Academic excellence in the face of adversity in Nairobi

Alfred Oduor

Communication Development Officer, Alfred Oduor, based in Kenya joined a visit to one of the best performing schools in the area – and found it was in the heart of the Kawangware slums.

It is a rainy, muddy Thursday morning in Nairobi's sprawling Kawangware slums. A team from Education Development Trust is visiting one of the schools in the area, Kids Empowerment Centre.

As we enter the school, our ears are accosted by loud reggae music blaring from inside the school compound. Moving closer, we realise that the school is located inside a residential estate – basically, parallel lines of one-room houses, with walls made of aluminium sheets; and so are the classrooms. It turns out the directors of Kids Empowerment Centre rented some of the houses in the estate and made a school out of them.

Once inside the school, we see that the doors of the classrooms and those of residential houses face each other, barely a metre apart; the pupils share a two-door toilet with the occupants of the estate, whose number could be anything between 50 and 100. 

Girls' Education Challenge in action

That is the setting of Kids Empowerment Centre and other similar schools in Kenya’s urban slums, which is the focus of the Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) project supported by the UK government to improve the quality of the girls’ education and their chance of continuing their education.

With this in mind, it may come as a surprise to hear this: Kids Empowerment Centre emerged as the best school in the area in last year's Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE).

Yes, despite operating in such an extremely harsh environment, the school is defying seemingly insurmountable odds to transform the lives of children in the slums through education; how they do it is a tale of willpower, grit and stubborn determination by the students, parents and staff.

I visited the school with a team from Education Development Trust and we were incredibly impressed by how much the school had achieved with the meagre education resources at their disposal – and in an extremely challenging environment. Regional Director, Tim Bainbridge, led the visit and was joined by the recently appointed Head of Consultancy, Jonathan Coyle.

'My visit to the Kids Empowerment Centre in Kawangware was the highlight of my recent trip to Nairobi,' confirms Jonathan. 'The school is doing fantastic work providing an education for local children including achieving a 100% pass rate for all the kids looking to move on to high school. I was so impressed with Elizabeth who founded the school and all the teachers who work so hard to support the children. Their work is not just in the school but reaching out to the community to make sure the children get the best education possible. It was also great to meet some of the parents who were so committed to ensuring that their children came to school and got the most from it. Most importantly we met the children themselves who clearly loved coming to school and valued the education they were receiving. The dedication, innovation and commitment of all involved in the school was so impressive.'

Tim added: 'It is hugely motivating to see the the difference we make in these schools and to the lives of these children, the success of the first GEC project and the great start to the second GEC project is a reflection on the hard work, skill and dedication of the all the people working on this project both in Kenya and across Education Development Trust.'