Thirst for Knowledge in a Rural School

Imagine during science, social studies or religious education lessons, and the only textbook available is the one held by the teacher. Imagine that if you did not copy the notes, the teacher wrote on the board, you will have nothing to revise while waiting for the exams. Now imagine during the English lesson, you have to stretch your neck to get a glimpse of the story being read out loud in the class since the available textbooks are being shared among three and six students. It’s during recess, and you can’t go out to play with your friends because you want to copy the mathematics questions your teacher asked to be submitted first thing in the morning. You imagine that there is plenty of time because you the bell just rang for the 11. 00 am recess. Not quite. There are about six books in that class to be shared among the 40 pupils, and if you are not careful, someone might rip off the page as the struggle for the fittest continues.

I don’t have to imagine it because this was my life growing up. My name is Wanjiku, and I went to a rural primary school, where we had no libraries and limited access to textbooks, let alone the internet. The government assisted in getting the school constructed and well-wishers, old students of the institution, donated water tanks, and did some renovations that gave the school a modern touch. The parents were tasked with the responsibility of providing books, and considering the level of poverty in Ukambani, the struggle could only allow most to buy their children notebooks and hope that “rich” parents have at least bought some textbooks for their children.

In a classroom of 30-45 students, I found myself sharing my textbooks with more than 20 other students since my parents always made sure that I had books for the three compulsory subjects, English, Kiswahili, and Mathematics. We could not get textbooks for the other lessons, and it did not matter as we would be told that the teacher will teach us everything, so don’t miss a single lesson. Storybooks were a myth, and I recall reading some articles on the daily nation newspaper that were published every Saturday. My dad knew how much enjoyed it, and he made an effort to collect copies of the Saturday newspapers whenever the articles were published. I could file them and imagine it’s a storybook, my library.

When I joined high school, I was excited to find an actual library. I volunteered to serve the rest of the students, work to organize the library in addition to the usual morning chores so that I could get the chance to read more while enjoying access to the best maths and science books. The experience was terrific and it is not different from what my friends have gone through, but I can say I was privileged as some of my friends were not so lucky. Here are some of their stories: –

From William, Maktau Primary School in Taita Taveta

During my days in primary school, we used to have crowded classes of at least 40-60 pupils. This made us strain when using the available reading materials like textbooks and storybooks. I remember one day, one of the pupils in my class had an excellent storybook, and so most of us would all scramble for it to take a glimpse of it. So I finally got a chance to read a few pages before it was snatched from me by the owner as another friend of hers had asked for the book. I never had a chance to finish the story I had started reading. It made me not to bother finding some more storybooks as I was discouraged.

But as I joined a secondary school, that’s where I had a proper chance to read storybooks to the end as the school library had adequate not only the course books but also novels.  

From Samuel, Mutomo, Kitui county

Schooling in primary and secondary schools in rural areas is quite really a big challenge especially in regards to the availability of essential resources such as textbooks among others. I was in a class of 48 pupils in primary school. We had only five copies of The New Progressive Primary English to share amongst ourselves. In Mathematics, we had ten copies of Understanding Mathematics -textbook. In other subjects, we mainly relied on what the teachers taught in class. It was a struggle for us.

After primary school, I joined a day-secondary school that was 9km away from home. The school similarly lacked necessary lab equipment and did not even have a library. In a class of 56 without a textbook. I was relying on the content and notes given by the teachers. It was a struggle — difficulties in doing assignments and even research.

I share this, for I understand the need in wait faced by pupils and students in primary and secondary schools, respectively, especially in rural areas. Thank you.

From Peter, Huruma Nairobi Slums

I grew up in an urban, but even then, living in a slum, the level of poverty in our family could not allow me to have my books. Though I cherished reading, access to books was quite challenging, and the only way to access literature materials one didn’t have was to walk a considerable distance pay 10/- in a public library. Though this worked for me, it was only a solution to them who had an extra coin to invest in gaining additional knowledge. The underprivileged would have to wait for teachers to dictate notes for them to write and read later.

I am grateful to an NGO, Micato Safaris, that saw the struggle and hunger for knowledge in our vicinity. They established a library accessible to all, and this was a relief because not only was it near, but also the resources were freely available. Let’s say it was a haven for those who had an appetite for both primary and secondary school students.

Many have benefited from the library. If such facilities were populated in remote regions, a lot more would fulfill their academic dreams with ease. And this is my story.

From Dominic, Muranga county

We used to share one book with five students. We could rotate the textbooks daily. The condition of the books was pathetic. Sometimes they used to get lost, and we would miss out on everything. Dictionaries were available only in the library, a room next to the staff room, with two shelves and some ancient books. While parents would be advised to provide the students in class four to eight with dictionaries and kamusi, (Swahili dictionary), it hardly happened.  I can’t recall seeing a text for any other subject except English, Kiswahili, and mathematics. Novels never existed.

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