In pursuit of alternative education systems

Rahma HomeStudy

Children enrolled in Rahma HomeStudy, a school that teaches children mostly from home through the internet, attending a robotics class. 

Photo credit: Pool

Not many 10-year-olds in Kenya can make heads or tails of the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) and its blinking graphs, volatile stocks and the works.

But Suah, a boy in Nairobi, is not your ordinary 10-year-old. He amazes both the young and the old with his understanding of the art of buying and selling shares and making sense of the trading trends.

This is thanks to a home schooling system Suah is enrolled in alongside other youngsters. He is one of the children enrolled in the Rahma HomeStudy, where learners take lessons mostly online and where investment lessons are imparted early in life.

Elsewhere, a young boy who once detested school due to the competitive nature of the 8-4-4 education system is about to complete his learning under the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) system. His parents took him to ACE when he was in Standard Four under 8-4-4.

Enrolled in the Almasi International Christian School that is based in Syokimau, his father says the boy’s once-shattered confidence returned when he joined the ACE system, where learners progress to the next class not as a group that has finished a year in one class. Rather, each learner moves classes individually after mastering the required concepts in the current class.

Ms Sophia Musyoka

Ms Sophia Musyoka, the founder of Almasi School based in Syokimau, Machakos County, that offers the Accelerated Christian Education system of learning.

Photo credit: Pool

Welcome to the alternative education systems that are increasingly becoming popular among parents who want something beyond the ordinary for their children. Below, we bring you various perspectives from our conversations with school owners, parents and learners of Rahma HomeStudy and Almasi International Christian School.

Suah, 10

He is one of the pupils at Rahma HomeStudy (RHS), an institution founded in 2002 and whose headquarters are in Kitengela on the outskirts of Nairobi.

RHS offers the International General Certificate of Secondary Education system but with an added touch of Christianity and practical knowledge.

“When I first joined the school, I knew a bit about it because my brother used to attend,” he says.

Their school day starts later in the morning and doesn’t go too long into the afternoon to enable children to develop other abilities. Only the Key Stage 1 learners of age two to four are required to learn in person. In subsequent classes, learning is done online.

On top of the core subjects, learners in RHS are taken through concepts like personal finance, food technology, coding, sports, among others.

“In food technology, I’ve learnt different recipes, different ways to cook and in the other subjects like maths and English, I’ve learnt more advanced stuff that I wouldn’t have learnt in the Kenyan system,” he told Lifestyle.

He came to learn the tricks of NSE because of the personal finance classes his class has been taking in the last few months.

“I know how to buy shares,” he said. “There is an NSE programme where you learn how to buy shares and see if it has gone down or up.”

He noted that there is a platform offered by the NSE Digital Academy that has enabled him to learn his way around trading and its intricacies.

“It’s like a game. You pay and get in-game money. In the app, you get money; so you can spend it in the app, you can spend it to buy shares and then you can see if it’s gone up or down. It opens from around 9am to around 3pm. It teaches people how to learn about it from a young age,” said Suah.

His teacher Andrew Kibe said they have been going through the basics of investing and that by the end of the year, Suah and his colleagues will be buying government bonds.

“The whole idea is that once they invest in that, we are going to spend the next one year just checking how that bond is behaving because once they see the graphs, they start articulating it. And once they understand this small bond, it’s a replication of all these big bonds,” said Mr Kibe.

Suah does not plan to take up employment when he grows up. He would rather be in business.

“I’d like to start a big business to earn more money and then I use that money to invest. In employment, you don’t earn as much as in big business,” he said.

Andrea, 13

She has been schooling at Rahma HomeStudy since she was two years old.

“I like it because it’s really flexible. You can join in from anywhere; you don’t have to physically be at school. And it’s like we’re in one big family. Everyone is so nice and supportive and we never feel excluded,” she said.

She added: “We start school at a reasonable time; not really early in the morning. So, it gives us time to prepare, time to sleep. Our teachers are really nice. They don’t give us extra, extra, extra homework. That’s why we have time to do other after-school activities or just to get basic rest.”

She aspires to start her own café and slowly grow it.

“Once I’ve got enough money, I start building up towards owning a hotel, restaurants all over the globe,” she said.

Keilah, 13

A budding footballer coming from a footballing family, Keilah expects to leave Kenya in September to join a school in England that is sponsored by English Premier League club Norwich City.

“Everyone is very supportive in RHS. They really motivate me to do more with my work in school and even in football,” said Keilah.

He noted that the financial literacy lessons they have got will help his career a great deal.

“This class has this mentality that makes you want to work harder and think more,” he said. “I can be a professional footballer and earn money. But what will I do with that money? I’ve learnt how to invest; I’ve learnt how to manage money basically and have a positive mindset.”

Alexis, 13

She admits that she took a while to adjust to the system used by RHS after switching from 8-4-4.

“When I finally adjusted to it, I found that it was very easy,” she said.

Alexis sells cookies from her home and, thanks to the Information Technology classes they receive, she is working on an app to help her make orders online.

“I also do IT-related tasks with my father. He helps me here and there and fixes problems wherever they occur,” she said.

“In future, I want to focus on mainly IT and stuff to do with technology. Technology also gives me the freedom to work anywhere I want to work,” she added.

