Education Attempts Fail in Kenyan Refugee Camps


Students arriving for primary school assembly

Good morning. It is already 51°  here in Fort Worth. It is predicted to be 68º  today. It’s still too early to sit on my porch, but by the time I finish today’s blog, if the wind is not blowing, I’ll probably be out there reading the paper and enjoying some chi. I love its spicy taste. The store was out of decaf so I’m trying the leaded black tea today.

Every so often I try to track down how someone was referred to my blog. This morning I was directed to a newsletter from a refugee camp in Kenya. Please do read this interesting news letter. I couldn’t find anything from my blogs on any of the pages. As I was looking, however, I was struck by the desire of journalists within the camp to make themselves heard.

The Kakuma News Reflector, or KANERE, is an independent news magazine produced by Ethiopian, Congolese, Ugandan, Rwandan, Somali, Sudanese and Kenyan journalists operating in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. It is the first fully independent refugee-run news source of its kind to emerge from a refugee camp, and has attracted considerable international attention.

The direct link was to an article about the dismal passing rate of students within the refugee camp on a standardized test.

In 2008, 1215 students sat for KCPE exams (Kenya Certificate of Primary Education) from all primary schools in the camp. Only 440 students scored a passing mark of 250 and above, while the majority (775 students) failed to score the minimum half-way mark of 250. One can ask why 64% of students failed their exams and only 36% passed. What is at the root of this poor performance in primary schools here in the camp?

It seems the students blame the teachers, the teachers blame the students and the parents and their low pay. The parents blame the teachers. That rang a distant bell in my memory. It sounded way too familiar. I’ve heard the same Blame Game the entire length of my 30 year sojourn down the paths of American education. My mind formed one question: 

When are those involved in the educational systems around the world going to start listening to each other?

I have often heard the following quote. Are you familiar with it? Do you know who spoke it?

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for
authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place
of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their
households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They
contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties
at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

Supposedly, it is a quote from Socrates, a Greek philosopher. However, I also discovered that some think it came from Plato, another Classical Greek educator, who attributed the quote to Socrates who was Plato’s mentor.

The point is, it looks like this Blame Game has been played for a few too many centuries. All three groups in that refugee camp make sense. All three groups could probably work together if they would put down their ego shields and arrows being used to attack each other and open themselves up to examine the complaints against them.

The students claim the teachers instruct them using English they find difficult to understand. If  students can’t understand what a teacher is saying, no wonder 64% are not passing. Whoever is in charge of obtaining teachers should make sure the teachers are able to communicate. Of course, like some of the poorest districts in the US, they probably are thankful just to have some warm body in the classroom. One of the first things I would do would be to start a training program to ensure the adequacy of the teachers. I don’t know what the requirements are set to be a teacher in the camp, but some of the parents are concerned that the some of the teachers are not prepared to teach the subjects they are assigned. In addition to the teachers they have, I would also recruit from among the adults in the camp. Perhaps there are those in the camp who are more trained in particular subjects than the teachers are, yet they are able to communicate their knowledge. These people should be employed.

Some teachers have been using the gifted students in their classes to help “translate” what they say to those who are having problems understanding. When a child helps another child, both children benefit. The gifted one further cements the knowledge into memory banks, the struggling students start to comprehend.

That argument has  been countered with the gifted students are often held back from their highest achievements. When a class has  90 to 150 students in each class, I doubt the gifted are given much opportunity to advance very far in the first place.

While I completely understand the status associated with higher pay, higher pay in these circumstances to me seems not to matter as much  if the teachers are living in the same camp as their students. There is little there to buy anyway. However, if the teachers are living outside the camp in other communities, perhaps they do need more just to live.

The parents blame the system. If my child had been in that situation in primary school, I certainly would have blamed the system. That many students in a class setting is impossible for a teacher to teach. It may work for students in a university lecture setting, but certainly not at a primary level. Little children definitely need one on one contact with a teacher, even through middle school, and some through high school and even college.

This camp is struggling under dire circumstances to further the achievement of their children. I do hope some time during the day, for those who show up, camp officials are teaching the children the ways of peace.

The following quote was found in a separate entry at that web site. Somehow I thought it was a fitting way to end this blog today. It has nothing to do with education, but has everything to do with why these people are in the refugee camps in the first place.   

 “Why is it that instead of the UN getting tough on the promoters of wars like arms manufacturers and suppliers, it concentrates on their victims, the refugees? Why is it that the UN is less interested in dealing with the causes of wars than with their effects?”

Refugee journalist on the question of the UN’s efficacy

 I believe that quote says it all. Until the world can rid itself of wars and arms manufacturers which causes all the initial misery, the number of  children who are actually learning anything seems like a far second concern. Namaste. Attic Annie

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One response to “Education Attempts Fail in Kenyan Refugee Camps

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