A little-known primary school has thrust Kenya on the world map after being shortlisted for the T4 Education initiative’s World’s Best School Prizes Award for preserving African culture.
At ‘Children in Freedom School’, located in Lanet Umoja Ward, within Nakuru Town East Sub-County, besides the Ministry of Education’s curriculum, students are also taught their respective mother tongues and an alternative local dialect. For instance, a child from the Kikuyu tribe is also taught Luo, and vice versa.
Children in Freedom School, which is among 10 shortlisted for the World’s Best School Prizes award in the Overcoming Adversity Category from over 1,000 entries, also teaches learners their history, where they hail from, who they are, and from which clans they originate.
The school is unique in that it allows students to use their traditional names while dressing in traditional African attire.
This isn’t common in most African countries, where the majority embrace the common school uniforms worn in the west. The children are allowed to dress according to which tribe they come from.
County Executive Committee Member (CECM) in Charge of Education, ICT, E-Government, and Public Communication, Ms. Zipporah Ngugi, noted that many young people do not understand their cultural backgrounds, but the school’s initiative has made the students develop an interest in their own cultures.
“This is a great learning experience for our youth who have not experienced the raw African culture. Making our culture applicable in modern times is very important. Learning institutions are the best avenues for inculcating African values among the youth,” stated Ngugi.
The CECM spoke when she led officers from the devolved unit’s Department of Education to congratulate the school’s administration and students for being shortlisted for the award.
The event was marked with pomp and colour as students from various communities dressed in their respective traditional attire and showcased their traditional music, rites of passage, ways of worship, and traditional delicacies.
While noting that the award is one of the world’s most prestigious education prizes, Ngugi explained that the T4 Education Initiative is a global organization committed to providing engaging tools, initiatives, and events for teachers to improve education.
Other categories of the World’s Best School Prizes Award are ‘Community Collaboration’, ‘Environmental Action’, ‘Innovation’ and ‘Supporting Healthy Lives’.
The founders of Children in Freedom School hold that some western education and alien cultural concepts have pushed African traditions to the back of the textbook. Children at the school are encouraged to adopt “Afrocentrism,” which helps them embrace their own culture.
The school’s principal and co-founder, Ms Utheri Kanayo, said they came up with the concept after they realized that Kenyan students who come from various communities are ignorant of each other’s cultures.
“In our teaching model, we blend the National Curriculum and the Afro-Centrism Curriculum. We are guided by five principles and values, which are Utambuzi (self-awareness), Udadisi (curiousity and inquisitiveness), Ubunifu (innovation), Bidii (hard work and excellence), and Ubuntu (“I am because we are),” states Ms. Kanayo.
The school, which now has over 500 students, aged between 5 and 14 years old, was cofounded by Ms. Kanayo and her husband, Engineer Oku Kanayo Egbeni.
“We were fed up with international rhetoric that paints the African continent as hopeless, backward, and in need of saving. We emphasize Africa’s value as a capable continent, historical goldmine, and current global competitor, “says Ms. Kanayo.
Ms. Kanayo affirmed that this alternative mindset, if cultivated early, will create bountiful opportunities for the African child in the 21st century.
“The reason we edify our mother tongue, our African colours and prints, and our African attire is because this is who we are. Our culture carries our heart, our soul, our mind, and our essence,” added the principal.
She expressed regret that other cultures have been canceling out African culture in the classroom.
“We are opening it up again because a lot of cultures have come and overridden our own cultures. So, to be Afrocentric means to purposefully and consciously go back to the African culture and agenda,” added the principal.
Engineer Egbeni indicated that they realized most children were just going to school to learn and not to gain an identity. He stated that most students perform better academically once they learn about their rich heritage.
“We decided to start teaching these children an identity clause, which is called the Afrocentric Curriculum, which is the Freedom Curriculum. And when we started doing that, we saw a serious transformation,” says Engineer Egbeni.
Afrocentrism means the education provided is African-centered; children are taught to embrace who they are and where they are from. The children are also taught to embrace their traditions.
UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has been advocating for multilingual education at all educational levels. The agency notes that many African curricula still include concepts that are not relevant to the African context today.
“It is important that curricula approaches are revisited, that learners are taught about the issues and challenges, but also the opportunities in relation to the African context,” states UNESCO.
Twelve-year-old Onyango is a student at the school. He said he was pleased with the school’s trend. It’s altering the mindset of young people like him to embrace where they’re from.
He added that at his former school, fellow students made fun of African names, and children did not embrace them.
“In my other school, it was very hard for someone to be called by their African name because people thought that the African names were not valuable. They really admired European culture and failed to admire our own culture,” he said.
Kerubo, 12, is also a student at the school. She said the school helped her embrace her African heritage, giving her the opportunity to showcase her culture to the world.
“This school has helped shape my Africanism by making me embrace my African name, making me love my African name, and making me wear my African attire, basically letting us embrace our culture to the world,” she added.
A parent at the school Mr. Ambayi has a 9-year-old son attending the school. He lamented that most parents nowadays are preoccupied with their work schedules and have no time to teach their children about their culture.
“With modern popular culture and growing access to social media platforms, African culture is being battered, and with parents being busy eking out livelihoods, they tend to forget to teach children about their culture,” said Ambayi.
He added, “We are so excited that Children in Freedom has taken it up to teach our children about our culture, in terms of dressing, and even cultural foods and speaking vernacular language.”
By Anne Mwale