Tomorrow will mark three weeks from my departure. In one way it seems as if I have been gone for an eternity, I can’t even imagine that less than a month ago I was sitting on the couch watching Family Feud in pajama shorts and a t-shirt in the air conditioning imagining what my time in Kenya would be like. In another sense, I feel like I am still stepping of the plane into the Nairobi night, immersing myself in new, exciting experiences everywhere that I turn. Regardless of my internal sense of time, three weeks have passed and remarkably I have finished up teaching at the first of the three primary schools that I will teach at.
This past week has bustled with activity. I have continued to teach at Senye primary to the eighth graders, picked up a pair of pants made from a beautiful, purple fabric I had made from the tailor’s near the WISER campus, and began to learn some of the local language Dhluo. I bought fresh mangoes, avocados, and tomatoes from the market on Tuesday and listened to Kenyan hip-hop while on a piki (the name for the small motorbikes that we ride to our various schools each day) back to WISER. I ate lunch with the teachers at the school and even, after a bit of coaxing, tried a mixture of cow dung and cow bile a few were eating that they swore was effective in bolstering the immune system.
This week, like the last two, provided what seemed like an endless assortment of novel experiences, each day unique from the previous. More than any singular experience, teaching has been both the most meaningful part of my experience and the area in which I have learned the most about Kenyan and specifically Muhuruian life. As my time in my first school comes to a close I thought it would be worthwhile to delve a little deeper into my responsibilities and insights that I’ve gathered from teaching.
Appreciation of English Teachers
After reading what felt like a bazillion compositions and papers, I had a newfound respect for English teachers. The amount of time, effort, and patience involved in sifting through a stack of seemingly endless papers is incredibly large. I swear the stack of ungraded papers only grows in size.
A new understanding of the Kenyan education system
In Kenya children traditionally begin school at the age of 3 or 4 in a preschool like environment before having eight years of primary school followed by four years of secondary. In order to advance from primary (grade eight) to secondary school (high school), they must take the KCPE- a national exam. If failed, the students do not progress to high school, if they do well they have a better shot at going to a quality secondary school. After secondary school the kids take another exam called the KCSE which determines whether they will go on to a career oriented college, will join a university, or will have their education end there.
After hearing complaints by teachers in the U.S. that education is becoming too test based as teachers feel as if they must cater their teaching to standardized tests, one look at Kenya’s educational system (not to mention that most of the world has similar testing policies) has made me realize how unique education is the U.S. in terms of the avoidance of test based learning.
Applicability of Teaching
I admire the Kenyan curriculum in terms of how applicable many of the lessons and subjects are. Every student must take an agriculture class for at least two years in secondary school that instructs them how to properly grow crops, the science curriculum that I teach the class eight students covers topics such as what to feed pregnant and lactating mothers, and math curriculum involved topics such as how to make bills and postal charges.
Eagerness to Learn
The final and most significant note I have about education in Kenya from my experience teaching so far is the eagerness that the students display to learn. During breaks they tell me to continue to teach, they attend optional classes starting at six in the morning and on Sundays, they ask questions constantly about the subjects that they are learning and show a genuine passion about education. That is certainly not always present in America. Where do you find a group of kids in America that asks you to make up additional math problems to do? That begs for class to begin ten minutes before scheduled? My kids are so caring, so lively, and truly inspirational.
The experience as a whole has certainly made me thankful for the education that I have received in the past as well as the opportunities that I have been given at Duke through education. While the Kenyan and American systems of education certainly have their differences, these differences have provided me with valuable insight and reminded me of the power and amusement that are involved in teaching and learning, making me all the more eager to savor every moment of this experience.