Child Friendly Schools: Promoting child-centred approaches to learning

Child Friendly Schools: Promoting child-centred approaches to learning

Millions of children in Kenya fail to get an education due to a variety of reasons ranging from; poverty, to disability and gender specific issues. To ensure that schools cater for all irrespective of their unique challenges, the government introduced the Child Friendly Schools programme.

Nairobi’s Murang’a’ Road Primary School, is one such school that employs interactive techniques and technologies to bring every child on board. Situated in Nairobi’s Ngara area, the school offers a comfortable environment for a child to learn.

“Child Friendly Schools are schools where all children are accepted regardless of their age, gender and religious affiliation. Here we take children not as students but as our God given duty to mold and transform”, says Ms Joyce Agik, a teacher at the school and national facilitator for child-friendly training organized by WERK.

Ms Joyce Agik, a proponent of child friendly schools at Muranga Road Primary School

A child-friendly school ensures every child an environment that is physically safe, emotionally secure and psychologically enabling. Teachers are the single most important factor in creating an effective and inclusive classroom and motivating their learners to remain in school

As an implementing partner in the Operation Come to School project funded by Educate a Child through UNICEF and supported by the Government of Kenya, the focus for Women Educational Researchers of Kenya (WERK) is on returning 20,000 out-of-school children in Nairobi County back to the classroom and ensuring that they complete the learning cycle for primary school and transition to secondary school. A total of 350 public primary schools and selected Alternative Provision of Basic Education and Training (APBET) institutions are participating in the project covering 8 sub-counties of Nairobi, among them Embakasi, Starehe, Kamukunji, Makadara, Mathare, Kasarani, Westlands and Dagoretti.

As if to drive home and illustrate the point about the factors preventing children from coming to school, a peculiar challenge took place recently that greatly contributed to the depopulation of the learners’ population.   As a result of the glaring absence of a well demarcated perimeter fence and its proximity to Nairobi’s central business district the school was at the centre of a confrontation between the police and city hawkers when some hawkers gained entry into the school compound and took refuge in the classrooms into which police lobbed tear gas. This incident frightened off many parents who withdrew their children leading to a drastic drop in enrolment and the destabilization of the retention rates.

Joyce Agik’s child friendly classroom.

Back in Joyce’s classroom, with a laptop connected to a television set, the children can see and visualize what the teacher is talking about. This eliminates the monotony of writing on the black board for the teacher, allowing her to stay engaged with her learners.  With this methodology of teaching the teacher becomes the facilitator and the children take charge of their learning.

“We use various methodologies because we have to know different learning styles of children. As a teacher if you do not know the learning styles of the children you will not be able to say you have taught them”, she adds.

In most regular schools, teachers are the repository of all knowledge and the learners are expected to take down notes diligently.  This kills creativity in children.  Child-friendly schools encourage a participatory approach.

In her teaching, she attempts to capture every child’s learning needs and style: “I have to incorporate videos and even pictures in my teaching. I not only use my talent to draw but I capture the talents of the learners as well”, says Joyce.

Her classroom walls are plastered with charts and diagrams, the work of the children themselves. They learn how to interact and even teach each other. This boosts the child’s courage, morale and confidence.

Poverty levels makes it difficult for the children to afford certain materials required in the learning process. With scarce resources, they have learnt to use locally available materials.

“Even the challenge of turning simple materials into useful learning tools helps grow the children’s creative and innovative capacities and makes teaching both simple and enjoyable for me”, says Joyce, a smile flashing across her face.

According to the 2009 Kenya Household Population Census (KHPC) an estimated 1.9 million primary school children aged 6-13 years and 2.7 million children aged 14-17 years were out of school.   Some of the barriers and bottlenecks that perpetuate this phenomenon become more pronounced during the period of adolescence, and manifested particularly in the high inequalities witnessed in girls’ access to education and the dropout rates from primary school.

Ms Agik’s students pay full attention to what is being taught

“The students that I teach have been with me since they were in Class Two. They are now in Class Eight. They have mastered my teaching style and I have mastered their learning styles”, she says.

She believes that this group of students will perform well in their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education since their level of confidence is higher than most ordinary children.

A Ray of Hope for Disadvantaged Girls

A Ray of Hope for Disadvantaged Girls

Her voice is barely audible amid the din of shouts and happy shrieks as children chase after each other in a variety of games within an expansive playing field while others noisily rearrange their desks and chairs in their classrooms.

