The Long Arm of Education
by Rod Van Sciver, founder of Education For All Children
After my friend Joe graduated from Yale in 1966, he went in the Peace Corp where he was assigned to teach school on a small South Pacific island in Palau, Micronesia. He arrived with his duffel of cloths to find a small hut with a dirt floor which was to be his classroom and six young children who spoke no English.
Joe said he was never very good with languages so if he and the kids were going to communicate, it was going to be in English. So the first day, they started learning to communicate.
As time went by, the kids learned Joe’s language. Having no book, Joe made up his curriculum on the fly. He talked about history and geography. They lay on the beach and counted the stars. He played math games in the dirt.
After two years, he returned to the US, having had an enriching experience but wonder if his two years on the small island had been a throw away.
When Joe turned 65, his son James said, “I want to go to Palau with you. I want to meet your students.” Joe thought it was a wonderful idea. What they found speaks to the power of education.
All of his students still lived on the island. They, their children and grandchildren all spoke flawless unaccented English. One of his students owned a successful fish export business. Another served on the Micronesia Fishing Commission that negotiated the licensing and revenue sharing model for tuna caught by foreign fishing fleets in Micronesian waters which turns out to be half of all the tuna caught in the Pacific and a major source of income for the islands.
Joe said his most shocking moment came when a small child asked him, in perfect English, “Are you the Joseph that my grandmother talks about?”
No Joe, you didn’t throw those years away. In fact, what you gave those six children will continue to reverberate well beyond our years.
Voice from the Field - Mona Kyle – VGGS Prayer Day
Mona Kyle, is a volunteer from California who is volunteering with EFAC in Kenya for three months. Mona is living and working at the Vanessa Grant Girls School (VGGS) in Rongai, Kenya, a partner school of EFAC. EFAC students attend secondary school at VGGS. Read Mona's description of Prayer Day at VGGS.
Earlier this month was the 3rd Annual Prayer Day at VGGS. Unlike many secondary schools in Kenya that have an Open House, a family Visitation Day, and a Prayer Day, in an attempt to reduce costs and disruption to the academic schedule, Nancy Mwaniki has decided to combine all three events into one, with the emphasis on mentally, emotionally, and spiritually preparing the Form 4 scholars for their upcoming KCSE ordeal. In essence, Prayer Day acknowledges that VGGS has done its part to prepare the candidates for the examinations and enter into the next phase of their lives, requests the candidates’ parents and guardians to pray for their success, and culminates in the act of placing the candidates in the hands of God. The day began with the raising of the flag before an assembly of the entire student body, faculty, and VGGS trustees, and the blessing of the classrooms in which the candidates will be taking the KCSEs by one of the trustees, Lyndon Bowring. This was followed by a procession to the field by the students, faculty, trustees, and, of course, the candidates, where they were greeted by their parents, families and friends.
The program began with entertainment and presentations from the candidates together with the other students. This included singing and dancing by various groups, as well as the VGGS choir. Gogar Primary School also participated in the program with a couple of skits and several musical offerings. The sermon was delivered by Lyndon Bowring who focused on the VGGS Ethos that “truth, integrity and humility are central to everyday living following the examples set by Christ,” and its motto, “Education Today for Leadership Tomorrow.” Mr. Bowring concluded by saying that every day is today, and every day we are alive we should continue to learn since that is what being a disciple truly means.
“The Charging of the Candidates” was done by trustee, Johnny Onslow. He presented each candidate with her own Bible and read the following charge to the VGGS candidates: “I charge you never to forget the great benefits that you have received in this place, and in time to come according to your means, to do all that you can to enable others to enjoy the same advantage; and remember that you carry with you, wherever you go, the good name of Vanessa Grant Girls’ School. May God Almighty bless you in your ways and keep you in the knowledge of his love now and forever.”
The principal advised the candidates that in order to create a meaningful legacy they will need to surround themselves with good people who have similar interests and moral character, recognize and continue to develop their abilities, and avoid compromising their personal integrity. The deputy principal thanked the parents, and the faculty and staff for all the support and encouragement they have shown the candidates during their entire time at VGGS. There was a final surprise presentation by the candidates themselves in which they sang a “Song of Thanksgiving,” individually acknowledging and showing their gratitude to the trustees, administration, faculty and staff. It was a very sweet song, and everyone was genuinely moved by the sentiment. The closing prayer was delivered by one of the parents.
After the program the students spent the afternoon with their visiting families. Their families brought home cooked meals which they were able to enjoy as picnics. Some of these picnics were pretty elaborate affairs. It was nice to see that those students who did not have any family visiting were often invited to join those who did. A couple of girls even invited me to join their family for chapati and mukimo, my favorite Kenyan dishes.
Voice from the Field - Mona Kyle – KCSE Testing
Mona Kyle, is a volunteer from California who is volunteering with EFAC in Kenya for three months. Mona is living and working at the Vanessa Grant Girls School (VGGS) in Rongai, Kenya, a partner school of EFAC. EFAC students attend secondary school at VGGS. Read Mona's description of Kenya’s KCSE exams, something all of EFAC’s Form 4 students are currently taking.
