Aidex Voices

Dr. Shannon May co-founded Bridge International Academies which runs hundreds of affordable schools and supports hundreds more government-led schools across Africa and Asia. Dr. May is speaking at the AidEx Nairobi conference in September about ‘What opportunities, promises and impediments does the digital revolution present for meeting the SDGs by 2030?’ Here, Teacher Job, one of the teachers who works at Bridge in Ichuga, Kenya explains how the digital revolution can support teachers and why he believes that Bridge is making a difference

Everyone remembers a great teacher they once had, someone that truly influenced their path in life. The chance to have this influence is what makes teaching such a privilege. With this privilege comes responsibility, especially in areas of the world such as where I teach Ichuga, Nyeri county, central Kenya. We have some problems in Ichuga that come from poverty and people with little education. Sometimes young girls’ education is not considered and they are married young and end up pregnant. This means they cannot or are not allowed to finish school.

After I graduated teacher training I taught in government public schools, but I was getting frustrated with my job. I trained so hard and it was not turning out as I had expected. Not many teachers in my old school were motivated and often they didn’t even turn up. We had many, many, pupils in each class, sometimes they sat on the floor. There were not enough textbooks and definitely no technology. No one monitored if I was teaching or simply storytelling. That goes for everyone else too.

Not only were school conditions bad but most children were not ready for the day. Many families struggle to provide enough food for their child and when they sit in class and I see their hungry faces, I know it is difficult for them to concentrate or learn. In addition, many have to walk a long way to get to class, it is common in my country for children to walk many miles to reach the classroom. All of these problems - that I saw day in, day out - lead to something known as the ‘global learning crisis’.

This is worse in Kenya because those who struggle at school and need extra help have no one to ask. Many parents can’t read and work hard as casual labourers putting in very long hours and come back long after it is dark, rising before the sun. Many of my pupils have family duties before thinking about school, such as washing clothes and collecting water for the day. It is sad because things can only get better with education, but education is difficult when families and teachers face these challenges.

There are some schools that are different and are trying to do things differently. I heard about one type of school called Bridge International Academies. It works in very poor communities, like the community I come from. It works in all the regions in Kenya, it doesn’t matter if they are very rural, poor or even in dangerous places where the terrorists are, Bridge is working there. The schools in areas like these are called APBET schools, a new idea from our government, who wanted to recognise slum schools. A new type of school that is not a private school or a Government school. It’s important. They used to be called ‘non-formal’ schools, but they are formal! They are teaching and children are learning. Someone told me that there are 2 million children in my country who go to schools like this in the slums.

Since I have left my old school and joined Bridge it has given me hope and I can see a real change. The community here wants everyone to learn. There are many, many girls in class as well and I see fathers who are proud of what their girls are doing. They are often better than the boys. In the exams our pupils do the best out of everyone, even the expensive schools that all the politicians send their children to. My children do better.

For teaching, we use tablet teacher guides, this means we do not have to do the jobs that take up lots of time like lesson planning and administrative duties. Our teacher guides mean we have technology that is not seen very often in Kenyan schools.

On our guides, every day there are new lesson plans that come from a large group of other professional teachers and academics in Kenya whose only job is to prepare them and make sure they are very high quality. What this means is that even without the newest textbooks and tools, I can still make sure the children are learning the best lessons possible. It also stops the trend of teachers who do not put in the correct amount of effort in. When this happens, it means the teachers who are actually passionate for the children to learn need to teach all that they have missed under teachers who do not do as much work. With the teacher guides everyone must show up, log in and teach.

Another thing which helps the children to learn is how we make them feel. Corporal punishment is strictly banned at Bridge meaning children are not scared of us. This makes them trust us and see us there to support them to learn. Both in and out of the classroom it is important to make sure that children are ready to be role models in society. I often take them on field trips to learn about the important role of the environment. This I believe, is what helps the pupils to achieve their dreams.

I am always growing with Bridge, my training involved an intensive residential course but even now I am still very well supported. I receive both daily reviews and weekly coaching which has really developed me as a teacher and gives me the confidence that I can do best by my pupils. I hope that the work I do with Bridge can ensure that the world is moving closer to no child being left behind. I’m proud of the lives I have changed in my classroom and will continue to help towards getting a better quality education for all children in Kenya. I have even decided that I will myself will to go back to the classroom, so I can keep learning to improve my community. I think this will be a real inspiration to my students that, education never stops.  

Hear Bridge's co-founder Dr. Shannon May speak at AidEx Nairobi on 12 September at The Safari Park Hotel.