Andrew Kibe

A risk management consultant, Mr Kibe gives personal finance lessons to the RHS students and he believes the skills they are getting will take them a long way.

“Money management is actually a life skill because it’s a commodity that you need to use for the rest of your life, just like communication,” he said.

Mr Kibe noted that it shocks him whenever parents are reluctant to introduce their young children to money matters.

He also thinks there is too much emphasis on teaching children about saving, which he doesn’t rate highly as a way of building wealth.

“I ask people, ‘Show me one billionaire you know who acquired his wealth through savings.’ And everyone goes quiet,” said Mr Kibe.

He believes that financial freedom starts with the right mindset and that is what he has been impressing on the youngsters he teaches.

“If you have the wrong mindset and I give you the right knowledge, you are still going to end up with a financial crisis. Proof for this is the superstars who made millions during their careers at the peak but they are broke,” argued Mr Kibe.

Praised by his learners for being relatable and hands-on, Mr Kibe lamented that the common education systems condition learners to focus only on being employed.

“We have entrepreneurship, which is being missed by schools. We have investments that are being missed out,” he said.

“If you look at our curriculum – and sorry to say but this is my observation – it is actually structured to teach our children what to think instead of how to think,” added Mr Kibe.

Mercy Njue

She founded RHS in 2002, keen to have an institution offering something different.

“My idea of school is very different from a lot of people,” she told Lifestyle. “I didn’t want to have just a normal 8am-3pm school for a child because I believe there is more to life than just an academic subject called mathematics, English, science, history, geography.”

Ms Njue loves to see learners assimilating concepts in a practical environment and whose hobbies are allowed to develop. She also likes to have experts take learners through various concepts.

“These children are not going to be mentored by anyone other than experts in their own right,” she said. “We have a programme that is able to link our children with all these industry experts, and because we appreciate they are busy, we give them an online platform.”

Sophia Musyoka

Ever heard of someone who could not find a school for their children and ended up starting one? Sophia did just that. She had been the principal at Mukisa School in Nairobi – which offers the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum – and a time came for her family to move. Her children were in the ACE system and Athi River, where she was moving to, did not have an institution that offered ACE.

“I was looking for a school within the Athi River area that could serve the needs of my children, and there was none. So, I stepped out to actually begin Almasi School. So, it was first out of a personal need to meet my own educational needs for my children and then of course I then invited other parents who were also looking for what I was looking for, and so Almasi began that day, with seven students. Two of those were my own children,” Sophia told Lifestyle.

The system differs from the common ones because it entrenches Christian teachings into most aspects of learning. Running from pre-school to high school, those who complete it get the International Certificate of Christian Education.

“ACE accommodates all types of learners, and especially the learners who need to just learn at their own pace without the pressure of exams,” Sophia said. “We have seen a lot of children come like that; some who had been written off in the other system and they come here and thrive and do very well.”

A number of those in the earlier classes have now reached university locally, including Sophia’s daughter.

“As a parent, I am very happy that I chose this for my children. I feel that they totally love school. I see them totally engaged with the learning process; they are very responsible in terms of knowing that they have goals,” she said.

A teacher with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education and currently pursuing a doctorate degree, Sophia was drawn to ACE because she saw the deficiencies of the 8-4-4 system and the rest — mainly the inequalities therein.

“I said that if I ever have my own children, I want to afford them something better than what I got. So, that began my journey of looking at what other curricula were there,” she said.

At her school, a class for the disabled has one teacher for every five learners while for the general learners, there is a teacher for every 10-12 children. This is to ensure there is individualised attention to learners.

“We have more and more parents of special needs children; those with learning difficulties who need an individualised education plan,” she said. “This is not a lock-stepped curriculum where the class moves to the next at the end of a certain period. It’s individualised here where you move when you’re ready to.”

Being a Christian system, it lays a lot of emphasis on scriptures, Sophia explained.

“Here, there is no CRE (Christian Religious Education) lesson. However, in the reading material, there will always be a presentation of the Biblical worldview. So, they are encountering it whether they are doing math, whether they are doing English, whether they are reading social studies. There will be a presentation of facts that have to do with geography, but there will also be a presentation alongside the Biblical perspective on geography,” she said.

Musalia Kihamba

His son was having it rough with the 8-4-4 education system. The ACE system came to the rescue.

“We knew about ACE before but we were advised to consider it strongly. When we went through it, we realised it’s something that may help our son,” said Mr Kihamba, who works with a local telecommunications firm.

The boy started at Almasi in 2013 and he is now in his final stages.

“Here, he became more confident. In the other one, because he was slightly slower in understanding, he always used to be left behind. And he lost a lot of confidence. And children in school are very brutal. They make you know that you don’t know; that you’re behind or you’re not keeping up the pace and all that,” said Mr Kihamba.

He added: “The biggest change we saw was in confidence. He was looking forward to going to school and the environment is such that he thrives and he is happy.”

ACE operates mainly through continuous assessment and there is a lesser emphasis on performance compared to 8-4-4. They go through two or three years of pre-school, seven years of primary school and four years of secondary school.

Mr Kihamba explained that the ACE system was developed for the benefit of those who travelled the world to spread the gospel. In case they find a school where they go, they can take their children there. If not, the children can be home-schooled.

“It gives them continuity irrespective of where they go. That helped them a lot in bridging that gap rather than moving somebody from one school to another,” he explained.

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