People, Projects | January 3, 2023

A Nairobi Teacher Illustrates a Life-Changing Lesson for Parents in the Community


With BookSmart, Peter Munyi brings vibrant stories into his classroom and utilizes the reading data to improve his lessons. When he introduced this tool to parents in the community, he led a powerful conversation to get children reading at home, not just at school.

Getting children reading at home

Many of the schools lining Nairobi (and the thousands of pupils that attend them) are in need of resources and support. Our recent School Leadership Project introduced 12 of these schools to our BookSmart app, giving teachers powerful data about their students’ reading habits and allowing them to make data-led decisions in their classrooms. A project intended to build knowledge and capacity cultivated many fruitful benefits.


A school injects light into an under-resourced community

Gatoto Primary, a school that participated in the project, is situated in the Mukuru slums, an industrial area of Nairobi. A great number of the pupils’ parents and caregivers in this area are not employed, and those who are work as laborers in nearby factories. Those who struggle to find stable jobs find alternative means to provide for their families, whether it’s selling produce at the market or washing clothes for income.

Gatoto Primary School

Financial difficulties among parents make paying school fees incredibly difficult. “In terms of school fees, we charge a little, a few coins to be able to run the school,” teacher Peter Munyi explains, “and yet again even as we charge that there are those who completely cannot pay and there are those who can pay halfway.” Since Gatoto is classified as a private establishment and not a public one, the school does not enjoy any government funds to provide resources for its 1,000-plus pupils. They largely rely on external donors to keep them going.


But the school does its best to inject resources into the community. Along with its primary program, Gatoto offers a community support program where families in need can receive access to food aid and HIV/AIDS medication, and a post-primary program, where students receive help getting into high schools to continue their education.


An educator’s impact radiates from classrooms to households

Peter Munyi has been a teacher for 20 years, and a headteacher at Gatoto for five. Peter’s favorite subjects to teach are the languages, Kiswahili and English, but he leads classes in religion and social studies as well. He’s passionate about being in the classroom, but the new Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) has increased the administrative lift on his role.

Peter Munyi

Peter has been encouraged by the positive effect BookSmart has had on his classroom, but an undeniable benefit has been the newfound connections he’s made with parents. Parents with access to smartphones were encouraged to download the BookSmart app and spend time reading at home with their children. Sensing some hesitancy, Peter called a meeting with all grade three parents.

In the meeting, Peter was met with parents insisting they did not have the time to read with the students after class was dismissed. Peter considered this thoughtfully and asked the parents who own mobile phones to quickly pull up a specific book in the digital library and waited as they complied. He asked one of the parents who could read to stand at the front of the class and begin reading, urging the other parents to time him. After getting through the bulk of the plot, he stopped the reader and watched as the parents realized less than five minutes had passed.

“Have you gotten any information from that book that he read?” Peter inquired. The parents confirmed this by recounting the story’s themes. Then he noted, “We have spent four minutes reading that book, and there are even shorter books than this one. If it was your child and you were supporting their reading, do you think the water that you would have set on the cooking pot would have boiled by the time you finished this?” They responded with a resounding, “indeed this is a very short time.”

“We are not looking at how many books your child would have read by the end of the week.” Peter said, “We are saying you could open the same book even the following day … the child is not reading just to be able to mention words. The child is reading to be able to, you know, internalize the concept, internalize the story and be able to retell it somewhere else.”

Stronger relationships formed between Peter and the parents. He met with some of them individually, learning about specific struggles at home that got in the way of reading, and working to find solutions when possible. He noted that some even came back and told him their experiences on how they found it very easy working with the reading project at home using their mobile phones.

Not only did Peter express that working so closely with parents improved his leadership skills, but he truly feels he took on a serious role in ensuring that this project was implemented in a way that benefited the child in class, the teacher, and yes, even the parents.

Peter and thousands of teachers around the world are on a passionate pursuit to help their students succeed, not just in the classroom, but at home and in life. BookSmart provides students with the power of reading while offering support, data, and tools for teachers like Peter.