School Visits Over the Years – Change and Continuity (Part 1: Change)

Along with ensuring the safety of our Project Workers (PWs), school visits are amongst the most important things that the Summer Team do. They are an essential part of our model, ensuring that every year we have a great group of partner schools with whom to work; schools that will keep the Project Workers safe, and work hand in hand with them to improve the quality of education for their students.

However, for members of the Summer Team, school visits also provide an insight into the broader educational (and political) context that we work in. Visiting schools throughout the three regions we work in – Kakamega, Kisii, and Mbarara – over a number of years plays an important role in identifying where we can contribute most – and where our investments are no longer needed.

Of all areas of education and investments, technology is perhaps the best indicator of the changing context of our projects. A brief comparison between 2012 and 2018 can help demonstrate this.

Back when I was a Project Worker in 2012, the school I was working with, Shidodo Secondary School, was still using a duplicating machine rather than a photocopier (just in case, like me in 2012, you don’t know what this is, here is an explanation: The school also had severely limited electricity, reaching only to one classroom.

In 2013, too, on Summer Team school visits, it was very common to find schools that had no computers. Those with ICT-related resources were in the minority. Just looking at some of the schools I visited back then, many schools either had no electricity (Lwandeti DEB, 2013), or had so recently received it they had not had the chance to consider using it (Friends Mugunga, 2013).

But compare that to this year’s visit forms from the same site, Kakamega. Most had multiple computers, and even those who did not, had electricity. St. Matthews Ikomero, for example, has both mains electricity and 10 computers; Shirali Secondary School has electricity and 6 computers; and St Gerald Mayuge has mains electricity to power its computer, printer, and photocopier (Shidodo would have been jealous!)

This improvement in the availability of electricity and technology should not surprise us. It has always been East African governments’ intention to expand electrification into rural areas, and the Kenyan government in particular has found political capital in the promise to roll-out technology across both the curriculum and the country. See, for example, the wildly ambitious pledge by Uhuru Kenyatta in 2013 to give a free laptop to every schoolchild!

But what this means for us is that our role as PWs is less to provide electricity, ICT equipment, and similar basic resources, but rather to work with schools to harness it in innovative ways, and help create environments where it can be effectively deployed in the classroom. Great examples of such are Ematsuli Secondary School, Kakamega, where the use of a projector revolutionised the learning experience for students; and the Learning Resource Centre at St. John’s Rutsya, Mbarara, where the PWs took advantage of the school’s ample supplies of technology to create a completely novel learning environment.

There is one final anecdote that helps show the technological shift that has occurred since we started working in Kenya. In our school visit forms (the forms we fill out every time we go to a school), in the section on resources, a question asks if the school has a fax machine. Presumably, this was once commonplace. And yet today, this is an amusing anachronism – across six years and three sites, I have never found a school that answered yes to this question.

What our school visits teach us, then, is that as the context in East Africa changes, our investments must change accordingly. Visiting schools with the Summer Team provides a first-hand view of the context we are working in, and gives us a vital insight into where our investments can have the biggest impact in our partner schools.