The Bureaucracy of the Kenyan Ministry of Education
Yesterday I went to Bhavini’s, the local grocer, to pick up a few things. While I was waiting to pay, I watched as the man in front of me laid all the school supplies his daughter needed for the coming term on the counter. He was asking Patel, the proprietor, how much each item cost. There were 2 notebooks at 35 shillings a piece, 2 pencils at 10 shillings a piece, 3 pens at 10 shillings a piece and one eraser at 5 shillings. The man was speaking gently to his daughter asking if every item was absolutely necessary. He was clearly agonizing over the cost.
I stood there moved with respect for the man and the perseverance he and his daughter exhibited. Not only was the man spending his precious money to educate his child, he was educating a girl old enough to be married off and he was doing it with humility and determination. The equivalent of $2.00 was standing in the way of this girl’s education and future. Every day I see parents and students throughout this community working intently to gain access to education.
As I watched the man, I felt myself losing patience. Why is it that our education team has waited for over a month for a decision from the Ministry of Education regarding our sponsorship of Taragwiti, despite frequent calls and a few visits? Why is it that the academic standards of one of the lowest performing schools in the whole district does not seem to be one of their top priorities? The students demonstrated their commitment to education – marching to the District Education Officer’s office (a 45 minute drive away) to protest the teaching quality at their school. The parents mounted a response to the situation, becoming vocal and requesting the head teacher be ousted and that Nuru work with them to improve academic standards. The local chiefs and elders have voiced their concern and advocated for change. The community has mobilized around this situation. So why is it that the situation festers?
Despite that frustration, bulldozing toward a solution or change is not an effective approach. We cannot alienate those who are responsible for the district’s education system. However, I felt my patience slipping. To me, there is serious urgency to this situation. That girl only has one year of primary school left and they need to prepare her to make informed decisions and become a strong, contributing member of the community. The young generation here will be the future leaders, chiefs, business owners, farmers, parents, teachers and they need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills that prepare them for such significant responsibilities.
Mla Cha Uchungu Na Tamu Hakosi
I read the Swahili proverb “Mla cha uchungu na tamu hakosi” (patience is the key to tranquility) today and thought that patience might be one of those virtues I need to brush up on. Right now, our team is exercising a lot of patience in an effort to maintain strong relationships with the Ministry and other important parties. A peaceful process is instrumental to our long term success and our ongoing relationships with the powers that be. However, our whole team is coiled tight right now ready to spring forward. We want action. We want positive change that empowers people and uplifts the academic standards. We want to see vast improvements in the education system here that are sustainable and measurable. And while we have the patience to go at a reasonable pace and ensure our work is lasting, relevant and thoughtfully crafted, we don’t want the kids to suffer at the hands of a broken system any longer.