Shaping education policy through storytelling

Earlier this year, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development asked Kenyans to give them their views on curriculum reform. #CurriculumReformsKE developed round the views of #KOT; providing a confluence of views. People were engaged, opinionated, driven to contribute to the conversation, to share their experiences and recommendations. Everyone is impacted in some ways by education and the trending topic it became on two occasions showed just how much they care.

It was a big lesson for us; there is a need to build a community round education information. A place where people can learn and talk about education policy, practice, and proposals. It led to the idea that is Drawing Board Africa. A chance for us to tell data-driven stories about education in Kenya that are accessible and help to inform conversations and shape discourse.

The people behind Drawing Board, Melissa Mbugua, Nyambura Mutanyi & Laila Le Guen, are passionate about education and have varied skills among them tech, teaching, research, communication and social impact management. We bring this to our storytelling and we anticipate it’ll enrich the stories we shall tell using text, data visualisation, and audio clips.

We intend to set off in the new year and create a resource that will hopefully lead to more nuanced conversations about education, an audience that is engaged in education policy, and pithy pieces that are cool and shareable. An #InnovateAfrica grant would make a world of difference for us. It would enable us to tell stories like one we’ve mulled over for a while — What arc has special needs education had in Kenya? How is it funded? What opportunities exist? — and the many more that need to be told.

What stories would you like told about education in Kenya? Tell us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and use #DrawingBoardAfrica. We look forward to bringing them to life!

(This was originally posted on Medium and I’m happy to share it here. Really excited about Drawing Board and what we’ve set off to achieve.)

Education, Government

Citizens to the Rescue

In 2012, I had just left university and was working as a volunteer teacher at the local primary school in the part of Kakamega County in which my parents then lived. My brother was a pupil there and there was a classroom wall that had collapsed over Easter.

Nobody seemed to know how to fix that situation and the headteacher felt impotent because there was only so much he could do within the limits of the bureaucracy. Every day I saw the ECDE pupils play at the exposed wall, I saw them crammed into what had been the storage room because it was their class whose wall had collapsed. I didn’t know what to do but I felt this intense need to do something.

During this time, my mother and I had to go to the District headquarters at Khwisero to interact with officialdom. While we’re here, she said, we could drop by the DC’s office and tell the Mkubwa our local school has no wall to speak of. Sure, I figured, why not. I didn’t know the series of events it would set off so I walked in with the confidence that only the innocent possess.

The DC received us with as much warmth as an interrupted government functionary can muster. Here’s what happened when we spoke: she listened to these two women speaking English (it saddens me how, so long after independence, this language holds so much power) and saying they would not leave till they knew how the matter would be dealt with. She called the DEO (District Education Officer) and the DPWO (District Public Works Officer) and directed them to go to the school the next week to  inspect the facilities. We left with a date and this upsetting, but revealing, knowledge: both those officers had known about the issue but hadn’t dealt with it.

When the DEO & DPWO visited the school, the latter ordered the school condemned and the former directed that the pupils be enrolled in neighbouring schools. The school was started in the late 70s and was one of the oldest and largest in the area; this would be a disaster.

Enter the local MP: he called a community meeting to talk about how to ‘save the school’ even though the collapse had happened in April and it was September. He said how he would speak to the DC so she would direct her officers to withdraw their orders and the community members could continue sending their children to the school. What about the wall, I felt compelled to ask. Well, that will be fixed. When? This generated a lot of furore among the people present. Those my age spoke about what a visionary leader the MP was and said the 100% believed in him, that they knew he would deal with it. I was reminded that I had no children and was told to stop being a troublemaker. And yours, who you have, I asked them, do you want the class to collapse upon their heads? Remember- it was election period and they needed to obtain the Mheshimiwa’s favour; after the meeting ended, the men lined up and received KSh 200 apiece, the women KSh 100.

Something did happen: Whatever it was, the next week the MP called another meeting and told us that the CDF was allocating money to the repair of the wall and the school would not be closed. Over the next two or so months, it was fixed and the ECDE children were able to stop learning among the shovels and rakes. The money was emergency money, the job was not doe to the highest standard but it was done. I had left in October to take up a job in Nairobi so I couldn’t push but even then, I had felt a part of my spirit die in the face of the parents’ protests.

I tell this story to say that we the people have power. We are the activists we need, we are the change agents we need, we are the litigators, advocates we need. We can take back our schools, our clinics, our hospitals, our land; we can, and we should.

Education, Musings

My vision of education

I am a firm believer in the capacity of public goods to supply our needs. In that regard, I push for more, and better, public hospitals and schools.

My birthday is tomorrow and I am not yet at the point at which one writes a personal manifesto so this is the closest thing as I grow older.

As regular readers may have noticed, I am passionate about education and I identify as a feminist. My feminist stance affects how I feel about education and it’s this: We need free, quality, accessible, basic education for all children.

We especially need it for girls and young women because the way the patriarchy is set up, boys will be chosen over girls when resources are scarce. It needs to be free for this reason; so that no one person denies their child an education because they do not have funds.

It needs to be a quality education because otherwise it’s just a checklist item being ticked off. It needs to be the sort of education that enables children to navigate the world they live in and equips them to deal with one not yet seen. One that gives them room to try out a variety of things and to find what they love. One that imagines all children as capable of more than the things that capitalism ascribes with value: money, possessions, political influence.

