by Musiimenta Modern Karema.

It is 4.30am, in the new upcoming suburb of Najeera. The school van driver is menacingly hooting at the gate of Mr. & Mrs. Ssenfuma, interrupting the peace and quiet of the neighborhood. The neighbors are cursing as they enjoy the last bend of their good night sleep-‘why don’t they prepare their kid early and the van finds him ready at the gate, instead of disturbing the peace and quiet of our neighborhood?’. Meanwhile, Kyle Ssenfuma, 4years old, a pupil in Kindergaten 1(aka baby class) has got used to being woken at 4.00am to prepare to be picked by the school van, and as the van driver hoots at the gate- at 4.30am, he is finishing up on his breakfast (a cup of white porridge and a chapatti) -, to pick his school bag and make a dash for the gate, otherwise the van will leave him!!

The van then picks Kyle, and makes a dash for the next pick-up, Viviane-3years old, and then another one, and then another one. It picks every kid in Najeera, Ntinda, Kigowa and Kulambiro (it is coded as ‘route A’ by the school), and arrives at the school gate at 7.00am. By the time the van reaches the school gate, Kyle Ssenfuma, Viviane and half their friends in the van who were the first kids to be picked by the van are asleep-in the van. They were woken up by their parents between 3.30am to 5.30am to prepare to be picked by the van, and endured the 2 hour drive around the 4 villages of Kiira Municipality, in a school van, whose shock absorbers were last repaired in the last holidays. The first order of business of the driver and the accompanying teacher is to wake the sleeping kids up and drag them into the school compound for games and sports!! What a way to start your day!!

It is very interesting how the socio-economic changes in society and the liberalization of the education sector in Uganda are affecting the present and future of our children. Why should a 4year old (some are as young as 2.5years old) be made to go through this horrendous lifestyle at such a tender age? Why are infants waking up at 3.30am? Are they working on their PhD theses? Why would a kid that age be made to bathe at 3.30am just because they have to fit in the modern life expectations? (the last time I checked, I used to wake up at 6am to go to our primary school in my village, and bathing at 6.30am was a challenge even when the water was warm). Why would a 4year old kid be leaving home at 4am or 5am going to school? Are they going for a high level cabinet meeting, or they have been summoned to go for an emergency National Security meeting? What are these kids going to do at 5am-has the primary curriculum been enhanced so that school hours start early and students get their bachelor’s degrees in P.7? And the 2-3hours of rotating around a whole division, is it our version of promoting domestic tourism?

The other challenge is the workload that these kids have. They spend the whole day studying and come back home with homework-on the very things they studied!! Why? Why should a kid in Kindergarten be given homework? What are you assessing? Why are you assessing knowledge acquisition by a 4year old, when you should be dealing with how they are relating with their peers, their participation in sports and games, their appreciation of colour, their ability to take themselves (or ask to be taken to the toilet) when nature calls, and other basic and social needs of a human being at that age? In effect, a kid wakes and starts their active day up at 3.30am to 5.30am, and will officially go back to sleep at 8pm to 9pm after completing their homework with mummy, all in the name of education (of course they have a siesta at school in between the lessons) !! 16 hours of active life for a 4year old. Are we training robots? And why give kids homework, only for it to end up being done by the parents? Are you assessing the parents as well? What happens for parents who are illiterate or semi-illiterate but have made their way from their deep villages to Najeera and want their kids to study in the high end schools, but have no idea what their kids are studying? Do you envision the inconvenience the parents are going through having to lie to their kids on ‘the correct answer’, only for the teacher to mark it wrong and the parent and kid meet each other in a rather unfriendly mood in the evening for a session that usually sounds like this: ‘Daddy why did you lie to me? Teacher marked my answer wrong’.

The other challenge is the load they are carrying on their infant backs. The kid is doing 8 subjects in baby class (I don’t understand why. I did 4 subjects in P7 when I was triple their age!!). For each of the 8 subjects, they have an exercise book, and a work book for homework. That makes it 16 books in their back bags. Given their very active age, they keep running across the compound, carrying this load on their very young and fragile spines. And then we wonder why we are having an increase in the number of spine injuries within young adults. 

At the end of the term, a whole week is dedicated to exams. Exams for 4 year olds!! What are you examining-whether a 4 year old understood or can memorise the concepts you taught them? At 4 years of age? Has someone thought through the impact of ranking a 4year old as the last performing pupil in class? Have we thought through the impact this will have on their confidence levels throughout their academic life and even life outside the classroom? This exam issue comes complete with the invention of ECD examination bureaus that have sprouted in almost every division of Kampala. This means that kids will be examined by someone who never taught them. What are they examining? If a kid came to your classroom unable to play with their peers, why not assess them at the end of the term on their ability to interact with the peers in and outside the class? If a kid didn’t know how to use the toilet, why not rank them at the end of the term on their ability in the same? If a kid started your class with speech difficulties, why not rank them on their ability to speak at the end of the 3 months of the term in your classroom? Why ask an examination bureau to set general exams for toddlers, as if they came into your classroom with general skill sets or general skill gaps? As if all this isn’t enough, a kid ‘fails’ a subject, and a teacher asks for extra funds from the parent for remedial lessons ‘so that the kid can cope with the rest of the class’!! How can a 4 year old be ranked a failure?