It is closing day for the third term holidays and the there is a steady stream of parents into the school compound to consult with the teachers and pick up their children’s report forms.

Tracy Atieno, 13 years

Atieno is dark-skinned and slender.  She is reserved, almost too shy to speak. Kiswahili is her preferred language, though she understands English and speaks it quite well.

At age 13, in class seven at Rabai Road Primary school in the eastern part of Nairobi, Atieno faces numerous challenges and she clings to her one chance at an education to open the doors to opportunities and a better life.

She wakes up at 5.00 am every morning to be in school by 6.00 am.  She covers the 4-kilometre distance to school on foot and she is always anxious about keeping time.

“During the rainy season it is very difficult to walk through the muddy streets. I arrive in school with mud caked to my shoes and I have to get them clean so that I can at least be comfortable in the classroom,” she says.  Sometimes when the rain soaks through her clothes, books and shoes, it means a long cold day ahead for her. “There is little one can do about it and I have learnt to bear with the situation.”

Generally, the environment in the neighbourhoods that dot Nairobi’s informal settlements is not conducive for pupils like Atieno. Due to congestion in their humble home and constant noise in the neighbourhood, it is difficult to get homework done and to do quiet study.

“I make sure I finish my homework at school so that the interruptions from drunkards who pass near our house yelling are kept at bay. I live with my family in Kiambiu, we are two children living in a temporary one-roomed house.” Atieno explains.

Kiambiu is a sprawling informal settlement in the east of Nairobi. Atieno narrates the ordeal a girl child in the slums must endure. Sexual predators are never far away, putting her and her sibling at risk during the long hours their mother spends away from home. Her single mother, who is a hair stylist, struggles to make ends meet. But Atieno is dedicated to soldiering on in the hope that education will make the difference for her and alter her current circumstances.

She helps her mother with house chores like cooking and fetching water. She has to do them because the mother is usually busy with work at the hair salon.

Atieno has only visited the Nairobi Central Business District once in her lifetime. Although it is barely 8 kilometres away from her house, she just hears the stories told about its attractions. There is no one to take her sight-seeing.

Thanks to UNICEF-funded Operation Come to School project, she received a schoolbag and a kit of essential items including sanitary towels, underwear, soap and body cream as well as exercise books, pens and pencils.  For children like Atieno, these items could mean the difference between being able to stay in school or being confined to their homes for long spells. 

“UNICEF has helped me to stay in school,” adds Atieno.  Although the Kenya government guarantees free primary education, parents are required to contribute to the salaries of some of the non-teaching staff as well as professional teachers that are not registered under the Teachers’ Service Commission.  They also contribute towards the school feeding programme that provides school lunch.

She wants to be a medical doctor one day: “I see many people suffer because they cannot access medical care. They are also too poor. I want to help them ease their pain and suffering when I become a doctor.”

Similarly, Amina Abubakar a class eight pupil shares her experience a few days before taking the 2017 KCPE exams. Aged 14 years, she is from Kiambiu.  Her biggest fear is the dangerous environment she and her family live in.

There are many negative influences, ready traps for the young people of her generation.  But like Atieno, Amina owes her gratitude to UNICEF who came to her rescue and enabled her stay in school.

“My mother sells shoes and my father lives in a different town. They don’t have a lot of money but they try their best,” she says.

A charming Amina believes that through education, she will be able to realise her dream of becoming a neurosurgeon.

Ms. Mary Wangui Mathenge, who is also Amina’s class teacher, says it is important for schools to establish a child friendly environment, safe enough so that when children come to school they feel safe.

“We have a swimming pool in our school which we have secured to avoid accidents and we have a school fence which helps secure the school against intruders. Security is paramount, especially for the pupils that come to school early in the morning,” she adds.  Children are advised to walk in groups when as they navigate their way to school and back. 

She notes that some of her pupils come from backgrounds where they are not well trained on home related issues which sometimes affects their performance.

According to the head teacher at Rabai Road Primary School, Mrs Terry Mbogo, her pupils face too many challenges. She notes with a lot of concern how most parents have neglected their children’s welfare.

“It is a very tricky situation and we are always alert to be able to intervene so that the children are not overwhelmed by their problems,” she adds.  She keeps a stock of sanitary towels in her office to hand out to hand out to needy girls when they are needed. 

“Menstruation is one of the factors that affect school attendance among girls,” she says.

