When you mention the name Mrs Ann Ng’ang’a, it may not ring a bell in many people’s minds.
But mention the slum-based Olympic Primary School and many people will raise their heads.
So what’s the connection between this former academic giant and Mrs Ng’ang’a?
Well, Mrs Ng’ang’a was the no-nonsense and results-driven headmistress of Olympic Primary School during its heydays (1980 and 90s) when it made headlines every time the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exam results were announced in December.
Whenever the results were released, the showstopper was the Kibera-based Olympic Primary, which would take up the lion’s share of the top slots in the examinations.
Actually, there was a teaser back then that on the day of releasing the results, journalists would be deployed to Olympic early in the morning because it was guaranteed that the school would steal the show.
But where did this phenomenal woman go?
Eve Woman caught up with her, ten years after her retirement… not in her farm enjoying her sunset years… but in Kawangware where she runs a private school – Excel Academy- that is a force to reckon with in the area.
At 65, though strong and radiant, one assumes that she has slowed down enjoying her pension like other retirees.
“Yes, I retired from public service but teaching is my life. I find fulfilment in instilling life transforming values and skills in children. As long as I have breath, I will continue teaching. This is what I was born to do,” Mrs Ng’ang’a says, as she ushers us into her well established school, located in the heart of Kawangware.
Though she is the director of the school, she still finds time to teach a lesson or two, in Class Eight.
“At least once a month, I have to spend some time with the Class Eights. That is a critical time and I feel as the head of the school, it is important that I impart some life skills in them as they prepare to sit a very important exam in their life,” says the passionate teacher.
The day of the interview (January 31) is particularly significant for her because Excel Academy was celebrating its ten-year anniversary since establishment.
Just like Olympic was in its hey days, Excel is also a force to reckon in Dagorreti, having topped the charts since it presented its first class of candidates
From her stellar track record, it is crystal clear every school she touches turns into an academic powerhouse.
So what’s her magic recipe?
“I think God just loves me. This is His doing. I cannot take the glory. I just do my part then God does His miracle,” she says.
After further prodding, she delves deeper into her magic ingredient: “On top of that, my trick is discipline, hard work and dedication. I also have a great team of teachers who help me achieve my goals and vision. I had a great team at Olympic and here at Excel, I also recruited the best.”Speaking of Olympic, this top performer has not been in the limelight for years.
Apparently, the school slid into academic oblivion and its academic star stopped shining from 2004.
Some of Kenya’s crème de la crème that passed through Mrs Ng’ang’a’s hands at Olympic Primary include Kibra MP Ken Okoth, Kiss FM’s morning presenter Larry Asego, entertainment guru Fakii Liwali, former presidential candidate Ronald Osumba, leading architect Eric Miseda and rugby icon Benjamin Ayimba, among other top shots in various sectors of the economy.
In its peak days, Olympic was the bedrock of academic excellence and it was the home of KCPE champions, a tribute that made it attract pupils from all social classes, from the children of millionaires to those middle-classes, working class and the penniless slum dwellers, even though it was located in the sprawling Kibera slums.
But there was a sudden downward fall from 2004 and it started with the school sliding from position 1…2…3… then before anybody noticed, it was among the bottom.
What went wrong?
“Free primary education is what tilted the scales. The number of students ballooned, the teachers were overwhelmed and because the problem was never resolved, the school started performing dismally,” Mrs Ng’ang’a says with nostalgia, adding that the downward spiral started just after her retirement.
After leaving Olympic, instead of going to enjoy her retirement money in upcountry, the mother of four chose to start a school in her home area- Kawangware – to give back to the community.
“After retiring in 2004, my brother sold to me a piece of land in 2005, and I decided to start a school here. We started with 20 students and three teachers in Class One. Back then, we taught in makeshift iron sheet classes.
But by the grace of God, the school has grown to 527 students with 32 teachers and 26 subordinate staff. We started small but now we are celebrating ten years of excellence,” the former head teacher discloses.
The school results tell it all. Excel has held position one in Kawangware since it presented its first set of candidates in 2009 and maintained it average of 71.9 points.
Its first student in last year’s KCPE scored 427. So exceptional is her school, pupils come from as far as Kibera and Kitengela.
“Actually, we have 50 students in Class Eight from Kibera.”
One parent whose child is a boarder in Class Seven had praises for the veteran headmistress.
“I live in Kibera but I bring my child to this school because I know about Mrs Ng’ang’a’s track record,” says Mr Simiyu Nafula.
Academics aside, what’s her take on the recent Form One selection? Has it affected her students?
“Not really. My students have all been called to the schools they selected. You see, I always tell my parents the importance of school selection. Actually, I always take a full day with the parents explaining to them the importance of proper selection so that they help their children make brilliant choices based on their academic strengths,” she explains.
And what’s next for this trendsetter?
“As long as God gives me health and strength, I will teach and teach. My joy is to see children educated and empowered.”