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#TeachersTransform education: One building, two schools - How sharing resources helped transform education in this Kenyan refugee camp

How do you accommodate 18,900 learners in nine secondary schools with limited resources? This is the dilemma faced by the team managing education in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Their solution? Create two schools in one.

As the education officer for Windle International Kenya, George Nandy oversees secondary education for Kakuma refugee camp and Kalobeyei Settlement. The organisation supports and implements education interventions in Kakuma which serves over 180,000 refugees from South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Uganda. Their work is supported by the Kenyan government, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and other donors and partners.

Growing up in a family of 18 children, with very few resources, George understands some of the hardships that refugee learners face.

“I’m here because one teacher sacrificed to put me through school, paying for my uniform and learning materials. I’m bound to help,” says George who taught in Kakuma schools for over 6 years before taking on his current role. “By working in the refugee camp, I get to help these learners who are all vulnerable. They have suffered so much trauma, and they face so many challenges. But by transforming their education, we can support them with the skills they need to create a successful future for themselves.”

Making the most of available resources helped transform education in Kakuma

While there are currently 21 primary schools in Kakuma refugee camp, there are only seven secondary schools. Before George and the team took on the task of transforming education in the refugee camp in 2015, thousands of learners were forced to give up their schooling as there simply wasn’t enough space to accommodate them.

“Facing the ever-increasing student population, we sat down with Windle’s then executive director, Dr. Marangu Njogu, who proposed the innovative two-in-one approach to schooling,” says George.

“The system capitalises on ‘time’ as one of the major resources at our disposal. We realised that if we divided the day in half, we could accommodate two schools, and twice as many learners in one building. Each school has its own set of teachers, led by a single ‘chief principal’ who is supported by two deputies. Even the learners’ uniforms are different to make sure they attend their designated school,” says George.

How does two-in-one work?

A conventional school day runs from 8:00 AM until 4:30 PM and incorporates short and long health breaks as well as sports, clubs and society meetings. “But in the two-in-one system, the activities are compressed, so only six hours are used up,” explains George.

“The morning school starts early from 6:40 AM to 12:20 PM with two short health breaks in between. Then there’s a ten-minute changeover between schools. The afternoon school starts at 12:30 PM and ends at 6:30 PM,” says George.

“Co-curricular activities, sports, clubs, societies, and meetings are planned for when the particular school is not on session. For instance, the morning school participates in non-class activities in the afternoon. The afternoon school participates in non-class activities during the mid-morning.”

Benefits of the two-in-one school system

“The two-in-one system means we don’t have to find the money to build new buildings,” says George.

“Desks, chairs, lockers, classrooms, laboratories, kitchen, toilets, hand-washing facilities, library, reference books, ICT facilities, playgrounds, sports facilities and assembly grounds are all shared by the two schools," says George.

The innovative system also helps decrease teacher fatigue.

“Some Kenyan schools use the double-shift system where learners attend in two shifts, but the same teachers stay throughout the day. However, this leads to teacher exhaustion. With two-in-one system, teachers are able to give their very best in all of their classes.”

A transformative new curriculum requires extensive resources

While the two-in-one solution is helping more learners access secondary education in the Kakuma refugee camp, the student to teacher ratio is still exceptionally high.

“Currently, the average is 120 learners per teacher. “So we are working with the Kenyan government, donors, and other organisations to try to solve this.”

Decreasing the ratio will be even more important in 2023 when the Kenyan government begins rolling out a new competency-based curriculum. Instead of focusing on grades, the approach focuses on helping learners develop the skills, knowledge & talents they need when they leave school, whether it’s for tertiary education, or the workplace. It is learner-centred instead of teacher-centred and allows each learner to progress and master skills at their own pace.

“With a focus on ICT skills, the new system will help the learners thrive in an everchanging world,” says George.

However, while the new curriculum has many benefits, it requires just 30 learners per class, and relies on the teacher paying more attention to each individual.

“Currently we employ 335 teachers for 18,900 learners, and counting… but the new curriculum will require more teachers, additional classrooms, laboratories, technology, textbooks, and learning materials.

“We rely on generous donors to help us manage these needs. Their support helps us build and develop schools for the Kakuma refugee children, giving them a chance to transform their future through education.”

Despite the challenges ahead, George believes that the competency-based approach will equip the learners with the skills and knowledge they need to pursue careers in the 21st century.

The peacemakers of the future

For George, making sure learners have access to a solid education is not just about helping them build more secure livelihoods. It’s also about ensuring they have the skills to make a positive impact on society.

“Education plays a major role in obtaining peace in our world,” says George. “A good education empowers the learners to return to their countries one day, to take part in conflict resolution, and peace-keeping, and become the leaders of the future.”

Learn more about the #TeachersTransform campaign as part of the Transforming Education Summit.

Photo credit: John Cummings