Although the school enrolment rate has increased since the OCTS project rolled out, retention is always a priority for the school management.

“We have raised enrolment from 420 to 775 pupils,” adds Mrs Mbogo, “We are doing well, but we are also concerned about the children that dropped out during the recent electioneering period.”  Many children were sent back to their rural homes when parents left the city to participate in the national elections on August 8th, 2017 and some of them did not return for the start of the third term of school in September.  This situation was worsened by the ensuing deterioration of security county-wide which also affected Nairobi’s informal settlements in the disputed vote and the Supreme Court’s nullification of the Presidential election on September 1st 2017 and a re-run on October 26th.   “Some children may never return,” says Mrs Mbogo.

Even as the pupils prepared for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations, the state of their classrooms tell a sad tale of struggle and survival. The furniture is in a state of dereliction, as are the walls and windows.  The floors are dusty and riddled with pot holes.

However, not far from this state of neglect, a block of newly renovated classrooms adds a freshness to one of Nairobi’s oldest public schools.  Mrs Mbogo is highly appreciative of UNICEF’s support to the OCTS project for the renovations and support to children in vulnerable circumstances, offering them a lifeline and a second chance in life. 

Ms. Mary Wangui Mathenge, a teacher at Rabai Road Primary School

(Photo credit, Robert Kariuki)


In pursuit of our objectives and management of our membership and programmatic elements, WERK is currently undertaking a registration exercise for the pre-qualification of suppliers of goods and services for the year 2019 (ending 31st December, 2019). WERK therefore invites current and previous suppliers of goods, services and consultancies to register by downloading the WERK Prequalification Registration Document and ensuring strict adherence to the requirements stipulated therein for consideration.

  • WERK will register prospective candidates for the supply of goods, services and consultancies from among those who will have submitted their registration documents in accordance with the requirements to undertake the assignment as described herein.
  • Eligible candidates are invited to submit a registration document for the supply of goods and services. The registration documents will be the basis for the registration and eventual invitation to bid for the supply of goods and services on the basis of “as and when” need arises.
  • Eligible candidates may apply for one or more categories of items.
  • Special groups registered under AGPO are encouraged to apply.
  • The candidates must familiarize themselves with the requirements of the registration documents including all attachments.
  • WERK will not be responsible for any costs or expenses incurred by candidates in connection with the preparation or delivery of these registration documents including and costs associated with the preparation of the documents and attachments.
  • The WERK financial policy requires that candidates observe the highest standard of ethics during the prequalification process. In pursuance to this policy, WERK defines for the purpose of this provision, the terms set forth below as follow;
    • ‘Corrupt practice’ means the offering, giving, receiving or soliciting of anything of value to influence the action of an officer in the prequalification process
    • ‘Fraudulent practice’ means a misrepresentation of facts in order to influence the registration process to the detriment of the organization.
    • Will reject an application if it determines that a candidate has engaged in corrupt or fraudulent activities in the prequalification process.
    • Will declare a candidate ineligible for registration if at any time it determines that the candidate has engaged in corrupt or fraudulent practices in competing for or in executing a similar contract.
    • Will have the right to inspect the business premises of the candidate
  • Candidates shall furnish information as described in the registration document
  • Detailed pre-qualification/ registration of suppliers documents may be inspected from the WERK Secretariat offices situated on 1171 Argwings Kodhek Road during working hours (8:00am-1:00pm and 2:00 pm-5:00 pm)
  • Interested firms may obtain registration documents free of charge for all the categories.
  • Completed registration documents in plain sealed envelopes clearly marked registration of Suppliers 2019 indicating the category and item description as below:


ITEM CODE WERK/2018/PQ/­­­­­­­ ____________

REGISTRATION FOR THE SUPPLY /PROVISION OF __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

And be addressed and deposited in the ‘tender box’ at the WERK Secretariat offices so as to be received on or before 1st February, 2019, by 10:00am.

WERK’s physical address is:





Registration documents will be opened immediately after closing time in the presence of bidders or their representatives who choose to attend the opening.

