In Pwani, a non-descript, off-grid village in Kenya, nearly one-third of the children are orphaned. A majority of the rest survive with single parents, battling poverty and the societal ills that come with it. Education is a luxury in a place frequently plagued by droughts and famine. Among those who manage to enrol themselves in schools, many drop out soon enough to tread a darker path, haunted by drug addiction, teenage pregnancies, early marriages and even suicides, reports Quartz.
Needless to say, schools are scarce in Pwani and the condition of the existing ones are not worthy of mention. Even in 2019, students walk kilometres every day through the rough and unfriendly terrains to reach their schools. Poor infrastructure, limited digital access and a pathetic teacher-student ratio dominate the school education trajectory for the young learners of Pwani.
Perhaps Pwani would have slowly succumbed to the aggravating social problems, had it not been for one man, Peter Tabichi, the Maths and Physics teacher at Keriko Secondary School in Pwani. His sole efforts have helped the youngsters of Pwani value education more than ever. Even with resource constraints, he has managed to introduce an interactive, global standard curriculum in the quaint village school.
On March 24, 2019, he was awarded $1 Million Global Teacher Prize by Varkey Foundation in Dubai, adjudging him as the best teacher of the year among 10,000 teachers who brought forth laudable changes in education across the world. The award money would be sent to him over a span of ten years and it would facilitate more improvement in his school.
The problems of Pwani
“It’s morning in Africa. The skies are clear. The day is young and there is a blank page waiting to be written. This is Africa’s time,” Peter Tabichi told BBC News after winning the prestigious honour.
His elated remarks truly do justice to his incredible contribution in the education sector. Even a few years ago, the Keriko Secondary School had nothing, apart from a 58:1 student-teacher ratio, only one age-old computer and a feeble internet connection. At times, there would be 70-80 students in a classroom, managed by a single teacher. Student strength was on a decline.
36-year-old Peter Tabichi, who is a Brother of the Franciscan Friars, turned over a new leaf for the Keriko Secondary School. Students, who traversed up to seven kilometres in a day on foot just to come to the school, needed more than textbooks to encourage them. Peter introduced a number of changes in the way lessons were imparted. For instance, instead of sticking to books and blackboards, he started collecting online materials like videos, lectures and photos to show his students in the class. It was impossible to execute this with the school’s poor internet connectivity. So Peter frequented cyber cafes to gather, sort and prepare lessons for his pupils.
Beyond the school’s boundaries
Peter understood that a student’s education can never be complete within the boundaries of the school. The environment of the home also plays a pivotal role in the wholesome development of a student. That is why Peter visits his students’ homes regularly, interacting with their families, trying to understand their struggles. Peter convinced his colleagues to provide one-to-one tuitions beyond school hours to students who are not remarkably meritorious and need extra guidance.
He noticed that the condition of the girl students was perhaps the worst, who were often coaxed or forced by their families to discontinue education and get into early marriages. Determined to put an end to the trend, Peter particularly emphasised on girls’ education, introducing several measures to aid them. Presently, girls in his school are performing better than the boys in academics.
International recognition for his students
He started a talent club in the school which focused on and honed individual talents and skills of the students. The school’s Science Club, previously inactive, was revived and expanded by him where students are now encouraged to design their own research projects. 60% of these student projects now qualify for national-level science contests. In fact, in 2018, a group of students mentored by Peter, demonstrated their unique invention at the Kenya Science and Engineering Fair. The device allows blind and deaf individuals to measure different objects.
There are more accolades for the students of Keriko Secondary School. While one team qualified to participate at the US-based INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair 2019 in the Mathematics segment, another team clinched an award from The Royal Society of Chemistry, UK for harnessing bio-electricity from local plants.
Over the last three years, Peter’s efforts have resulted in the doubling of student strength, which stands at nearly 400 now. Graduate students from the school are opting for higher education in colleges, which was a distant dream even a few years ago. Interestingly, indiscipline has achieved a record low rate.
About the Global Teacher Prize
Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Index was started in 2013 to map the education scenario in 21 countries of the world, with the primary focus on the contribution of teachers who have spearheaded exceptional changes in teaching pattern. The findings were shocking for Sunny Varkey, the foundation’s chairman, who realised how the glorious profession has downgraded over the years. To revive the lost status of the profession and to bring out the changemakers in this field, Varkey introduced the $1 Million Global Teacher Prize that very year. Till date, the award has represented thousands of teachers from over 127 countries.
The 2019 edition of the award also found an Indian teacher among the final top ten frontrunners. Former Miss India Swaroop Rawal made it to the final list of teachers for adopting eclectic teaching methods comprising group discussion, brainstorming, debate, games, songs, painting etc. Her students have also stopped child labour in Sodvadra, Gujarat and participated in many social drives.
The Global Teacher Prize is indeed a positive initiative who celebrate the unsung heroes who shape the future of the planet.