Empowered Education: The New Norm

Empowered Learning: It’s about Empowering Teachers and Accessing More Resources in their Classrooms by James Musyoka, Co-founder & Executive Director Kenya Connect

For many Kenyans seeking to have the best education for their children, private academies have been an expensive solution. By digging deeper into their pockets, parents can sit back assured that their children will be at a competitive edge compared to if they went to public schools. Generally, private academies perform better in national exams than their counter parts in public schools. The irony is that the teachers in both academies and public schools go through the same teacher training colleges and have more or less the same qualifications. The big question is why then do academies do better than public schools? Part of the reason for this disparity is due to lack of essential resources in the classrooms in public schools  and also lack of continuous professional development for the teachers in public schools. Does this mean all Kenyans seeking the best education for their children have to follow the route for academies? For me, it is a resounding NO. The solution to better education is not in building academies that will only benefit a small population of students whose parents can afford to pay the high fees and thus leaving out the majority of learners especially in rural areas. At the same time, the model  of academies cannot be scaled up as it is not affordable. The solution lies in empowering teachers in public schools and providing them with more resources; a model that Kenya Connect is piloting in four public primary schools in Mwala sub-county.

To support and equip teachers, Kenya Connect started a Professional Learning Community (PLC) among teachers in our partner schools. PLC is basically a framework where like-minded professionals meet regularly and plan their work together. With the Empowered School model, all teachers in a school form a PLC where they meet to make lesson plans before they go to teach and meet again to give feedback on how the lesson unfolded. Kenya Connect has hired a PLC coordinator who visits each of these Empowered Schools once a week to conduct a professional teacher development workshop usually as an after-school program for one hour.  The workshops are layered on each other such that each builds on the previous one and are geared towards equipping teachers with strategies to implement the core tenets of the current Kenyan competency-based curriculum CBC. The workshops also focus on building positive classroom attitude among teachers.

The PLC coordinator  Ms. Judith Mutisya is one of the first teachers that Kenya Connect trained on the PLC concept. Being a passionate teacher, she picked up the skills and implemented them in her classrooms and as such has been among the top performing teachers in Mwala subcounty. Judith has carried this passion in her new position as a professional teacher development lead teacher. ‘What a child needs most is a caring and qualified teacher” Ms. Judith constantly reminds teachers attending her professional development workshops. Most of the teachers who have gone through the PLC training have been  outstanding teachers in their classes and a number of them have even been promoted to senior positions in their teaching career.

For the classrooms in the Empowered Schools, we invest in repainting the inside of the classrooms so they can be bright and appealing for the learners. We have put railings on the walls so that teachers can hang posters and other materials and make their classrooms to be ‘talking classrooms’. Soft boards were installed so teachers can display students’ work on the walls. Kenya Connect has also invested in equipping the classrooms with resources for teachers to use with their learners like manipulatives, art supplies, posters and poster paper for  creating word walls among many other resources all geared towards transforming the classroom into a child-friendly and conducive  learning environment.  Grants from PayPalGives and the International Foundation have helped support this program.

In most public rural schools, there is a dearth of education resources including books. Kenya Connect encourages 100% library membership of all students in Empowered Schools to our mobile library which ensures students have access to books as would be the case for students in an academy who have access to a library.

The Empowered School model is geared towards developing the skills of the learners in an holistic way. To this end, there is a repertoire of programs that we have included like LitClubs to promote the love of reading and writing, interschool debates among many others.

We believe that the Empowered School model will provide an affordable solution towards quality education for all learners across Kenya.

Dynamic teacher training that nurtures critical thinking, collaboration and creativity is essential to the Empowered School model.