It’s a chilly morning in St. Joseph’s area of Kangemi, Nairobi. Tabitha Wandia is up early as routine dictates preparing her three year old daughter Chloe Nanjala for school.
After bathing and hurriedly dressing her in the neatly ironed red school uniform, yellow sweater and black shoes, Chloe is ready for breakfast.
Tabitha’s husband Jackson Masiga is already dressed up and has taken over the kitchen affairs. He quickly serves tea into two cups nudges her daughter into taking it with a slice of bread.
At a quarter past 7 am, Chloe and her father are ready to hit the road. Wandia’s husband, Jackson dutifully walks their daughter to school, every morning. Along the way, Chloe chats with him while waving at familiar faces.
At the schools’ gate, her father lets go off her hand and signals her to walk on into the school compound. Teacher Ann Ndungu receives each child at the door and Chloe, all too familiar smiles at her and enters the classroom.
The word PLAYGROUP is displayed at the door. Each child, though not strictly, has to be in class by 8 am from Monday to Friday.
This is Chloe’s third week as a Preschooler at St. Joseph Primary School, in Kangemi estate, Nairobi. She is among the first batch of pupils admitted under the newly launched 2-6-3-3-3 education curriculum framework rolled out in January this year.
The spacious and well-lit class has 27 pupils in total aged 3 years or younger. There are two teachers who run the class; Teacher Ann Ndungu and Teacher Clare Ngota.
In order to get their attention, Teacher Ann breaks into song which they quickly join in singing implying majority are familiar with the catchy tune. They dance to the song as they mimic Teacher Ann’s dance moves.
The song and excitement ends as Teacher Ann now leads the class in a word of prayer signaling the start the day. Afterwards she directs the kids to line up behind her as she leads them in another song. Chloe is definitely amused by the ongoing events.
Teacher Clare, who is heavily expectant, is monitoring from her desk at the corner of the class. She tells me that even in this group of young ones; you can easily pick out a social child from those who need encouragement to mingle and participate.
The day’s activities have been divided into quick spontaneous segments to keep their interest as children are known to have a short attention span.
“It has to be an energy packed session otherwise they tend to drift away or dose off once they feel a session is boring. You end up talking to yourself because once one of them sleeps; there is nothing you can do,” says teacher Clare as she chuckles.
“It is very true, which is why we are two teachers in this class, when one seems to be running out of ideas and energy, the other takes over seamlessly,” teacher Ann adds.
Chloe seems to have caught up real well with the flow of the program. Teacher Clare skillfully sneaks in a story. They all sit up and listen keenly. The story is about MAMA SIMBA and HER CUBS and it brings periods of laughter, claps, song and ends with a lesson to take away. This ushers in the 30 minute outdoor break.
They remove their jackets and in a file hand them to their teachers as the weather has warmed up, playtime looking to be their favorite part of the day. A few do not seem interested and have to be encouraged to join the rest.
The small playing field that serves as a playground has a variety of games like the slide, swing, seesaw; car tyre rides and even a sand pit. The girls gravitate towards the swings and slides while the boys pick up the tyres. The teachers are on watch to prevent injuries.
It is back to class now and teachers go round locating individual tea flask and snack box. Chloe’s lunch box has two queen cakes and a flask of warm milk tea. A majority of them have a carbohydrate and tea; however a few have milk and fruit. I ask teacher Clare on whether they have any control on what the children carry and she tells me that parents pack what they can afford.
The second session of the day starts at 10.30am. Teacher Ann hands out coloring books with each book having a simple drawing of a flower that the kids are supposed to color.
“For us it is not serious. They can color however they like. It seems like a simple activity but apart from creativity, we as teachers we are able to tell a lot about a Child’s personality from how they choose to do this, whether they color inside or outside the borders. We can only know that if we let them be free,” Teacher Ann says.
After coloring, they are instructed to pick the variety of toys lined up on the shelves, from teddy bears, dollhouses, cars, birds for play session that will usher the next break at 11.45 am.
After the second break the mood in class slowly shifts. It is afternoon now and the lunch hour session at 12.30 pm is fast approaching. Having done a lot activities the children were now tired and dozing off.
The school caterer comes in with two buckets of their lunch meal, Beans with rice. In a file they are led to the tap to wash their hands as the food is served.
“We do not allow assistance feeding. Every child is encouraged to do things independently. Whether a child eats fast or slow, we will be here until the last one clears their plate,” says Teacher Clare.
By 1.30 pm most of them are done with eating and they now head to a separate room where several mattresses have been laid out on the floor. This is where they will nap off until 3 pm when their parents will arrive to pick them up.
Playgroup is a new form of play based learning that replaced what used to be known as baby class in the now being phased out 8-4-4 system. The Education Ministry in conjunction with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development –KICD came up with the new curriculum starting at Pre-primary level with an aim to make it more practical and exciting for learners under the age of 6 years. It is not examinable and all that is required is for the teachers to update parents on how a child is doing through monthly progress reports.
Chloe’s parents say that they still do not understand how the new education system works but hope they made the right decision for their daughter and are keen on monitoring her progress.
The entry level age for children starting school is 3 years, in the newly formed play group class; preceded by a two year non-examinable pre-primary phase which culminates into the child joining grade [class] one.
The new 2-6-3-3-3 Education system is designed to place children’s needs before those of their teachers, schools and parents. Researchers say that there are five areas of development the preprimary level of child development; learning, reasoning, communication, language and movement.
All these have to be harnessed as a child grows up by encouraging or introducing approaches that target a child’s ability in order to help them express himself and to understand what others say.