As we analyse the school drop-out rates in the education system, we need to start differentiating kids that dropped out of school, and those that literally ran away from school system. There was a time when drop out rates were explained by lack of school fees by parents, disability, early marriages, socio-cultural practices that curtail kids-especially girls; from continuing with their education pursuits. However, we are now faced with a new face of drop outs-kids of middle income families, who inspite of their family’s financial muscle just give up on education, and literally refuse to continue with school-kids who are going into education exile. My submission is that this can partly be explained by the system we raise up these kids. We overwork these kids right from day 1 of their school life, and so by the time they complete lower secondary-they are exhausted. Their bodies give way. The few that get into Makerere University and other Universities believe their long awaited ‘heaven’ has arrived, and so they are unable to complete University because they are catching up on 16 years of hard labour. We, as education practitioners, policy makers and parents need to sit down on a round table and think through where each one of us is going wrong. There are best practices in Early Childhood Education and other levels of education that we can learn from. We have nations that have made great strides in improving the quality of education to make it appropriate for specific age groups. We may need to learn best practices from these nations and hence be able to improve on our own. Otherwise we risk creating a nation of robots, and its attendant negative consequences. These consequences will be for all of us to suffer as a nation, and so we had rather all participate is fixing the problem, before it becomes an emergency. Let’s allow kids to be kids, their time to be grown-ups will certainly come.

Modern Karema is the Head of Program Implementation at Educate!

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 By Leah Anyanywu The Learner-Centred Teaching Thematic cluster in RELI Kenya, an initiative sponsored by Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, convened to discuss school-based coaching and its role on improving student learning outcomes. Representatives from Dignitas, PAL Network, Women Educational Researchers of Kenya (WERK), Zizi Afrique, Africa Education Trust (AET), Dupoto-e-Maa and Lwala Community Alliance (via skype) attended the session. The workshop explored instructional coaching, challenges to implementing it with fidelity, and ended with a roundtable discussion. Contributing to the discussion featuring Rebecca Crook, co-found of Metis, Patrick Ndungu, a curriculum support officer from the Teachers’ Service Commission, and Martin Odhiambo, an instructional coach from RTI / Women Educational Researchers of Kenya (WERK) through the Tusome Early Grade Reading Program in Nairobi. Instructional coaching is the intentional and ongoing practice intended to support learning and develop new skills and capacities between two individuals. Coaching can also be between a coach and a group of coachees (group coaching). Coaching has been proven to improve teacher performance and acts as a bridge between theory and practice. Instructional coaching has been widely researched in the United States, but data on coaching in the African context is still being developed. Ben Piper reports that, “Research on in-school teacher pedagogical support is rare in Kenya and other developing countries. The limited evidence from available studies that we examined suggested that even short-term instructional coaching could lead to teacher behavior change.” Coaching may be particularly effective in developing countries because of the limited formal education and in-service professional development opportunities available to the average teacher. What are the barriers to implementation? Implementing instructional coaching at scale is a challenge. Several organizations present had various coaching aspects in their programming and unanimously agreed that coaching is labor intensive. Furthermore, coaches face resistance from teachers. Teachers can be unwilling to receive or implement feedback and some fear that coaching is a form of surveillance. Many institutions do not understand what coaching entails. This lack of clarity and trust can yield speculation and resistance. Furthermore, when coaching is linked to performance management, the results can be harmful to teacher performance and to the coaching relationship. Programs implementing coaching also noted that time allocation threatens quality implementation. Schools and organizations alike are trying to maximize time and coaching is only successful when the meeting time is prioritized and kept sacred. Which factors affect coaching effectiveness? Humans are dynamic. As a result, coaching teachers requires consistency and norming to achieve comparable impact across schools. One factor affecting coaching is the ratio of teachers to each instructional coach. Coaching conversations take time and the coach has to be able to routinely support all teachers for there to be consistent growth. When a coach is expected to support a heavy load of teachers, their support can deteriorate. Moreover, coaching varies in approach. To address the time challenge, some organizations leverage group coaching to support more teachers. However, group coaching lacks the depth of individual coaching. Additionally, coaching varies in the content delivered. Coaches can support specific subjects or general best pedagogical practices. Subject specific coaches are able to offer technical support to teachers while general coaches check for the use of best pedagogical practices (e.g., student engagement, lesson planning). Finally, not all coaches can effectively build relationships across the teachers they support. Differences in culture, age, and background all affect coaching. Combined, the above factors influence the effectiveness of coaching at the program level. How can we measure the impact of instructional coaching? While data on instructional coaching is limited, each organization approached measuring impact differently. To accurately measure the impact of instructional coaching, there needs to be a clear baseline on particular performance areas. In example, were teachers lesson planning? Were learners engaged? Collecting robust baseline data will allow organizations to measure the impact of instructional coaching. Coaches need to collect anecdotal qualitative evidence from the field. This could include success stories from the teacher or observations in change of teacher practice. By collecting and disseminating stories from the field, organizations can tell a cohesive story of impact. Since teacher performance directly impacts student performance, measuring student performance is another indicator to potentially measure the effects of coaching. Lastly, teacher and coach self-reflection is another opportunity to measure the impact of coaching. When teachers are constantly prompted to self-reflected, they can identify areas of growth and describe the impact of the provided coaching support.  So what needs to happen to implement coaching at scale? After the panel discussion, the participants brainstormed the next steps required in order to improve instructional coaching and to support its implementation. One potential next step is creating a centralized curriculum for all instructional coaches. It is important to think about the support structures provided to coaches and to norm on a shared definition for coaching and mentoring. Various non-state actors should share their approach to coaching to help other institutions improve coaching implementation. Since coaching is relatively new to this context, sharing materials will prevent organizations from reinventing the same thing. As the implementation of instructional coaching increases, coaches need access to additional training, professional development, and support. Moreover, there needs to be a common tool that organizations who implement coaching can use. This tool can collect the common indicators and include probing questions that coaches can ask. Based on the conversation about leveraging technology, one participant recommended leveraging technology to ease implementation. The use of tablets or smart phones will allow coaches to collect qualitative and quantitative data from the field. Coaches can then share this data and feedback with the organization and with the teacher. This tool could also include additional tools that the coach could use to support the coaching conversation in the field. In example, there could be a document with potential probing questions or strategies to try. The tool could also access a shared data base of best practices that could be shared with the teacher. Technology can help to strengthen the systems used to measure coaching while providing access to additional resources to support coaching. Finally, accountability must be shared between the coach, the teacher, and the broader school community. Challenges should be addressed collectively and teachers should feel ownership over their growth and development. Organizations can reflect on additional next steps required to set coaches up for success. Moreover, school leaders must be on board and briefed by the coach before coaching begins. Mapping different coaching models and best practices will help organizations learn from each other. Organizations can cultivate strong teachers in each school as potential peer coaches. In the case of RTI, the initial coaching session aims to groom an institutional coach promoting a cascaded coaching model. In all, with thorough planning and implementation, instructional coaching can add value to educational organizations and has the potential to greatly impact student learning outcomes.  
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by Lucy Maina, RELI Kenya Country Lead

