Dr. Nyle Kardatzke traveled to visit our school three times last year and plans to make a trip again at the end of the month. As an educational consultant, he has a valuable perspective on our teacher’s college. We wanted to share with you his thoughts and insights about the college to give you a closer look into the history of our educational programs and what is happening now with Heritage College!
Report by Dr. Nyle B. Kardatzke, Educational Consultant for Village Project Africa
Heritage Academy, Makutano, Kenya
Heritage Academy is a Christian elementary school that was an unexpected outgrowth of a work that Margaret Lewis and Davis Otieno Reuben started among widows and orphans in a rural agricultural area about an hour’s drive north of Eldoret in western Kenya. Wild animals, other than cats, dogs, and occasional rogue bulls have long since left this area. Most people subsist on small farming plots called shambas and on very little cash from the market economy. Although measured per capita income has risen in Kenya in recent decades, this economic growth has taken place mainly in the cities of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and Eldoret.
Widows in Kenya are in a particularly precarious position. When a woman’s husband dies, it is common for the dead man’s family to claim any property that the family had accumulated, including cattle, homes, and land. The widow is ejected from the couple’s property, and she is often rejected by her own family for fear they would have to help support her and her children.
It was in this environment that Margaret and Davis began to teach widows how to sew and make tote bags to sell in Kenya and the United States. The meager income they generated was typically a lifeline for the widows and the children they were supporting.
Students cannot enter the government schools in Kenya at the first grade level unless they can write their names and recognize numbers. Margaret and Davis realized that the widows were nearly all illiterate, so their children had little prospect of learning to write their names and enter the government schools, so they decided to offer a small preschool to overcome this hurdle. They rented a small, mud-walled house, hired a teacher, and announced that there would be a preschool opening. They thought they might accommodate 35 children, but on registration day, 80 children were brought to the school and they admitted 50. In a few months, they announced that the next level would be opened and 100 students were brought; another 50 were admitted. The school was soon moved to a new site, classrooms were built, and now there are 520 students in preschool through 5th Grade. In January 2013, 6th Grade will be added and enrollment will approach 600 students.
All instruction is conducted in self-contained classrooms, though teaching is departmentalized among the teachers in the upper grades. All of the classes that I saw included at least 35 students, and it was common to find 45 to 55 students in a room. Fortunately, the students are well-behaved and attentive. They work in close proximity to each other, literally touching each other’s elbows in a way that would be unworkable in the States. But even with eager and cooperative students, this is a heavy load on the teachers’ attention and time. It’s amazing that it works so well.
The Heritage College Program
When Dr. Lynn Staley learned about Heritage Academy, she proposed a teacher training program that would work within the school to assist the teachers and produce well-trained teachers for Kenyan schools, public and private. Dr. Staley raised funds for the first student teachers, and they were first in the school in January 2011. Within the school, the teacher training program is known as Heritage College, paralleling the name of the school itself, Heritage Academy.
There are 10 student teachers working at the school under a semi-volunteer arrangement known in Kenya as “an attachment.” This means that they are attached to a college program and are working as unpaid interns as part of a training program. In some situations in Kenya, students would pay for the privilege of having this kind of training and the prospect of a college certificate after a two-year internship and success on an exam. At Heritage Academy, the college students receive a small stipend for their classroom work, and their tuition for the college classes at the school is covered by the program’s funding. This is considerably more attractive than many similar programs, and it is further enhanced by the quality of the staff, students, and organization of Heritage Academy. The current student teachers are supported by scholarships through Village Project Africa. Support for student teachers costs $50 per month, $600 per year.
The school year in Kenya is divided into three terms of instruction: January to March, May to July, and September to December. Schools are not in session in April, August, and December, and it is in those months that the Heritage College students attend college classes at Heritage Academy. In addition to the ten Heritage College students, all of the teachers at Heritage Academy are offered free tuition for the college courses, and nearly all of the fourteen senior teachers have accepted this offer. In addition, teachers from other schools in the area attend the college classes as tuition-paying students. Enrollment in the college program is about fifty now.
Value of the Current Program
The Heritage College program provides realistic classroom experience for promising high school graduates in preparation for teaching careers. The sponsored students, all girls at present, are from local high schools and have been identified by their school officials for their intellectual and moral promise. All are from low income families, often having been raised by their grandmothers. Their prospects for future employment outside the Heritage College program are limited, to put it mildly.
Within Heritage Academy, the student teachers serve as assistants to teachers who judge the program to be helpful, making their work more effective. The assistants help keep class records, observe the work of individual students during class time, and sometimes lead class sessions under the supervision of experienced teachers. On occasion, a college student teacher may serve as the classroom teacher temporarily as a substitute. The quality of instruction at Heritage Academy is heightened by the work of the student teachers, and the senior teachers themselves have opportunities to grow through their management of the young teachers.
In the future, graduates of Heritage College are expected to raise the level of instruction in other schools in the area, and some may be hired at Heritage Academy itself. Their future presence in other schools will heighten the influence and reputation of Heritage Academy and Heritage College.