Our second day of Kenya school visits began with a leisurely breakfast of omelettes, cornflakes and arrowroot at the hotel. After yesterday’s 170 miles if driving and intense conversations with our students, we were all feeling a bit bleary. But the weather was perfect-cool night air warming slowly with the sun as we threaded our way past the morning parade of bicyclists, motorbike taxis, school children, workers and donkeys making their ways toward a Saturday in Nakuru town.
This day was reserved in our schedule for Mogotio, a school of some 575 students about half an hour outside Nakuru. The school is considered to be of middle rank in Kenya but with its student’s national exam scores rising every year, it is increasingly in demand by parents hoping for college and university opportunities for their daughters.
The day before our visit had been Education Day, a celebration of school and student achievement shared with other schools in the region and with the villagers. This year Mogotio had hosted and walked away with a trophy for coming in second among all high schools in their area-losing out narrowly to a local boys school (our students smiled and assured me they would not lose to a boys school. next year).
So Mogotio village had that slightly bedraggled day-after-a-festival air when we arrived, and students were allowed to ling a bit before getting on with their usual Saturday study group schedule.
Amidst the satisfaction of a well earned rest, however, we noticed threads of anxiety. We had pulled up at the gates as a group of students was assembling to be sent home to collect school fees.
Kenya’s government does far more than its neighbors yo make secondary school accessible, but most of our boarding school principles will tell you that anywhere from 20% (in wealthier areas) go 40% of their students come from families too poor to keep up with school fees without help. After the government subsidy for each young woman, public boarding school fees will set you back about $330 to $370 year, including room, board and exam fees. Many families earn about that amount for the year.
For the schools, receiving an entire year’s fees up front is uncommon (which makes our sponsorships particularly useful for keeping a school financially stable). More common is the practice of taking the fees in smaller payments spread out over the calendar year. When a student’s payments get behind, she is sent home to collect them from family. A student who us fortunate will have her parent send the money right away. Others languish at home for weeks of months while parents search out help from extended family or villages. When the case becomes hopeless, she is moved to a cheaper village day school, or frequently, drops school to work in fields or as a housemaid.
This system is so embedded in East African education that schools are accustomed to students coming and going throughout the term. There are no formal repercussions for miss ing all or any of your classes for this reason, but everyone knows that these students are at a significant disadvantage academically. Often we have to adjust our evaluation process to recognize that an applicant’s good grades reflect a year she only partially attended. Our scholarship students expressed sadness at the departure of study partners and friend this time, worried that some of them might not be back for a long time, if ever. But they expressed a concomitant relief at being allowed to settle in for the whole year now that they no longer are the ones traveling home.
In this school we take great pleasure in being able to encourage the teachers and students about the possibility of receiving new scholarships for next year. Our first two graduates from the Rift Valley region both earned government assistance toward a university degree for the coming year. One of them, a Mogotio graduate, traveled back for the day to greet us. she us studying to become a STEM teacher and dreams of one day doing a teaching fellowship in the US to expand her skills for teaching math and science in Kenya. We have already put aside a budget to bring on new students here, so that perhaps a few more of these students will not be gathered at the exit gate next year.
Before we go, I pull an extra soccer ball from the van and have an impromptu game with two of our students. I leave Lynnex, an avid player, with the ball after she outclasses me terribly. Thanks to everyone at Mogotio for a wonderful day (and a little exercise)!