Education needs to be accessible. When I think of all the solutions that are envisioned for education, I see the children left behind: Those who live far from school, those with special needs, those who have come into contact with the carceral state, those who are separated from their parents. If education does not answer the needs of these children, something still needs to be done.

It’s easy to sound like a wet blanket when I say these things but I have seen what a difference believing in them makes in the life of children. If one believes-like I do-in these matters, they will attend those long, tedious parents’ meetings at school. And when they do, they’ll demand certain things: rebuild that wall, make sure the sanitary facilities are up to par, why is the school’s performance so bad? And then you will stick around to see change come to pass and after that, keep those in charge accountable.

One day I shall talk about how I square this desire to see certain goods in the public domain with wanting to see the children I care for succeed. Before then, I leave you with this manifesto; one I feel challenged by every time I read.

Happy birthday tomorrow, Nyambura.




Education, Musings

What’s the point of school?

Really, what’s the point?

There was recently a call-out for people to share their views on 8-4-4 & our education policy on the whole. This year has seen leaders in the management of education (your ministers, your ministry officials) conceptualise education as an anti-terrorist, patriotic venture.

Each of these conversations makes me think that maybe the thing we need to question is the very idea of school. Why do we attend it? What would we lose if we had less of it? Who does it benefit?

Increasingly, lately, what sort of school? Why send our children to school?

I think of the fee paying schools (as the World Bank calls them) sprouting around (Bridge comes to mind) and how they are supposedly delivering better education in the same institution: school. What part do these places have in the gradual (further,  even) divestment government may be willing to conduct in the education sector?

Does it help to consider school an embodiment of things that are right – or wrong – in our society? And once we do, what then? Would we then have to think about what our values are and what we want to pass on?

In the midst of all this, I think of people who are currently getting a raw deal out of education as it is currently framed: girls and boys from desperately poor families, children with disabilities, vulnerable children. What does school mean to them, what can reform offer them?

These questions keep me going; they make me keep reading (what are you currently reading?) and they keep me talking to people who know so much more. (Reminder: the #ed10reads meeting is tomorrow. Grab your ticket!)

For a long time, I thought school was a place one went to meet agemates, to learn new things (not exclusively from teachers; think about playground lessons) and to get ready for ‘the real world’.

I’m not too sure it’s that simple any more but I’m hopeful that I’ll keep learning about more aspects of this complicated business that is schooling and sharing some of my reflections with you.

Note: This post is part of #CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at

Questions, comments, suggestions or a recipe for a cure for insomnia? Send them to 🙂

Education, Musings

Introducing #Ed10Reads

For a while now, I have been part of a group of 10 education enthusiasts and entrepreneurs called The Ed 10 Consortium. We started off as a motley collection of people who are interested in education in some way. My thing is writing; now is a good time to say the message I’m sending out to the universe is ‘Send me my education-related writing fellowship!’. I have taught in primary schools (most recently in 2012) and the issues facing education are important to me.

In the corner I live in, there is a lot of talk about education reform. The biggest voices are those of people who want to bring technology into the classroom and there’s a lot of money and support for this school of thought. I am currently ambivalent about it but that’s a conversation for another day.

It’s become apparent over time that enthusiasm can only go so far. It’s vital for us to school ourselves on the underpinnings of education thought that lead to the things we see in the education system. There’s an information gap; leading to situations when the only people who know any education theory are teachers; and talking at cross purposes with people who work in education reform.

Thinking about this led me to think of the possibility of an education reading circle; a group of people interested in learning the thought and trends that have led us to this day. Speaking to my friend Laila after the inaugural Ed 10 Drink Up led to us thinking about what this would look like. Right now, it looks like #Ed10Reads and we’ll hold our first meeting on Thursday 29th October 2015 from 6pm to 8pm at Spire Education. This first meeting is about the integration of technology in assessmentnot a big issue in Kenya at the moment but something to think of.

To sign up for the event, please go here, get your ticket and read up, tweet using #Ed10Reads and tune in. Better yet, see you then!

Note: I have undertaken to write a post a day for a year. I’m collating all the posts (spanning 3 blogs) using the hashtag #CuminWrites366.

If you have questions,compliments, or want to find out what education issue keeps me up at night, the address is


KNLS Library Membership is Free \o/

The Kenya National Library Service (KNLS) has a wide library network across Kenya with 60 or so branches, one close to you. Thanks to a recent change to the law governing its operations effected by Hassan Wario, Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and the Arts, membership is free as long as the prospective member produces passport photos (some libraries will take your photo themselves), fills a membership form and gets a commitment from an institution (an employer or school, for example). This is a dip from the KSh 300 it previously cost for employed adults, and KSh 3,000 for self-employed people), to sign up (with a KSh 100 renewal fee) and a welcome development for those who may not previously have been able to afford it.

The scrapping of membership charges comes with a new introduction: a KSh 20 fee for each book one borrows and a 100% increase in late return fees (from Ksh 5 to KSh 10 per day). For heavy users, such as yours truly, this will result in much more than the KSh 100 annual renewal fee previously charged (a book a week=26*20=520) but it has a positive effect that I’m excited about. And it is this:

Members do not have to pay entry charges (which remain at KSh 20 a day) and that means that more people have a chance to use the library. For people looking to learn, they have a range of books that would aid anyone’s education. The Nairobi Area Library (my local) has an internet connection so you can use the internet, too. For free!

Libraries are a great way to explore the world and educate yourself. Get your KNLS membership today!