| March 26, 2012

An Update from Ntimigom School


The last time I was at Ntimigom Primary and Nursery schools was a year ago. Since then, they have been featured on Al-Jazeera and CitizenTV Kenya, enrollment is up and absenteeism is down. Many students have transferred from other schools, and The Kilgoris Project has had to employ two new teachers to accommodate the now 400 students at Ntimigom.

I saw these two new teachers wielding Kindles, and I was curious to see how they (and the new first graders who had just started last January) had done. Worldreader’s training methodology rests on empowering project managers and teachers to train others, and the new teachers’ familiarity with their Kindles would give me some valuable feedback. I was also interested in reconnecting with the teachers and students I’d worked with a year ago, and excited to see their progress.

But this is Kenya after all, so everything started with a warm welcome. The teachers were kind enough to translate “Worldreader” into Swahili for me, accompanied by a hand-drawn rendition of our logo on a classroom chalkboard. “Readers” also refer to storybooks, so the teachers made sure to inform me that they understood that in this context, “reader” should instead be translated as “one who reads.” Google translate informs me that “Msomi wa ulimwengu” means “scholar of the world,” which admittedly sounds somewhat loftier than Worldreader, but hey, I’ll take it.

The first question the teachers had for me was, “Do you have more reference materials?” In the last year, Worldreader has more than tripled its selection of book titles available to our students and teachers for free or at deep discounts. Among other books, we now have an atlas and an excellent health manual. But the devices at Ntimigom are Kindle Keyboard 3Gs — that means they can browse Wikipedia using the cellphone networks! Last year, the signal wasn’t strong enough to connect reliably. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the rate at which mobile operators are growing in sub-Saharan Africa, this year the devices could get on the network at much faster speeds — EDGE, and even 3G on rare occasions. In no time at all, the teachers were looking up Jomo Kenyatta, the father of Kenyan independence, on Wikipedia… in Swahili!

The teachers had initially thought I was coming back with more e-readers, so when I arrived relatively empty-handed, they were disappointed! I told them that Mama Shule (aka Caren McCormack of The Kilgoris Project, their sponsor) was busy raising money to get them 100 more e-readers and 5,000 books. That seemed to cheer them up a little, and then I pulled out my own Kindle to show them a selection of books that they could get. They were delighted to see a bilingual story (Kiswahili/English) from StoryMoja about the adventures of a group of matatus (public taxis).

One of the new teachers (I think her name was Emily) asked about mathematics. I showed them the flash cards produced by Digi Ronin Media that were so popular at Koru. “We have those already!” said some of the teachers, and they proceeded to brainstorm about how they would be able to use these flash cards in class. In no time at all, they were playing with the different modes offered (multiple choice, input required) and practicing their own arithmetic skills. Later, one of them proudly showed me her list of high scores. Turns out making learning into a game works with teachers as well as students!

While the math flashcards worked great (albeit with the occasional problem of reading a 1 as a 7, and a 4 as a 9), the flash cards for animals confounded the teachers. The illustration below prompted the teachers to guess “baboon” (since they are common in Western Kenya); nobody could recognize raccoons, lemurs, or platypuses, and many thought that the drawing of a mole resembled a cat. They want more math flash cards (and I believe we have another available for them, on fractions), but they’ll pass on the animals, for now.

The Kilgoris Project had just been featured in a two-page full-color spread in the Saturday Standard, one of Kenya’s leading newspapers. The teachers pored over it. I also showed them the clip from Al-Jazeera on e-readers at Ntimigom, which they hadn’t seen. They couldn’t believe that they had made it on TV all over the world. They were excited to see themselves there, but even more excited for their own children, whom I didn’t realize also went to Ntimigom, and who showed up in glimpses on TV and also in the Standard.

Finally, I got to work with some of the kids at Ntimigom. They were eager to tell me what their favorite books were, and they were so shy and soft-spoken that I was half-expecting all the kids to just repeat what the first couple of kids said. But, no, most of them chose different titles, from Bobby the Dog to Family Pictures. If there were favorites at all, they would have been Juma the Hunter (in English) and Masalia (in Kiswahili).

The kids wanted to read Masalia first. I told them, “But I don’t speak Swahili, so you’ll have to translate for me.” They read as a group, and every two or three sentences, a teacher would ask for a volunteer to stand up and translate the story into English for me. They did a great job, and I was quite impressed at one of the Standard 2 students who explained that Masalia was an orphan, because both his parents had passed away.

The kids started off super shy, but then we brought in a pack of shortbread biscuits (cookies) that we’d picked up on the long drive to the school. Any kid with the right answer would get a biscuit. They’d just had lunch, but everybody likes dessert, so the kids got over their shyness in a hurry. The head teacher, Shadrack, said he’d never seen anything like it, as the kids at Ntimigom are generally very shy. He said he might just show up to class once in a while with some biscuits in his pocket!

In addition to increases in reading performance through the e-reader program, The Kilgoris Project has been busy implementing many other initiatives at Ntimigom School since my last visit. For example, a school feeding program means kids now get a nutritious lunch of corn millet and beans. Previously, they had been given porridge, but since they stay in school until 4 or 5pm, having a protein-rich meal means they are more alert in the afternoon.

Also, a doctor visits the school on Mondays and Wednesdays. I had the chance to talk to him after the long line of about 50 students had subsided. He was pleased to talk about his work, said he stored most of his supplies in a locked cabinet in the school (so he could travel light, on a motorcycle), and that the vast majority of the symptoms he treated were coughs, colds, and septic wounds.

And, now there is now a solar water purifying system at the school.

It’s a pleasure to work with partners who take such a holistic view of education, and I look forward very much to my next visit to Ntimigom!