In December 2014, the Ford Foundation awarded School Series a small grant to run our Secondary School Programme in various underprivileged high schools in Nairobi. This programme was rolled out in January 2015 when we began looking for schools in which we could run it in and people we could hire to facilitate the programme in the schools we selected.
The search for schools was quite a challenging process for the School Series team. In addition to the criteria mentioned above, that is, the school had to be one in which majority of the students are financially underprivileged and it must be within Nairobi County, we also needed schools that were willing to commit to the programme by giving us sufficient time with their students. Finding schools that met the aforementioned criteria was more difficult than we anticipated. This was principally because many schools were unable to give us enough time with their students.
To sufficiently cover the School Series curriculum we require 45 hours. We had envisioned dividing the course time into full day sessions in which case, we would require 6 days of sessions from 8.00 am from 5.00pm. Alternatively, we were willing to run the course in the mornings only. Thus, we would run it on 10 mornings from 8.00 am to 1.00pm. There was also the option of taking the students through the course in the afternoons, that is, from 2.00pm to 5.00pm. In which case, we required 16 afternoons. These sessions would be carried out in each school and would be spread throughout the school year.
Unfortunately, none of these options were acceptable to the schools as they could not give us that much time. The secondary school curriculum in the 8-4-4 system is extremely dense; there are a lot of concepts to be taught and a lot of information to be disseminated in a relatively short amount of time. Unfortunately, in addition to needing to cover the curriculum strictly within the school term – as additional classes during the weekend and holidays have been banned by the Ministry of Education – schools must also give the students sufficient time to prepare for their exams. As a result of this, most high schools are extremely pressed for time. Also, because of the perception that life skills as “not as valuable as hard skills”, it was difficult to convince some schools to give us sufficient time. Consequently, we had to adjust our programme structure to enable us to work within the schools’ time frames as the extremely generous schools were willing to give us an hour, or at most, two hours a week.
After four months of searching and negotiating with various schools, we managed to reach an agreement with the following schools that were willing to include us in their timetables:
- Dr Ribiero Parklands Boys School
- Huruma Girls High School
- Lavington Mixed High School
- Nembu Girls High School
- Uthiru Girls High School
Alongside the search for schools, we also began looking for people who we could hire to facilitate the sessions in the schools, that is, community mentors. School Series is largely a volunteer organisation. As such, all our mentors before this point worked with us on a volunteer basis and all have other jobs to provide them with income.
Initially, we had planned to get the schools to refer past students who they felt would serve as capable role-models for their current students. However, the candidates we received did not meet the standards we have for a School Series Community Mentor. We therefore embarked on a search for community mentors within our networks and used our site and social media pages to advertise for the position. This yielded remarkably better results and, by the end of April, we had managed to recruit and train 8 community mentors.
Still, this number was not sufficient as we had roughly 1800 students from the 5 schools and 8 mentors were not sufficient for our desired mentor to class ratio of 1:25. Additionally, some of the mentors we had trained over April found greener pastures and could no longer commit to seeing the programme through. Fortunately, some members from the core School Series team were able to fill in in the schools where the students were more than the mentors we had. In the meantime, we continued to recruit through April and May. Courtesy of recommendations from the Equity Wings to Fly Scholarship programme, by the end of May, we managed to recruit 13 community mentors and the programme finally began to run smoothly.
We ran the programme during the months of May, June and July. The experience we gained in this time and the lessons we learnt have helped us grow as a team. Our time with the students was very re-affirming and inspiring. We have begun to fully appreciate the value of our curriculum and the importance of School Series mission. Additionally, the feedback we received from the students has given us numerous ideas on how we can develop and improve our programme and curriculum.
We are really looking forward to continuing the programme in third term and the insights it will bring.