Groupwork can be a most unnerving experience; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Teamwork is a key component of RELI as most of our work happens in the thematic groups. Getting academics, activists and policy expert to work together isn’t made easier by the fact that we have to balance different personalities and work ethea. Finding ways to work well together was part of the agenda for the RELI Kenya convening 2018 and the sessions ran by Limeshift’s Yazmany were eye-opening for attendees.

Yazmany helped us think about how our individual personality and work ethos affects our approach to collaboration. He introduced the terms “Plungers”, “Testers” and “Waders.” Plungers dive right into the task at hand, testers prefer to run analytics before engaging the task while waders are more focused on getting teamwork right as they undertake the task. Members were asked to split into the teams that best represented their approaches. It didn’t take me long to realize to which group I belonged; I am a plunger. The teams then had to artistically represent their approach via dance.

The plungers thought their dance enthusiastic, dynamic and positive but others thought it impulsive and overconfident. The waders claimed theirs was balanced, purposeful and dependable; other teams found it bland, boring and in the middle of the road. When the testers had their turn, they stated they were investigative, reflective and highly organized while others thought they were timid, over-ponderous and controlling.  This exercise left me very aware of my own approach in planning the convening.

I hadn’t taken time to reflect on how I have been doing things in the last four months as I have been very busy. The task at hand was to prepare for the Kenyan convening and despite having had what seemed like enough time to plan things, it all seemed to be going rather slowly and I couldn’t help but feel that we were running out of time. I will blame this on my being a plunger. As a plunger, you want to act with speed, do big things and complete tasks.  I was amazed when I took a glance around the room and saw where some of my group members belonged. Suddenly our team dynamic made sense.; it explained a lot of my struggles.

The task also made me appreciate that the different strengths, skills and qualities all add value to the team’s effort. Plungers take initiative, testers manage risk and waders are consensus builders. We all realized that negatives can be positives and no one ethos is better than the others. Teams need to be made up of people with a range of skills working together. We were all left aware that needed to recognize our own approaches and make room for those of other team members.

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