Pictured above: Keith Leavitt of Lacombe enjoys volunteering with A Better World Canada because he can help children, the future of Kenya. He met this boy attending class at Simotwet Primary School in October 2016.
BY LAURA TESTER
With nearly 40 years of teaching experience behind him, Keith Leavitt is excited about the latest project he’s heading for A Better World Canada.
As the project manager for education, Leavitt is number crunching student and teaching performance levels at ABW’s 17 sponsored schools located across rural Kenya.
Last October, the Lacombe resident travelled to 14 schools to gather general data including enrolment, girl-boy ratios, staffing changes, and government test results for Grade 8 levels. Leavitt also looked at whether schools have electricity since the Kenyan government is issuing laptops for all Grade 1 students.
A general database is being created so that ABW will have comparative numbers on schools so that guidelines can be created for improving student performance and teacher professionalism. The project has been done over several previous years, with the intent it will be done annually.
Leavitt said the international development organization has already made a difference building classrooms, dormitories and installing water wells.
Administrators tell him how students are going to school more and learning has improved when they no longer have to sit in wooden buildings with the wind, dust and rain blowing through the cracks. When they have good drinking water and meals, that helps too.
A Better World Canada is now directing its efforts within the classroom as well, Leavitt said.
“We would like to measure the impact that A Better World is having on schools,” said Leavitt. “The ultimate goal is to improve the learning of students.”
Leavitt is reviewing whether schools have meal programs including vegetable gardens. After all, sometimes poor children don’t have anything to eat when they attend school, he added.
Professional development also plays a key role, so ABW has offered mentorship and training to Kenyan teachers from ABW teaching volunteers. Teaching trips are held annually, so volunteers are always welcome.
Kenya’s education system has several formidable challenges when it comes to teaching.
A lack of resources, for one thing. There may be only one textbook per five students, which makes it tough for students to learn at home, Leavitt said.
He described how schools can have problems with class overcrowding and a lack of teaching assistants. One kindergarten class he visited had 90 children with no teacher’s aide.
“Basically, all they had was a blackboard. There were no blocks, toys for learning or posters and diagrams, so there were limited resources and yet the students were very respectful of the teacher and eager to learn.”
He said the teacher was doing a great job, but wondered how much better the teacher and students would do with more resources.
As well, Leavitt said there can be teacher instability due to salary variances. Leavitt referred to how public school teachers paid by the local community often receive a smaller salary than government-paid teachers. Some teachers’ training is only at Grade 12 level, with no actual university education.
“Many of the teachers are doing a great job with what they have,” said Leavitt. “If we could add to those basic skills they have, how much more could they do in the classroom?” As it accumulates more information, ABW will identify trends, where the gaps are and where it can seek sponsorship.
“We want to create a culture of self-improvement whereby the schools regularly examine their students’ performance — what is happening here and what can we do to bring about changes. If it’s a positive change, what can we do to continue to foster that.”
Leavitt is hopeful about Kenya’s education system five years from now.
He said more girls are attending school and staying in school longer. There’s also more and more parents who want their children to attend secondary school and continue from there. With a small amount of help, these schools will be able to take big steps forward, Leavitt said.
“I find that encouraging,” said Leavitt. “Even in some small way, A Better World may have a part in the growth and development of local schools and communities and even the nation as a whole.”