NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 21 – In a year when girls outshone boys in the 2020 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams, SHOFCO Kibera School, one of the spots in Africa’s largest slums where sporting talent is hugely supported was not left behind.
Shofco has been using a blend of education and co-curricular activities, especially football to improve the lives of youngsters in the slums.
Out of the top 100 candidates in Nairobi county, SHOFCO’s two top girls Mellisa Chenziz and Michelle Nawire, who both scored 410, were ranked seventh and eighth respectively in the capital and 52 and 53 nationally while Bellyn Omido (400 marks) was 23rd in Nairobi and 202 countrywide.
Only Nairobi Primary School (five) and White Star Academy Lang’ata (three) had students in the top 10 in Nairobi, meaning little SHOFCO felled giants such as Aga Khan Academy, Consolata School, The Arya Vedic School, Makini School and many others who have hogged the limelight down the years.
SHOFCO Kibera School had three students posting over 400 marks, 14 scored between 350 and 399 with just five below 350 among the 22 candidates of 2020 for a mean score of 365, the highest ever.
With girls performing better than boys in languages nationally, the Kibera school stayed true to the script, posting a mean score of 80 in Kiswahili, a first for them in a subject, while English (78), Social Studies/CRE (72), Mathematics (70) and Science (64) followed each other in that order.
Compared with 2019 when they recorded a mean score of 349 with just one student getting over 400 marks while three got below 300 marks, the class of 2020 hit all but one of three targets the teachers had set.
“We wanted to beat our mean score record, achieve 100 percent pass which happened and beat the 431mark set in 2019 which we couldn’t considering the top student nationally managed 433 added to the standardization done to subjects like Science and Mathematics,” a delighted Hecky Odera, the Education Director at SHOFCO told this writer at the school on Friday.
However, with everyone blaming the disruptions caused by Covid-19 for a drop in performance, SHOFCO Kibera School had no such troubles.
Odera credits a number of strategies for this success, such as embracing community learning, where a select group would be called in for a few hours during lockdown, while teachers would also set questions and send to the students at home.
But given the students here come from the slums where they are subjected to extreme poverty and other forms of emotional and physical abuses, the teachers knew this was not enough and took full advantage following the partial reopening of schools where Grade 4, Class 8 and Form Four were ordered to return by the Ministry of Education last October.
“Initially, we used to do boarding but they would go home after two weeks. After reopening, we agreed they would be here full time. Because the other classes were not back, we divided them into two streams of 11 and brought in Grade 7 teachers to increase the student-teacher ratio. That close interaction and personal attention from teachers helped us cover the syllabus,” remembers Odera.
He went on: “Full boarding was also there in third term and we changed the learning times from 7am-7pm to 6am-9pm. This would not have happened without the sacrifices from our teachers, some who stay as far as Ongata Rongai but were here at 5.40am and left past 9pm the security situation here notwithstanding.”
“The teachers set two tests every week and low performing students were paired with stronger ones in certain subjects so that peer support from girl-to-girl was important in lifting the mean score. We also introduced rewards for various standards if met and this increased competition where no one consistently nailed down the top position. It was always among the top seven,” added Odera.
For the two top girls here, a desire to lift their families out of poverty fueled their drive to perform better. “My mother sees me as her only hope, one who will change her situation in future and that is why I had to make sacrifices for these results,” said Michelle, who wants to be an interior designer to change people’s perceptions about Kibera.
Mellisa, wants to be a psychiatrist to provide solutions to mental problems for others after dealing with the same following the death of her mother, said: “I have been taking care of my little sisters and life is not easy. I compare our life with those doing well and I want to make sure I reach that level.”
Under the Girls Leadership and Education Programme, the Kibera school, alongside another one in Mathare, are a brainchild of SHOFCO founder and CEO Kennedy Odede, who set them up as a way of empowering girls from the slum community.
Odede grew up in Kibera, where poverty was his second name, and witnessed first-hand how girls from the slums were marginalised while suffering various forms of abuses.
So far, the school in Kibera, which has over 350 students, has had students sit for KCPE in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 while in Mathare, 250 students from pre-primary to Grade 5 are already on their books.
To get admission at the schools, a through vetting process takes place to ensure only the needy get the once in a lifetime opportunity.
Once admitted, the girls have access to a full scholarship. Uniform, fees, medical and food is all catered for and all they have to do is focus on their education.
It is an opportunity like no other and Michelle and Mellisa believe their story would have been different had SHOFCO not come to their rescue.
“With all the help SHOFCO has given me and my family, I have been able to learn that there is another side to life other than being poor,” added Mellisa.
Michelle concurs: “Without them, I wouldn’t have gone to school and accessed basic commodities. I expect them to continue holding my hand and catering for my needs.”
The two can rest assured that their welfare beyond primary is taken care of given the organisation has structures that ensures their students complete the journey.
“We have a director of future education who focuses on them when they go to high school. We offer continuous mentorship which helps when they go to a new environment and our gender department also offer counselling,” said Odera.
“We also have a policy that a certain level of performance has to be maintained to stay in the programme so knowing their backgrounds, the girls work hard not to lose it. Those here go to great schools while some who get scholarships to the US come back and the performance speaks quality,” he added.
To ensure quality, the level of performance has to continue being high and this is the challenge Odera and team faces going forward now that they have set the bar so high.
“The challenge with doing well is that these schools around that can pay better will come for our teachers. We also want to analyse where we didn’t do well and work on it even if it means change in manpower. The advantage we have is that Class 8 will not be there next term so we want to start boarding early for Grade 7 so by the time they get into Grade 8, they gain a lot of support and attention away from family distractions,” he said.
Odede’s vision was to use education to eliminate poverty within the slums and the hope is that once done, these girls will return and sit at the policy making table where decisions about their community are being made.
“Look at the level of change Kennedy has brought here. What if we had just three Kennedys?” poses Odera, before concluding, “Whether that happens or not, if a girl is able to change their family, that would be enough.”