A gust of wind blows papers around as 13 Grade One pupils, their eyes weary from squinting against the glare of the unforgiving sun, strive to secure their stationery.
It is sweltering hot in this open-air classroom, with the only reprieve being the shadows cast across the desks by the surrounding shrubs.
Welcome to Chepng’arua Primary School in Tiaty East, where pupils still learn under trees.
Despite the harsh weather, the learners go about their lessons with unbridled enthusiasm.
When the Ministry of Education rolled out the new competency-based curriculum (CBC) in 2017, the rationale was to help each learner unlock their full potential.
Schools like Chepng’arua, however, are still grappling with basics such as acute shortage of teachers and poor infrastructure.
The school, which opened its doors in 2014, has two permanent structures — courtesy of the National Government Constituencies Development Fund (NGCDF) — and two temporary classes. It, however, carries the dreams of 100 learners in Grades One to Five.
When the Nation visited the school on Wednesday, the Grade One pupils were being taken through environmental activity lessons under a tree, while Grade Four and Five learners had been pooled together for a mathematics lesson in one of the permanent structures, where they were learning in shifts.
According to head teacher Linah Lesasuyan, the institution has only four teachers, all hired by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC).
“We teach the lower classes in the morning and upper primary in the afternoon. We also have to combine Grades Four and Five in one class, facing opposite directions under the same roof,” said Ms Lesasuyan.
“Combining two classes in one room makes it difficult for the pupils to concentrate, as one class may be singing while the other is reading,” she added.
The Nation learnt that the other permanent structure at the institution has been partitioned to create room for the head teacher’s office, the library and a store.
A part of the structure, which has been partitioned with old gunny bags, is where one of the teachers lives.
The structure is divided into four sections. In one corner is the head teacher’s office, while directly opposite is the library, basically a stack of books neatly arranged on a table. Foodstuffs are stored in another corner and directly opposite is a bed and a few personal effects in what constitutes the school’s staff quarters.
“We had to creatively utilise the few structures we have. We have one latrine that serves both teachers and the learners and our kitchen is under that tree,” she said while pointing at a corner of the compound.
The school received more than 25 laptops from the government, but which cannot be of any use as this remote area has neither electricity nor mobile connectivity.
The situation is no different at the neighbouring Donyasas Primary School, about five kilometres away.
The school, which has 80 learners, also has to combine three classes in one structure.
According to head teacher Mathew Chesire, the institution has only three TSC teachers who are expected to teach the six classes — from Grade One to Six. “We combine Grade Two and Three in one class and Grade Four, Five and Six in the other. We opted not to teach under trees because learners could hardly concentrate due to the harsh weather,” said Mr Chesire.
The learners here are also taught in shifts. “For instance, we have Grades Four to Six learners arranged in rows in one room. We teach one subject at a time. For example, during a mathematics lesson, you focus on one particular topic. If you are on, say, numbers, you ensure all the classes are being taught the same topic to avoid confusion. Timetables are not applicable here at all,” said the head teacher.
This workload, he added, is too much for the tutors. “By evening, you are totally exhausted. With no timetables due to shortage of teachers, the syllabus cannot be covered as expected,” said Mr Chesire.
He also complained that the tutors had not been adequately trained on how to implement the new curriculum, with learning areas that were not covered in college being the main challenge.
It is the same story at Riong’o Primary School in the far-flung Silale ward. The institution has only five teachers serving more than 270 learners. This means learners in Grades One to Standard Seven have to be taught in shifts.
According to the head teacher, Mr Collins Kases, drought and rampant banditry have led to high dropout rates in the area. “We are trying our best to teach despite the challenges. The CBC requires a lot of engagement with parents and teachers, and a teacher-pupil ratio of one to 40, which is not applicable here due to the acute teacher shortage,” said Mr Kases.
Teachers have to walk dozens of kilometres to charge laptops and download examinations.
“We have more than 30 laptops, which were donated by the government, but they are gathering dust because we have no power and no reliable mobile network. We normally charge the two laptops that are used by the teachers at Chemolingot, more than 28 kilometres away, after every two days,” said the school head. He added: “For us to download and print exams, we travel the same distance, which costs a lot of money.”
According to the teacher, most parents in the region are illiterate and cannot help much in the implementation of the new curriculum.
“Parents in this community have to be begged to bring their children to school. The moment you ask a child to bring some learning materials from home or seek assistance from their parents on an assignment, they see it as a burden and the responsibility of the teacher. Some even pull the learners out of school to herd livestock instead,” said Kases.
Rampant bandit attacks and drought often force parents to flee with their school-going children to other areas. A large number of these learners never report back even when normalcy returns, with girls being married off while boys turn to herding.
Baringo County experiences sporadic ethnic skirmishes as well as livestock thefts and banditry attacks, during which schools are vandalised or closed altogether.
The schools in the region are few and far between, which means those who cannot keep walking the long distances end up dropping out.
“Most children in Tiaty Sub-County go to school to get food. Now that we have no food here, most pupils, especially those who come from far, have dropped out of school. We only offer porridge, which is not enough to sustain the biting hunger,” said Mr Kases, noting that enrolment at the school had dropped from 271 last term to 100 after a majority of learners moved with their parents in search of water and pasture for their livestock.
Most of the residents of the area have moved to Naudo, Paka, Silale and as far as Lomelo in the neighbouring Turkana County.
At Lorwatum Primary School in Ribkwo/Kositei ward, learners from different classes share one structure.
“Since the school was set up in 2011, up until last year, we had one classroom that used to accommodate pupils in Grade One to Four. Last year we relocated two other classes to one building, which was constructed courtesy of CDF,” said head teacher Pauline Ngimor.
She added: “Though we now have a new building, we still have to combine two classes in one room, making it difficult to teach them concurrently.”
A makeshift classroom had been constructed last year to accommodate Grade Five, but it was destroyed by heavy rainfall.
The Nation established that Grade One and Three learn together while Grade Two and Four are combined in another class.
“We are three TSC teachers and we feel that, with the introduction of the new curriculum, it is difficult to teach all the classes because the pupils need close attention. In CBC, there are a lot of practicals that need the teacher’s guidance but in our case, that is not possible as we are understaffed. We feel the new curriculum is hard to implement in this region due to the challenges,” said the head teacher.
She said many learners drop out when they reach Grade Four, as they are expected to transfer to neighbouring schools such as Sunrise in Chemolingot and Chesakam Primary School, which are more than 15 kilometres away.
Parents in the region asked the government to intervene.
Mr Kamama Longorpong’a from Donyasas in Loyamorok ward complained that the new system had put a heavier burden on learners from remote areas as compared to those from urban areas.
No mobile connectivity
“Most of the villages in Tiaty have no mobile connectivity, which is needed in the implementation of CBC. How, then, will our children cope? Most of us have no phones, leave alone smart phones. That, coupled with high illiteracy levels, and the government still expects our children to compete with others countrywide,” said Mr Longorpong’a, whose children are in Grades Three and Four.
“I surrendered the two children to school and the others remained at home to look after our livestock. The two are the responsibility of the teachers, who should ensure they have books and other necessities. I am perturbed by the call to help them with assignments. The teachers are paid by the government and they should do their work,” he said.