Although education is widely regarded as an extremely valuable and necessary institution in this community (Kuria West), a large portion of the farmers we work with never completed primary school. Many cannot read or write. In fact, most of the parents I know have cultivated a lifetime’s worth of knowledge and wisdom solely from their experiences as hard working people struggling everyday to maximize the meager resources they have. Yet, although they may not have finished 6 grade, most of the parents understand the essential role that education plays in improving the plights of their children in the future.

Thus, one of our main goals in the education program is to educate and train parents in ways that they can ensure that their children receive the educational opportunities that they never had growing up. It’s a tricky thing to do. At any parent meeting I have attended over the last couple of months, the parents are quick to provide a long list of complaints about their school’s performance: teachers don’t show up to class, children are scoring poorly on the national exams, there are no provisions for children from families who cannot afford supplies, the list goes on.  Yet, while parents express a healthy amount of concern about their schools, they rarely take any concrete actions to address the problems that they observe.

Thus, last week we launched our first program geared towards educating parents on how they can begin to effectively work with their schools to bring about positive change. The idea is simple. Every morning a Nuru parent representative will arrive at their home school a few minutes before the first class is scheduled to begin to check attendance of the teachers. The parent will arrive and greet all of the teachers that are in the school. As he or she greets them, the representative will check their name on an attendance roster.  At 8:20, the parent will mark absent any teacher that cannot be found on the school premises. Then the representative will approach the head teacher to give them an opportunity to explain why a given teacher is absent from school. All justified and excused absences will be noted. Every week the parent will check in with their Nuru Field Officer (there is one officer in charge of the parents in each sub-location) to report any concerns they are having about teacher attendance.

This system is designed to help both the parents and the teachers. For instance, if a parent representative reports that one teacher has missed an entire week of school due to being sick, the Nuru Field Officer may decide to make a house call to the teacher’s home. If he finds the teacher in dire need of medication or transport to a health facility, the field officer could then help make arrangements to ensure that the teacher receives the treatment that they need to get well. On the other hand, if there is a teacher that is repeatedly absent from class for no apparent reason, the parents may hold a special meeting to address that teacher’s poor attendance.

In addition to checking attendance daily, the parent representatives will meet with their school’s head teacher once a month to discuss issues that the school is dealing with and try to come up with solutions that both the parents and the teachers can contribute in working towards. In this way, we are hoping to bring the parents and teachers into a closer working relationship so that real steps can be taken to improve the school. Instead of criticizing from a distance, we want the parents to become active and knowledgeable participants in developing their children’s schools.