School owner who rose from cleaner job feted for role in education

Mr Gideon Kyalo
When outgoing Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i announced the 2017 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) results last December, one school owner was particularly elated.

His school had scored a mean score of 386 to become one of the best performers in Nairobi. Gideon Kyalo was sure about one thing: He wanted to keep his eye on the prize.  

Just under 10 years ago, he was a cleaner at a city restaurant. He saved money and started a kindergarten which is today the Goodrich Group of Schools. He did menial jobs in Kenya and Tanzania and out of it built an education empire. And in recognition of his unrelenting efforts, Mr Kyalo was this week nominated for an international award, distinguishing his role and contribution to Kenya’s education sector.

He is among 11 finalists nominated for the coveted International Global Educational Supplies and Solutions (GESS) Education Awards, which will be held in Dubai on February 28.

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The awards recognise individuals who have contributed immeasurably to the growth of education. Kyalo is the only nominee from Africa. The global awards will be hosted by Tarsus Group in partnership with the UAE’s Ministry of Education. The fete marks another feather in the hat of a man who believes there’s no substitute to hard work. He rose through poverty and had to repeat classes several times to finish his education. Kyalo thrives on a mix of confidence and hard work.

“I had a difficult past. I repeated classes at almost every level. My family was poor. By the time I was in secondary school, I had a beard and fellow students mocked me. These challenges never dissuaded me. I kept true to my determination to secure education,” he says.

Kyalo, 46, is humbled that his efforts have not been in vain. “The nomination is certainly good news to me. I went through a difficult past. I am humbled to see my efforts being recognised not only here but internationally,” says the man who has now written to President Uhuru Kenyatta inviting him to share in the triumph, and attend the launch of an entrepreneurs mentorship programme he is initiating.

Up to 1998, the school owner worked as a sales representative at a tours and hotels chain. He was retrenched after climbing to the position of stores clerk.

“I had to think and quickly come up with a plan to rescue my future. I was upbeat, remained focused and moved on as if nothing had happened,” he tells Saturday Standard in an interview.

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He then moved on to take up a cleaner’s job, earning Sh3,900 a month. He lived in Kibera slums for Sh600 a month. Kyalo embarked on a saving plan. He opened an account at Post Bank where he saved Sh500 monthly and lived strictly within his means.

Shortly afterwards, he invested Sh18,000 to open up a restaurant in Nairobi. Within a year, his passion for education pushed him to invest in a school, starting off with a kindergarten in Kileleshwa, Nairobi, in 1998. He then built a modern school in Imara Daima.

“There is a contribution I wanted to make in shaping up the lives of Kenyan children. It was time to put to use my passion for education,” he says.

Today, the Goodrich Schools have more than 1,000 pupils and 35 teachers. In 2015, it managed a mean score of 385. In 2016, the schools got a mean of 381 followed by last year’s impressive 386. With his dream having come true, Kyalo walks with his neck held up high. Yesterday, Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) Chief Executive Officer Peter Ndoro said Kyalo’s nomination was an honour to the country and a confirmation of the pivotal role private schools play in the education sector. “We want appreciate Kyalo on his nominations. We will be accompanying him to Dubai for the gala. This is not a nomination for Goodrich Schools alone but for Kenya and Africa. It recognises that Kenya is fast becoming an education hub in the region,” Ndoro adds.

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