03.10.2014 - Education Sector

Teaching to Transform Lives in Kibera

UNESCO/ K. Prinsloo - Deputy Head teacher Margaret Atieno Ochieng teach a class of eight pupils at ehe Kibera Primary School

For Margaret Atieno Ochieng, teaching in Kibera Primary School presents new challenges every day, but she says she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I believe that being a teacher is an inspiration from the inside, in particular being a te acher in the slums,” she says. “I tell myself, I am where children need me most.” Watch the video

Kibera slum is situated five kilometres outside Nairobi, Kenya, and is the biggest slum in Africa with approximately one million people living there. The school serves the population of Kibera and children aged between 5 and 17 are taught there. The school is bursting at the seams with some 2,200 children studying there and enormous class sizes of up to 90 children in a lesson. 

Inside the school the classrooms are bare, some have broken windows and rusty window frames. The doors are chipped and the floor is clean,  but are marked with years of wear and tear. Groups of children huddle around wobbly wooden desks and are forced to share textbooks. School books are in short supply: “We give them books but these are stolen at home or on the way home,” explains Margaret. 

“We admit children of all ages, which means that we have children aged 15 and older in primary school classes,” Margaret explains. “They’re too big to be placed in the earliest classes so the teacher has to work out how best to teach them. The biggest challenge we face with these over-age learners is the gaps. We overcome that by creating group work. We do a lot of reading to help them and create special lessons focusing on simple maths, reading skills and teaching them how to express themselves in their work.” 

Margaret was born into a family of teachers and has taught at slum schools her entire career starting at a school in Mathare slum before moving to a school in Majengo slum and now Kibera. Her work in Kibera is not always easy and Margaret has to double up to teach 34 lessons per week. “We don’t have enough teachers, which means that in addition to being deputy head teacher, I am also a class teacher.  So I have to do my teaching activities alongside my other duties in the compound.” 

Those duties are varied: “I run the feeding programme, issue text books and other materials to the children, take care of discipline, handle guidance and counselling and have to make sure that the school is keeping on top of water and sanitation,” she says. 

Even with a hectic schedule Margaret says she will always try and spend time with the children. “Yesterday I played football with my class during PE. It’s important to play regularly with the children but at the school we can’t let children out in to the play area because of waste dumping and the threat of intruders, but we also know that we need to take care of their physical growth and health. So we try and find ways of doing that.” 

The school also serves as a shelter for many children. “Their environment is not good because they are living in poverty and it’s like a disease,” Margaret says. “They can’t afford basics so they rely on the school to provide food. We don’t give a lot of homework because there is no place for them to work at home. It is better for them to learn at school.” 

Providing a safe and clean environment to learn in can also be challenging. “The water needs to be boiled and there is sometimes a shortage of soap,” Margaret explains. 

Despite these issues, Margaret loves her job. “I love teaching because of the joy you feel when a child achieves something for the first time,” she says. “I know it’s education that changes society and in the slum only teaching can improve the cycle of poverty.” 

For Margaret the work that she and her fellow teachers do in Kibera is more than simply teaching. “I have spent my life teaching in slums and I can see my dream coming true – I know that with government support and through education, books and nutrition we are going to change the face of the slums,” she says. “We have a pupil who went to Canada to learn. She will come back and teach so that other girls can go out there like her. Our pupils leave but they also come back and when they do it’s because they want to improve the lives of our children.” 

UNESCO is supporting efforts to improve the quality of teaching in over 60 countries worldwide with targeted actions to strengthen teacher training institutions in sub-Saharan Africa, including in Kenya. This is being achieved through technical guidance in teacher policy, curriculum and qualification framework review/development.

In partnership with the VARKEY GEMS Foundation,  school principals, science, mathematics and technology teachers have been trained to improve pedagogical practices and support girls performance in these subjects.  In 2013, 90 teachers and school principals and 10 Ministry of Education officials were trained. This has created a critical mass of change agents and master trainers in gender-sensitive curriculum renewal, teaching and learning of sciences and maths.  Efforts are now being made to build on the achievements of the project and scale up the project.

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