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.