Education Strategies for the Extreme Poor in Rural Kenya

The mission of the Nuru International Education Program is twofold. One is to create communities that understand and value education as a tool set that can be used to improve individual and family situations. The second is to foster communities that act on this understanding by pursuing education as a short- and long-term solution to lifting themselves out of extreme poverty.

In order to fulfill this mission, the Nuru education team has devised a strategy that will target three different groups through three intervention points. The first target group consists of teenagers and young adults who never finished secondary school, typically idlers or young mothers. For this group Nuru will launch a vocation training program that will combine training of a specific marketable skill, e.g., hair styling or welding, with a life skills course that includes elements such as financial planning, goal setting, problem solving, etc. The students will learn a trade that will enable them to obtain gainful employment upon graduation and develop practical life skills that will help them maximize and manage the long-term benefits of their new skill-sets to improve the conditions of their families. The program will also intentionally create networks to help students support each other after leaving the program. A tentative start date of September 2010 has been agreed on for the pilot training program. We will also add two more technical courses in the second year and open two more vocation programs with life skills and technical training in the new divisions in the fall of 2011. This program offers a short-term solution of using education as a tool set to improve one’s situation as well as impacting the family unit in the long run through the life skills course and the support network.

The second group Nuru will target is primary school students through official sponsorship of a community school. One of the main ways to improve education is through training school leaders on how to improve their schools and to implement supplementary programs, but experience has shown that these investments have not been successful in the seed project because the leadership structure is unstable: teachers and head teachers are frequently transferred at the DEO’s discretion. After much investigation we have discovered that the best way to impact primary education is to sponsor one particular school which would allow Nuru to directly manage the staff. In addition to having control over hiring and retaining teaching personnel, sponsorship would provide Nuru with the opportunity to pilot several projects and see them through to completion, such as a feeding program, supplementary income projects, a teacher cooperative, etc. Nuru will sponsor one school per division as we scale. The sponsored school will become a model that other institutions in the division learn from and Nuru can advise their staff and parents on how to better manage their schools. Teachers who are currently being trained in ECD through Nuru can also be hired as teachers at the sponsored school. The school compound can also be used as a strategic hub for the vocation training program and for future teacher trainings. The goal is to launch the sponsored school at the beginning of the next academic year, January 2011. Throughout the first year we will pilot several projects to enhance learning opportunities and raise revenues while preparing to sponsor two more schools the following year in two more divisions. This sponsored primary school would also allow Nuru to be aware of at-risk youths who would be eligible for our third program, Youth Outreach.

The target group of our Youth Outreach Program is secondary school students who may not have moved on or who are at risk of dropping out of secondary school without Nuru intervention. There is an alarming drop-out rate for secondary school students. The goal of this program is to keep students in secondary school so that they can graduate and develop the know-how to lift themselves out of extreme poverty. The Youth Outreach Program will supplement the students’ secondary school education through an after school curriculum. Using a team of volunteers or trained counselors, Nuru will provide these students with the mentoring they need as well as with specific skills such as good academic habits, goal setting, leadership, planning, etc. Those who graduate from this program can also volunteer to mentor at-risk secondary school students in the future thereby providing a constant pipeline of volunteers. Because the participants of the program will be identified from the sponsored school, the official launch of this program will not happen until January 2012. Also, since the drop-out rates are much higher among girls, the program will focus on at-risk girls – though boys will not be excluded. The Youth Outreach Program can roll out in the new divisions in the second year of their sponsored schools.

The education team will focus on these three program areas with additional initiatives directly enhancing these programs. Each program actually feeds the other and helps to create communities that intrinsically and practically value education.

Thomas Hong

About Thomas Hong

Leadership Program Director — Thomas has worked in education and leadership development in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Mongolia and Uzbekistan. He holds a B.A. in Economics and master’s degree in teaching from the University of Virginia and an MBA in international organizations from the University of Geneva.

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