One of the undoubted dangers of writing about Africa is the potential perpetuation of the ‘single story’, that is, that Africa is more a country than a continent. A great deal of media portrays Africa as a single place with lots of the same problems. This could not be further from the truth, Africa is a continent as complex as any other in the World, perhaps even more so.
Kenya, for example, is excelling in many respects. Kenya’s capital Nairobi is home to the IHub, an institute set up by the University of Cape Town and the Carnegie Foundation to expedite the growth of technology in Kenya by linking scientists in Nairobi to their peers internationally.
Africa’s biggest urban slum is mere miles from this beacon of progress.
Kibera is enormous, home to over 1 million people who generally live in poverty without power or sanitation. However, referring back to the ‘one story’ perpetuation, the immediate assumption may be that Kibera is void of hope but that once again, that isn’t true.
Kibera has a sense of community and group spirit that bonds its citizens together and is helping it flourish. The Economist referred to Kibera as a ‘Boomtown Slum’ in a 2012 article.
One of the true paragons of that sense of community is Margaret, a teacher in Kibera, the following is a routine of Margaret’s day taken from this article:
• “I wake up at 4am, I get the bus in the morning and travel for two hours to my school. I have my regular duties to perform. I’m a class teacher of grade six with 85 children in a class. It starts at 8am, but we normally come early to mark the books. I also take care of the feeding programme so have to measure the food for the day. I have to mark my work. It’s normally a packed day. Today when you called I was issuing textbooks to all the different children. There is a lot of counting to be done and a lot of different activities.”
• “We end at 3.10pm and then the children have prep until 5pm. Between 6pm and 7pm we give an extra hour to some children that can’t do their homework at home because there’s no electricity or space at home. I leave at around 6.30pm. We have to make sure that we clear the compound. Sometime leave at 7pm. Imagine! But when I’m doing it I don’t mind. We work for the children. Five days a week.”
• “There is a persistent shortage of teachers. The government has its own way of doing things, but we are getting forgotten by policies. I am praying the government trains more teachers so we break the large classes into small classes of 50 so we produce the best children from the slum.”
• “The children share books, one to three children per book. The government sends the books but they get destroyed in their bags and sometimes the children sell their books at 50 to 100 shillings to buy food in the slum. 100 shillings, it’s about US$1.5. Children go out campaigning to get other children to come to school.”
• “There is a big difference between rural and urban school because they’re not densely populated. The way we do things in urban areas is different. In rural areas teacher to student ratio is 1 to 40, here is 1 to 70/100.”
• “There is no training for how to teach in slum schools! We’re given training to teach anywhere where there are children — not even in a school! Even if there is no school but there are children, you teach under a tree!”
As Margaret points out, the local and national government does have policies and legislation in place including the fact that every child is free to attend school and that no child can be turned away from a place of education. Of course these may be effective at a national level but in an locale as densely populated as Kibera, it results in overcrowded classrooms that don’t have enough resources.
Due to the lack of resources/infrastructure in Kibera, there is no formal structure for teachers to be employed/nominated and they are largely self-appointed. This is echoed by what Margaret says about children going out, campaigning for and recruiting other children into school, with Kibera being left behind at a national level, they are taking a pro-active stance and attempting to resolve issues for themselves.
Margaret mentions that her school provides meals for pupils which she has said ‘noticeably improves concentration and quality of learning’.
Kibera faces many of the same issues as other developing communities in Africa, inequality, lack of resources etc. but it is the community spirit of its children and exemplum like Margaret that are sustaining its educational structures and highlighting how highly regarded and important education is to its residents.