For Street Children the Road to School is Paved with Difficulties

For Street Children the Road to School is Paved with Difficulties

All children in Kenya are potentially at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse; however, some groups are more vulnerable than others due to their gender, social status or geographical location. These are some of the observations of a joint Government of Kenya, UNICEF and Global Affairs Canada study (2015) titled: Taking Child Protection to The Next level in Kenya. The case study was part of a UNICEF global initiative, undertaken in collaboration with Global Affairs Canada to document national child protection frameworks in five countries: Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Senegal and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Mr. Daniel Arika

At the Makadara Children’s Centre, located in Bahati, Kamukunji sub-County, Nairobi, the Manager, Mr Daniel Arika knows this all to well.  At the time of the interview he was in charge of 170 boys rescued from Nairobi’s streets.

“We take care of vulnerable children within Nairobi but the majority of our clients are the street boys recued within Nairobi,” he says.  “We offer care and protection, food and a safe place to sleep at night for such children, but the best environment for every child is not in an institution but within a loving family.”

According to the Taking Child Protection to The Next level in Kenya (2015) study, children without parental care lack the protective environment and supervision that adult care normally provides. Children in large families may also lack parental attention and can become victims of neglect.

The study also noted that the situation of children is often worsened by the multiple deprivations that exist within certain population groups and communities, with gender inequality identified as a critical driver of deprivations in children’s rights in Kenya. This is because overall, women have a lower status than men, and female-headed households are more likely to be poor, where the children of mothers with no or little primary education are more likely to be deprived.

Approximately 3.6 million Kenyan children are orphans or otherwise classified as vulnerable. (Government of Kenya, Ministry for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030, Kenya Social Protection Sector Review, June 2012. The exact figure for orphans and vulnerable children is 3,612,679.)  Of these, 646,887 children are double orphans, that is, they have lost both parents to AIDS, or one parent to AIDS and another to a non-AIDS related cause.

The study noted that girls have unequal access to education overall, and their dropout rates tend to suffer from primary grade 7 onwards. Gender inequalities become more pronounced through adolescence. Specific protection concerns arise for girls during this time and are associated with vulnerability to violence, early marriage and pregnancy.

Other sources place the number of Kenyan children living on the streets at 300,000, with 60,000 of them in Nairobi. The International Needs Kenya (IN Kenya) charity also notes the life expectancy for a child on the street is 16 years and that rehabilitation takes time and dedication.

Mr Arika is in agreement with the charity in so far as removing a child off the streets.  The hard work involves taking the effects of the street life out of the child and restoring his/her dignity and recovering lost childhoods.  Street children face countless cruelties and violations to their rights including sexual exploitation and other cruel and demeaning actions against them.

“They have been exposed to extreme situations in the streets,” says Mr Arika, “We find them already addicted to drugs and other harmful substances, and because they are used by peddlers to push the trade on the streets, we are always aware that there will always be resistance to our efforts to bring children out of the streets.”

Even for children undergoing rehabilitation, the lure of the streets is an ever-present reality. Side-by-side with the provision of nutritious food, clean clothes and a comfortable bed, these children require intensive counselling, access to dedicated life-skills programs as well as education and healthcare.

The Centre’s partnership with Morrison Primary School is strategic in getting the rescued boys back into the school system, although many are old for their grades at the time of enrolment, those that are determined to change the course of their lives go on to thrive and excel in their school work.  Girls are rehabilitated at a centre in Kayole run by the County government of Nairobi.

“Our children are not always sure about their exact age, or even their names,” adds Mr Arika.  The Centre stands in for the registration of individual birth certificates – a requirement when booking children to take the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exam in grade 8. “As the manager of this institution, I play the role of father to many of the children here, and my name is on numerous birth certificates,” he quips.

He is proud of the boys that have made a successful transition through primary to secondary school and onto tertiary level. But he never stops appealing to the communities in Kamukunji to reach out and offer support for the Centre.  “Bring us your old books,” he says, “come offer your time to tutor and mentor them during school breaks and in the evenings after school. Visit with the boys that made it to boarding secondary schools.”  Every positive action counts in the lives of these children.

He also cites sports as a great motivator for children adjusting to a life off the streets. “It builds up self-esteem and encourages them to withdraw from the drugs very fast.”

The 2010 Constitution of Kenya (Article 53) recognizes the need for all children to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhumane treatment, punishment, and hazardous or exploitative labour. It affirms that children have basic rights, including the right to education, nutrition, shelter, health care and parental care. These provisions align with both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Africa Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, to which Kenya is a signatory.

For Street Children the Road to School is Paved with Difficulties

Why Boards of Management are critical to the creation of a conducive school environment

As a member of the Board of Management at Morrison Primary School, Ms Margaret Ndanu is as passionate about the progress of her two children who are pupils at the school as she is about the impact of her participation on the Board. She takes her roles as parent and Board member seriously.

