, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 27- A Google search of Kirinyaga County’s history about education matters is enough to paint a picture of consistency in excellence.
With every Kenya Certificate of Primary Education announcement, people have had to become creative on how to headline the education giants to avoid being monotonous.
The county undoubtedly is an education giant in the country since despite the drastic reforms by Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, they still perform well.
But what is the secret behind their success story?
It is in the quest to answer the question that Capital FM News visited the county, which is located at the foot of Mount Kenya.
To understand this, we visited schools, spoke to students and their teachers as well the heads of education departments in the county.
Theirs is a tale of passion and love for education.
Some have said that free primary education could have neutralised the quality of education, a narrative Kirinyaga County has defied and instead seized the opportunity to ensure every county resident has the “key” to a better future.
It is about five minutes to 1 pm when we arrived at St Joseph Primary School within Kerugoya town, within the county.
Learning is ongoing and our crew walks around making observations of just how different the school could be from the rest in the country.
The students are sitting on the normal desks and the teachers are writing on blackboards – nothing special.
– Quality of Education –
During the lunch break, we catch up with the school head boy, 13 year-old Paul Kariuki, in a bid to understand how teaching in the school is.
Kariuki was formerly in a private boarding school before he joined the public school, and hence a perfect person to draw the contrast between the two.
“In boarding school, life is just good but there is education here. One, we have enough books which are given for free,” he says.
And a quick spot check in the school, a majority of the students had their own learning materials, all covered under the free primary education.
“We are also given pencils and other writing materials …I don’t miss my former life in a private boarding school since I am learning here. My parents used to pay a lot of money for what I am gaining at a public school,” the Class 8 student told Capital FM News.
His appeal to President Uhuru Kenyatta is only one; “please start food programmes in the county and the entire country for the kids who come to school without food.”
This way, he says all Kenyan children will have an equal opportunity to learn and serve their country.
“You cannot remain in classroom on an empty stomach,” he said.
Dorothy Gakuru is the Deputy Headteacher at the school and says the quality of learning is the same despite the increase in the numbers of students with the free primary education.
She says, “we have benefitted a lot from the free primary education. The number of pupils has increased; at the moment we are at 594.”
According to Gakuru, the number of textbooks at the school has increased.
The school was leading in 2016 KCPE within Inoi zone, with a mean grade of 280.
Other than enough learning materials, she says parents and teachers work closely while addressing any cases of indiscipline.
The number of teachers is also balanced according to Gakuru.
“All this is due to hard work between the teachers and the pupils. The environment is also conducive since we have permanent structures and good facilities,” she said.
Just like Kariuki, she says there is need for food programmes plans across the country.
– Digital Learning Programme –
With introduction of tablets in the school, she says there is unending excitement among the students who all display an immense interest to learn how they operate.
The school is also among the beneficiaries of the Jubilee Government’s last mile connectivity of electricity.
Tablet excitement is also visible in Kirima Primary School and has led to a massive increase in the number of students enrolling in the school.
The school was connected to electricity in April 2016, according to the school’s head teacher Jacinta Njiru.
“There is a hundred percent attendance thanks to the laptops. Before this programme started, the class one had 43 pupils and their currently 53,” she said.
With electricity, she says the students, more so the candidates have been extending their classes while some report much earlier.
“Those who come early and especially when there is rain, they use the lights to learn,” she said.
Her only challenge is how to pay the electricity bill.
According to Njiru, she says the government provides about Sh20,000 for the electricity bill, which is not enough.
She also urges the government to increase the number of tablets to cater for increasing population.
– The Secret to Excellence –
Kirinyaga County has 197 public primary schools and 139 secondary schools, all connected to electricity.
According to the County Education boss, Nancy Munga, the teachers of the place are they key reason why the county continues to shine in the education sector.
This is attributed to numerous government sponsored training programmes targeting teachers in the county.
“Among such programmes include the Primary education development programmes …one of the programme under this is called EGMA (Early Grade Mathematics),” she said.
Under the programmes, teachers are trained on friendly ways of teaching.
Another such programme is called “government United” that targets “slow learners.”
Under the presidential G United programme, “the Government provides supporters who come to help slow learners.”
To enhance the transition rate of students from primary to secondary school, the Government has given up to sh15 million to be used for expansion of the school infrastructure.
Already, some 39 schools are experiencing massive expansion according to Munga.
In Kirinyaga, she said there is no caning but being disciplined is not optional.
“We have really enforced all the educations policies including making sure there is no holiday tuitions to avoid overworking the students,” she said.
“The secret behind Kirinyaga County being rated among the highest in education is also because people here love education.”
She adds that “There is a lot of harmony among the various departments because education cannot exist on its own. We bring all stakeholders on board. There is peaceful co-existence between stakeholders including politicians here since they embrace education.”
Teachers are undertaken through special training on how discipline can be maintained in school without corporal punishment.
The county has 84,393 students in public primary schools and 41,143 in public secondary schools.