from simply being there.

I can remember school board meetings where the stands of our basketball gym were filled to capacity with concerned parents when public funding was discussed. I can never remember a bond not passing the vote. I attended a private university which built three buildings and two sports stadiums and completed major renovations to the oldest structures just in my four years. For anyone vaguely associated with either of these schools, a visit to Nakuru West Secondary would be more than enough to make them scuff the dirt of the courtyard with their toe and mutter a vague apology. With every respect to my friends in Teach for America, they don't know real education disparity. The roofs were sheet metal. The walls were bare concrete blocks. There was no glass in the windows, only iron bars. The desks we sat in were made from lumber that would have been used as scrap wood in the States. There weren't even any electric lights. The only light was day light.

And the funniest thing about this? Funding was hardly discussed, at least so much as I understood. For a school where the families were personally responsible for paying their children's tuition and buying their uniforms and books and other supplies, the head teacher only asked for 400 shillings (about $5) from every family to help pay for more furniture for the buildings, some doors and the beginning of a fund to pay for a wall which would provide a barrier between the school and the metalwork business across the street. Otherwise the teachers emphasized the need for parents to set a good example of discipline for their children, to answer their questions about the changes that come along with adolescence and to educate them in protection against HIV/AIDS.

I learned, too, just how cold equatorial Africa can get. At the beginning of the final hour of the meeting, a thunderstorm blew in, bringing rain in heavy sheets. Even though it slacked off to a drizzle by the time we left, the wet coupled with the cool July temperatures were enough to drive me to put on the North Face fleece I use under a shell during the winter and the heavy socks I brought “just in case” as soon as we made it back to the center.

I also learned that Kenyans are great not only at quick greetings with friends they pass on the street but also long monologues. They bloody love the things. In that four-hour meeting maybe nine people total spoke. Three spoke mostly in English while the rest freely used English words and phrases as the situation called for it. They would not stop for anything either. Even when the rain pounding on the roof drowned out two speakers they only shouted louder. And they were all good at it. Granted many of them were teachers and used to being in front of a group, but they all used strong hand motions and made eye contact across the room. I was impressed.

So it turns out you can learn a lot at school, even in a foreign country and even months after graduation from university.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sorry I missed your last day at work, but thank you for the message. And have a nice day Mr. Heinrich.
P.S. Your friend Matt Fogle.