So, you know how we have “No Child Left Behind” back home as our recent “improvement” of the education system. Definitely debatable, definitely not perfect, but before you start hating on our education system, listen to what Kenyans have to deal with.
We have been having speakers from the Kenyan education system come talk with a lot. This is quite an opportunity, to be in Kenya at this particular time. It’s going to be a historical year here. The constitution is currently being re-vamped, and to be completely honest, I don’t really know the full extent of all changes taking place., but it’s undergoing major reconstruction. It’s really hard to absorb all of the details when you’re sitting shoulder to shoulder on a picnic bench with 10 other adults in a concrete block room. But, this is what I do know:
Kenyan education is on a 8-4-4 plan, meaning 8 years of primary, 4 years of secondary, and 4 years of university education. Primary education is “free” as in tuition is paid for, not room/board (many schools, including most deaf schools are boarding schools), food or uniforms. At the end of 8 years in primary school, a huge test is given called the KCP. Sounds familiar, like SAT/ACT/WestTest or whatever, but nooooo…. This test is like the OWL’s in Harry Potter, only for 12-14 year olds without any magic.. There are guys with loaded guns in the classrooms while kids are taking these tests. On the news they showed a teacher smashing a cell phone with a brick outside of the school before testing to ensure no technology came into the testing rooms. Kids are patted down before entering, and if anything “suspicious” is found, they are pulled aside, stripped and searched.
There is a huge shortage of secondary schools, so only the best kids actually go beyond what we know as 8th grade. Kids who earn A level scores on these tests continue to school with the doctor/lawyer/etc track. Kids with Bs might go to business or something, and the least acceptable C level kids go on to be teachers. So, the poorest scoring will be teaching the kids of the future in Kenya. And this is fact, coming from not just one person, but several who are actually representing the education system of Kenya. Also, there are no grades at all other than the final grade (on the KCP exam) for the kids. No homework grades, no test scores, or class participation points. Nada. Just the test, and that determines your entire future. One score. Better hope you aren’t sick on KCP test day.
Here’s another thing: the deaf kids are given the same test with the same time limitations as hearing kids. I could go on for days. The government makes the syllabus for all schools to follow, so material for the class is on a strict schedule – hearing or non-hearing. Each class is 35 minutes long, and officials apparently inspect your lesson plans and such regularly to make sure you are adhering to the syllabus. Can you imagine trying to teach deaf kids English at the same speed as hearing kids? Or any other subject, for that matter, but just consider that most of the teachers don’t know any sign language at all. And then to test them on the same content, at the same time, just like hearing kids! It’s setting them up for failure.
One of my assignments for training was to briefly interview the Head of Audiology at the Machackos School for the Deaf. We all had to interview various staff persons in the school to gain insight of how the school operates and differs from what we are used to. This was probably one of the most beneficial exercises I’ve had in training so far. The Head of Audiology has been at the school for over 10 years as a teacher. She currently works in the nursery department, which has 22 kids 4-6 year olds. She told me about a time where they admitted an 8 year old in the nursery class. Why? His parents didn’t know he was deaf and sent him to a regular school when he was five. Maybe they didn’t notice that their 8 year old never learned to talk, maybe they didn’t care, but anyways a teacher at the hearing school sent him home because he wasn’t improving. The parents kept the boy at home, unsure of what to do with him. A neighbor, who happened to be a teacher and knew about the Machakos School for the Deaf, took interest and brought the boy to the school. He’s still there. The Head of Audiology explained the term system, which is basically 3 months at school, one month home, 3 months back, etc. She said that the kids don’t want to go home during break because they have no one to communicate with at home. Their families don’t learn sign language and therefore they cannot even communicate with their own parents. Even if they did try to communicate, families in different regions speak different languages (not even just English or KiSwahili), and it would be impossible to teach all of the languages to the kids. She said that they have offered classes for families to attend to learn KSL, but due to lack of interest it was unsuccessful. She also said that many parents can’t afford uniforms, which are essential in all Kenyan schools, which actually prevents some kids from getting an education. At the Machakos School for the Deaf, the principal brings in a tailor to make uniforms for the kids who cannot afford one. They have a garden and a few cows on the premises that the children tend to, and in turn provide food for the students.
The law states that in a deaf classroom, the ratio should be 12 students for each teacher. However, a law recently passed stating that primary education is free (as I already vented). The principal told us about a family, who brought their deaf child to the school to enroll, but classes were already at 18 kids and therefore he turned the child away and told them they were at full capacity. Hours later, a representative from the KIE called and said that he needed to start looking for a new job if he wasn’t going to enroll kids in the school. So he took the kid, and now there are 20-26 kids in some classes. 176 total, primary and secondary.
So, that’s why the Peace Corps is here in Kenya, why I’m here in Kenya. It doesn’t paint a very pretty picture, but the ultimate goal is to educate the deaf children so that they can have the same chance as other hearing kids to be successful. I don’t want to ever hear another word about “No Child Left Behind” ever again. We thought that was bad… Karibu Kenya.