Education Doesn’t End after the 8th Grade—Filling Education Gaps in Rural Kenya
by Turk Pipkin, Nobelity Project
For the past weeks, I've been traveling across Kenya, checking on our partner projects that were chosen to fill education gaps in rural Kenyan schools. At Daaba Primary in dry and dusty Samburu - where we first saw outdoor classrooms at blackboards under trees and watched young boys climb into a dangerous 40' well to fill water jugs for the school - my heart soared as we toured beautiful new stone classrooms and as the kids drank and filled their jugs from the new solar-powered well. Thanks to partnerships with multiple support groups, Daaba Primary now has 8 permanent classrooms and 250 students, half of them girls - a big change for a traditional Turkana community where girls have never had an opportunity for education.
Five hundred kilometers away at Irbaan Primary in the Masai Mara, our new purified rainwater system in the girls dormitory is serving 150 Masai girls with clean water for drinking and sanitation. The lights that were installed with the solar water purification are making it possible for girls to study and read each evening until "lights out" at 10 p.m. "Because they study late, the boarding girls score much higher than the day students," headmaster Jeremiah Senteu told us.
At Mugaka Hill Primary - a "forgotten community" as the locals used to describe themselves - the first permanent classrooms now house classes for kids through 4th grade. We hope to build another one of these stone classrooms here this year so those 4th graders can continue to 5th grade before having to travel to a more distant school.
The Nobelity Project's work in Kenya began almost a decade ago with one school water project and has grown to a more organized Kenya Schools Fund that's partnered on water systems, classrooms, libraries, science labs and 18 schools across rural Kenya. To achieve Universal Primary and Universal Secondary Education around the world, critical education gaps will have to be met by a wide array of stakeholders. These gaps in Kenya include physical gaps between schools, gaps in the number of classrooms and the number of trained and salaried teachers, and gaps in the ability of parents to pay tuition and fees.
Six years ago, we expanded our partnership with the community of Mahiga, Kenya to build the area's first high school - what we envisioned with the community as a model school with sturdy classrooms, science labs, a library and computer lab, a kitchen, dining hall, clean water and more.
This effort was a partnership between the local community, The Nobelity Project, the public education district which now operates the school and thousands of donors ranging from middle-schoolers in the U.S. to Nike and Architecture for Humanity's Gamechangers award which funded the RainWater Court, a covered basketball court that would provide purified rainwater for the full school.
The cost to build Mahiga Hope High School ended up totaling $250,000, less than many single classrooms in the U.S., and that amount included a double-stream high school plus the rebuilding of the primary school's wood and mud-floor primary classrooms, as well as a new pre-school.
From pre-school to grade 12, the Mahiga campus now has 600 students in 14 grades. The Kenyan Education District continues to add to the number of government teachers, and scores are improving each year. Last December marked the first graduating class of Mahiga Hope High, 24 high school grads including a 35-year-old mother and her 18-year-old daughter who attended all four years of high school together. This November the candidates for graduation will number close to 50 students.
My wife Christy is the Executive Director of the Nobelity Project. Last week as we spoke with enthusiastic teachers and students, as we sat in on Chemistry and English classes, as we watched the school's championship sports and tribal dance teams, we were constantly reminded that Mahiga Hope High School has become much more than just classrooms and infrastructure, and much more than grades and diplomas. Mahiga has become a true high school, one with team spirit and learning pride, a school that other kids hope to attend, a school whose students walk from their homes at dawn and walk back home in fading light because they don't want to miss one minute of the education and opportunity that has arisen in their community.
Whenever visitors from the States visit the school with us, the most frequent observation is wishing kids back home wanted to work this hard for an education.
As the new global education goals expand to include universal primary and lower secondary, I hope Mahiga will serve as a shining example and inspiration that every kid deserves a full high school education. It is a right for them. And it is right for all.
These great education goals can only be achieved by working at all levels - through small scale partnerships to global policies - remembering at every turn that education doesn't have to end after the 8th grade.
Turk Pipkin is a writer and filmaker and is the co-founder of The Nobelity Project