Her son Witness Matei is in grade 7, while daughter Stephanie Ndinda is in grade 6.  Her children were enrolled in 2015, and she was elected to the school Board in 2016.  “We constantly tackle many challenges affecting the school,” says Ms Ndanu. “Our learners are willing to come to school but many parents and guardians are poor, and their livelihoods are uncertain.”

Ms Margaret Ndanu and her children, Stephanie (r) and Witness (l)

The school is surrounded by a hostile social environment where drug peddlers rule the streets and underage girls are at risk of sexual assault either in their own homes or on the route to school and back. Truancy among pupils is common in this neighbourhood.

Yet despite these immediate problems the Board of Management is required to ensure a strategic approach to the school’s future by setting major goals, policy frameworks and strategies.  This calls for developing and maintaining healthy relationships with key stakeholders and keeping the communication channels open.   For this, Ms Ndanu is grateful for the good rapport with WERK and the inclusion of Morrison Primary School in the Operation Come to School project.  “We have benefitted greatly from our association with WERK and her networks,” she beams.  “We are a small school by Nairobi standards, but we are visible on the map!”

However, the review of school plans and budgets is always a thorny issue when parents are called to give their input and their approval is sought over major decisions for budgetary and non-budgetary expenses.

“The response we are likely to get from parents and guardians is that they are too poor to contribute to the bills that include the school feeding programme and wages of support staff,” she notes.  anticipate problems as much as possible and act to diffuse issues

Her sentiments are echoed by Board of Management Chair, Ms Elizabeth Gichuki, who says that in as much as her Board is keen to anticipate problems and act to diffuse them, the resistance from parents and guardians is a source of discouragement.

“There is a pervasive culture of apathy or indifference,” she notes, “We need to promote a change in the pervasive perception that education is the sole responsibility of the government.”

Ms Elizabeth Gichuki, Morrison Primary BoM

When she was elected to chair the Board of Management, she made a promise to the parents and teachers of Morrison Primary School that with their help she would change the face of the school – by safeguarding discipline among learners to improve academic and extra-curricular performance, improving the infrastructure and creating an environment that would attract more learners as well as partnerships to sustain new pathways.

Although the high poverty levels in the school’s vicinity affect the day-to-day running of the institution and the Board acknowledges the struggle to balance income and expenditure, she is working on strategies that will ensure that children will not stay away from school because parents are unwilling or unable to co-share the cook’s ages, or to keep up with payments for the school feeding programme.  “We want to encourage parents that they could also contribute their skills, time and labour in lieu of a cash payment.”

The partnership with WERK has positioned Morrison Primary School to benefit from the renovation of two classrooms, opening up space for the enrolment of more students as well as creating more space for learners to enjoy the experience of being in school.  “These interventions mean a lot for a school like Morrison,” she adds, “The parents appreciate the facelift to the school, our learners are proud of their school and it is reflected in their elevated discipline and academic performance.” Ms Gichuki is confident that Morrison primary will quickly shed its old associations with truancy to become a beacon of hope for Makadara ward and Kamukunji sub-county.

As a member of the Board of Management, Ms Ndanu appreciates the role she plays in sensitising fellow-parents as well as the school management on the issues of children with disability.  She does so with the empathy of a parent with a disabled child.  “My son, Witness, has a disability, but I am happy to say that he is coping very well and the entire school team has made room for him and many others like him despite their disability,” she adds.

Operation Come To School

Operation Come To School

The project will contribute to ensuring that some 40,000 OOSC children enroll in school in Nairobi County. The project will focus on Dimension 2 (Children of primary school age who are not in primary). This project aligns itself with the National Education Sector Plan (whose overarching goal is Enhanced Quality Basic Education for Kenya’s Sustainable Development). NESP has identified school age population and out of school children in informal settlements as marginalized groups whose participation in education lags behind. The proposed initiative is also intermedium with Kenya’s Vision 2030 (recognizes that human resource capital as central to the country’s realization of sustainable development as an industrialized country that supports provision of high quality life for all citizens), the Constitution of Kenya and the Basic Education Act, 2013 (‘every child has the right to free and compulsory basic education’), and Sessional Paper No. 14 of 2012 (which redefined basic education to cover ECDE, primary, secondary and alternative approaches to basic education).