In many of the schools we work with, preschool teachers are viewed as little more than baby sitters for the youngest children attending school. The government does not hire certified teachers for preschool and kindergarten, so most ECD (early childhood development) teachers are individuals who never went to secondary school, much less teacher college. Because these teachers rely solely on the meager contributions collected from parents, it is very difficult for them to save money to pursue more education and training in their field.

Therefore, during the early stages of research for the education program, this demographic of teachers was identified a group that would greatly benefit from supplementary teacher training. In November, we completed a five-week training course for all of the preschool teachers in our area. The course was designed to provide the teachers with a solid introduction to current trends and practices in education for young children. In addition, the completion of the course provides an opportunity for even the least educated of the teachers to be eligible for full teacher certification in the future.

In order to enroll in an accredited teacher college, one must have completed secondary school with at least a D+ average. As I mentioned above, most of the preschool teachers in our area never had the opportunity to attend secondary school. However, there is an alternative set credentials for those who do not meet these minimum requirements. That is, after completion of the ECD short-course teachers can sit for a proficiency exam. This exam is Kenya’s rough equivalent to a GED. If the teacher passes the test the government acknowledges that he/she has mastered the fundamentals of a secondary school education. They are then eligible for enrollment in a teacher college.

As the short-course was coming to a close in November many teachers expressed the desire to sit for the proficiency exam, which Nuru had committed to pay for if the teachers fulfilled all their duties at the short-course. Although almost all of the teachers wanted to take this opportunity, I was concerned about many of the teachers’ chances of actually passing the exam. In spite of their hard work during the 5-week ECD course, it was apparent that the majority of them still needed a lot of preparation before they would succeed on the proficiency exam. If we were going to commit the funds for them to take the test, I wanted them to have a solid shot at passing.

This meant two things: 1) Nuru would have to devise a way to provide cheap, sustainable supplementary tutorials that did not require too much extra work for our Education Team and 2) the teachers would have to commit to working very hard in the months leading up to the exam to master all the material that would be tested.

As I brainstormed with my team about this issue, we came up with an interesting idea. Nuru is already working with four preschool teachers to complete their teacher certification for early childhood development. These four teachers had been star students during the ECD short-course and already met all the academic requirements for teacher certification.  Nuru had committed to assisting them with the fees for college and, in return, the teachers committed to repaying their school fees through in-kind services, such as teaching in a Nuru school as a model teacher and assisting in future educator trainings. We decided this could be the perfect opportunity to enlist their services as tutors for those who needed more preparation before the exam.

Therefore, during our first week back in the project, we held a meeting with all of the preschool teachers in order to develop a tutorial schedule for the next few months. The schedule is pretty intense. We decided to hold four hours of tutorials per week, focusing on the most difficult subjects tested on the proficiency exam – English, math and current events. The four certificate-level teachers are in charge of designing one lesson each and providing supplementary one-on-one tutorials while the other three teachers were leading their lessons. The teachers who are serious about sitting for the proficiency exam have committed to attending 100% of the tutorials each week. If they fail to attend and do not provide a valid excuse for their absence Nuru will not register them for the exam in April.

We had the inaugural set of tutorials this week and it was a great success. Our first session was held during the early evening hours on Tuesday. Classes had just been released and children were still lingering in the schoolyard, curiously peeking into the room full of teachers reviewing math and English lessons similar to those they were learning in school.

At first the teachers were too timid to speak up and participate, but as we pushed through the second hour of tutorial their confidence grew.  The four tutors were well prepared and treated their peer teachers with respect and patience as they walked them through their lessons.  Before we knew it, the first session was over. Our education team was able to simply sit in the back of the class and supervise. Our job had been to organize. The teachers were doing all the real work. It was so cool to see this group of educators come together to improve and develop themselves as both students and teachers. I can’t wait to see how far they progress in the coming months.