The significance of the KCSEs in the Kenyan education system tends to be a little overwhelming, not only to the candidates, but even to the casual observer. The KCSEs are currently being administered on every secondary school campus across Kenya, and I am witnessing the effects of the exams at VGGS first hand.
KCSE stands for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, and is taken by all Form 4 students at the completion of their secondary education. KCSE candidates are tested on a minimum of seven subjects. For grading purposes, the candidates must take all three compulsory subjects (English, Kiswahili and mathematics), at least two sciences (biology, physics and/or chemistry), one humanities (history and government, geography or Christian religious education), and at least one practical or technical subject (home science, art and design, agriculture, computer studies or business studies). The grading of the examination is as follows: A (80% and above), A- (75-79), B+ (70-74), B (65-69), B- (60-65), C+ (55-59), C (50-54), C- (45-49), D+ (40-44), D (35-39), D- (30-34), E (0-29).
In Kenya, this examination determines admittance to public and private universities. The passing mark for the 2013 exam was a minimum score of 60% (B-) for males and 58% (C+) for females. Students who attain a grade C or below have the option to enter a diploma program such as mechanical engineering, clinical medicine, wildlife management and other options that also provide opportunities for employment in the future. Once admitted to a university, a student’s KCSE score also determines what course of study he/she will be permitted to pursue. For example, in order to study medicine, one would need to have As in the four core subjects of English, mathematics, biology and chemistry. Similar requirements exist for every other major offered.
The KCSEs are in full swing. The process began on Tuesday, October 14th with the Computer Studies written examination, followed by the Computer Practical examination on the 15th. It should be noted that the security surrounding the test questions is very stringent. The examination booklets for all of the local secondary schools are delivered to the Rongai Police Station, and then each subject is individually distributed to the schools on the exact day of the examination with an armed guard, who remains on the campus while the test is being given, collects the completed examination papers, and returns with them to the police station for safe keeping. Similarly, the day before the Chemistry Practical exam was given, it was necessary for Mrs. Mwaniki to go to the police station to pick up the chemicals that would be used for that examination. There are breaks in the exam schedule (for example, Oct. 20th is a national holiday, i.e., Mashujaa or Heroes’ Day to honor all those who contributed to the struggle for Kenya’s independence), so the last day of the KCSEs is not until November 3rd, when the candidates will sit for the Biology Practical exam. It has been very quiet on the VGGS campus (even Rongai Boys’ is somewhat subdued) as the lower forms have been very polite and respectful of their older schoolmates, and they contemplate what lies ahead for themselves.
Nurturing Talents Beyond Academic Excellence
Blog post by Peter King'ori, a member of EFAC's Kenyan Team.
On January 2013 in the Standard Newspaper, Kenyan Ministry of Education, Science and Technology stated that “top marks alone will not assure excellence.” The Ministry stated that schools in the future will be ranked on the basis of academic excellence and other parameters such as good governance and leadership, talent development and character formation aimed towards nurturing well-rounded students. This effort stands to be of great importance as the 21st Century employers are not only looking for qualified and competent employees but people who also possess the necessary soft skills to fit in the modern work force. These soft skills include ethics, communication ability, working well with others, problem solving ability, interpersonal skills and positive attitude, among others.
Since then, the ministry has taken significant strides to recognize outstanding schools which are contributing immensely in nurturing well-rounded students during national release of academic results. These government efforts to align education with employer demands requires numerous stakeholders to work collaboratively in order to create collective impact while raising lifelong learners.
Education For All Children (EFAC) in collaboration with Africa Nazarene University (ANU) and diverse sponsors from across the globe are in the forefront of transforming lives of the bright disadvantaged students’ from numerous region in Kenya. EFAC students are provided with the opportunity to attend an annual mentorship workshop. During the workshop, students are empowered with values, life skills, IT skills, leadership skills, competencies and career guidance that positions them to succeed in life and the world of work.
Through these workshops, various scholars have been able to unearth their unique abilities and rise up to fulfill their potential in life. Numerous students have demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities in their school student governance; proactive participation in school drama and music festivals, sportsmanship and essay writing contests, among others.
Recently, Wycliffe Nackeel, an EFAC scholar emerged to be the winner in a “Sexual and Reproductive Health Youth Poster Contest” which was organized by Segal Family Foundation. He received a fabulous award during the Segal Family Foundation Annual Meeting held in Arusha, Tanzania. In his acceptance speech, Wycliffe moved the audience as he narrated how EFAC, teachers and mentors have impacted his life thus far. He said “talent is what I have learned to tame.” Wycliffe’s passion for art, drama, and poetry made led his former primary school to win the district drama and music festival. He played a key role in composing the play and teaching it to the pupils and teachers. In his recommendation letter, the head teacher praises him as a scholar with “a great degree of talents in poetry, painting and drama.” It’s our hope as the EFAC family in collaboration with stakeholders of good will that we will continue to touch and transform lives in Kenya by nurturing students’ talents, character formation and leadership abilities besides simply academic excellence.