Too shinny for a primary school in Kwale county? A Kenya Railways- sponsored institution causes a stir after construction of new buildings
Lilian Wakesho recalls with bitterness the day a roof over a classroom she was teaching in at Mpirani Primary School was ruthlessly blown apart by strong winds.
She was in the middle of an afternoon English lesson in Class Eight when a whirlwind struck, sending the roof, papers, textbooks and pupils’ exercise books high into the air. “I almost cried as I watched my pupils, especially girls, struggling to hold their skirts decently in vain,” she recalls.
Wakesho is the deputy headmistress of the remote institution located in Kinango constituency, Kwale county. The ugly scenario characterised the school’s dilapidated facilities.
The deputy headteacher says pupils in the school have braved such situations for years. “I only reported here last year but I have witnessed horrendous challenges in this school. The whirlwind (kimbunga) was not the first incident under my watch. The situation has been pathetic and far from conducive for learning,” she says.
Nasoro Panga, a teacher at the school since 2012, says Wakesho hasn’t seen anything yet. When he was first posted to Mpirani, he found a staffroom without furniture. In most cases they would sit on the dusty floor as they prepared to teach.
“That’s how bad the situation was before the school was relocated from Mpirani Kasemeni to Bokole, less than a kilometre away, to pave way for construction of Standard Gauge Railway (SGR),” says Panga. That’s when the school was moved to the site where the makeshift iron sheet-walled structure stands today.
“It is always darkest just before the day dawns,” English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller once wrote in his religious travelogue, A Pisgah-Sight Of Palestine And The Confines Thereof, 1650.Life has changed for the better at Mpirani.
Today, the ugly picture of ramshackle structures that had for long been akin to the school is a thing of the past. This is after the Kenya Railways, under its corporate social responsibility programme, built ultramodern high-end classroom blocks.
Pupils, teachers and parents now take pride in a stylish modern school complete with a standard digital lab, a spacious library and an Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) unit. The gated environment has now started to attract parents and learners from schools as far as Mombasa.
The state-of-the-art school with high-rise structures has triggered a hot but divided debate amongst residents of villages and towns around in Kinango. Some think it’s too modern to be a primary school, saying that it should be converted into a secondary school or even a college. “Such talk is nonsensical; it appears our indigenous people are accustomed to poverty and poor surroundings and so they think primary school pupils do not deserve this,” said Mariam Amina, a teacher.
She says pupils now study in a clean environment, saving parents the agony of having to spend more in cleaning school uniforms due to dust.“Kenya has moved and this is what all learners deserve to perform better. We are seeing more pupils attend classes regularly. Some parents at other schools even want their children to come here,” she says.
Still, challenges persist. The ghost of furniture shortage still haunts the school and some learners sit on cold floors. “Deputy President William Ruto asked Kenya Railways Corporation to sort out this challenge immediately when he came to launch the school last month,” says Panga.
With a population of 604 pupils, Mpirani is connected to the national power grid and clean, fresh water. For most of the learners, a majority who come from poor backgrounds, the school is better than home.
“While we were in the other rickety school, teaching and learning was difficult as both teachers and pupils would be subjected to absolute discomfort…the children were never comfortable since the iron sheet-walled classrooms were too hot and in most cases, they would doze off. During rainy weather, the roofs and windows would leak profusely,” says Wakesho.
She says there have been notable positive changes in performance academics. “We feel like we have been freed at last after being denied freedom for long…the feeling is like that of people who have now been released into a clean place where there is sufficient oxygen after spending some days in a stuffy environment where oxygen was minimal,” says Samuel Mradzi, a 12-year-old Class Six pupil.