A school catering to poor children from Kibera slums posted impressive results in the 2020 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams.
Shofco Kibera School, a learning institution founded by community-based organisation Shining Hope for Communities (Shofco), attained an achievement that has long been considered impossible in the results that were released last week.
Out of the top 100 candidates in Nairobi county, Shofco's two top girls Mellisa Chenziz and Michelle Nawire, who both scored 410, were ranked seventh and eighth respectively in and 52nd and 53rd nationally, while Bellyn Omido (400 marks) was 23rd in Nairobi and position 202 countrywide.
Only Nairobi Primary School (five) and White Star Academy Lang'ata (three) had students in the top 10 in Nairobi, meaning little Shofco topped giants such as Aga Khan Academy, Consolata School, Arya Vedic School, Makini School and many others who have hogged the limelight over the years.
Shofco Kibera School had three candidates scoring above 400 marks, 14 candidates scored between 350 and 399 with just five scoring below 350 marks for a mean score of 365 compared to 349 last year when just one student scored above 400 marks.
Hecky Odera, the Education Director at Shofco, credits a number of strategies for this success. These include embracing community learning, where a select group would be called in for a few hours during the partial Covid-19 lockdown, while teachers would also set questions and send them to the students at home.
But given that students here come from the slums where they are subjected to extreme poverty and other forms of emotional and physical abuses, the teachers knew this was not enough and the teachers took full advantage of the partial reopening of schools when Grade Four, Class Eight and Form Four were ordered to return by the Ministry of Education last October.
"The teachers set two tests every week and low performing students were paired with stronger ones in certain subjects so that peer support was important in lifting the mean score. We also introduced rewards for various standards if met and this increased" Odera said.
For the two top girls here, a desire to lift their families out of poverty fueled their drive to perform better.
"My mother sees me as her only hope, one who will change her situation in future and that is why I had to make sacrifices for these results," said Michelle, who wants to be an interior designer to change people's perceptions about Kibera.
Mellisa, who wants to be a psychiatrist to provide solutions to mental problems for others after dealing with the same following the death of her mother, said:
"I have been taking care of my little sisters and life is not easy. I compare our life with those doing well and I want to make sure I reach that level."
The Kibera school, and another one Mathare, were set up by Shofco founder and CEO Kennedy Odede to empower girls from the slum community under his Girls Leadership and Education Programme.
The school in Kibera, which has more than 350 students, has had students sit for KCPE since 2017, while the Mathare has 250 students from pre-primary to Grade 5.
To get admission at the schools, a thorough vetting process takes place to ensure only the needy children get the once in a lifetime opportunity.
Once admitted, the girls have access to a full scholarship. Uniform, fees, medical and food are all catered for and all the pupils have to do is focus on their education.