This blog was written by Jacqueline Walumbe, Bridge International Academies, Kenya
When Naomi Williams was young, she lived in the Mukuru Kwa Njenga slum in Nairobi, Kenya where she would spend her days playing because her parents couldn’t afford to send her to school. The cost of attending even a theoretically ‘free’ public school in a developing country like Kenya is often prohibitive for families living in communities like Naomi’s.
Sadly, this is not unusual for children in Kenya, especially girls. It is a sad truth that in many communities, a girl’s education is not considered as important as a boy’s. Even when girls are in school, there can be no learning happening; poor materials and absent teachers can mean a classroom is just a space, where access does not translate to education; a fact emphasised recently by the President of the World Bank who said that: ‘‘For too many children, schooling does not mean learning.”
Only a lucky few will be able to attend a good affordable school and sit their final exams. Naomi’s parents, who are casual labourers, found educating their children a struggle. Naomi is one of seven and, the only girl in her family to have finished primary school, let alone attend secondary school. One of Naomi’s older sisters had to leave school to get married and the other passed away after having a child. Her youngest sister now attends a Bridge school, inspired by her big sister.
For Naomi, a chance encounter in her community proved to be life- changing. A conversation about why she wasn’t in school led to Naomi and her family discovering Bridge and the start of a journey that led to incredible things. By her own admission, Naomi says before she joined Bridge she was “a girl who had no future.”
At school, Naomi, was given individual attention and carefully nurtured. She says of her teachers: “They were like second parents to me. I loved the lessons, everything was carefully planned. There was no time that a teacher was confused on what to do, and everything flowed smoothly.”
Given the opportunity and a supportive classroom, Naomi flourished, going on to excel. Her hard work meant she performed very well in the national exams (KCPE). She scored an amazing 376 marks, which was enough to be offered a scholarship to continue learning at the prestigious Kapkenda Girls High School, 300km north-west of Nairobi.
Following her success and admission to Kapkenda Girls High School, where she is top of her class, Naomi says she would like go to Harvard University and become a doctor. From the girl who had no future, Naomi says she now feels like, “I am already an important person to the world.”
Naomi’s story is not an unusual one at Bridge. In 2017, across all of their school’s pupils scored 10 percentage points above the nationwide average in KCPE — continuing the trend of 2015 and 2016 of outperforming the nationwide average. Girls who had been at Bridge for 5 years or more were the highest performing cohort. There are millions of children going to ‘informal’ schools across Kenya who with the right support and opportunity could follow Naomi’s path.
Bridge is proud of its efforts to empower its female pupils, developing confident, successful girls who learn in a safe and supportive environment. They believe all of their pupils should be able to chart their own path, especially girls. In many developing countries there are barriers to a girl’s education that include: distance to school, cultural norms, gender-based violence, pregnancy and early or even forced marriage. This is often compounded by having to sacrifice the income a child can provide, which means an education can constitute a short term ‘financial loss’ to some families or force them to make difficult choices about how many and which child(ren) to send to school. In most cases, parents will choose to educate a son over a daughter.
What one BIG idea should African leaders adopt to harness the power of girls and transform all our futures? Read our top youth voices’ ideas here.