Naomi Chepkemoi, 30, sits on the front row in a Form Three class at Telwet Secondary School in Kuresoi South. Next to her is 22-year-old Fancy Chebwogen. The two listen keenly as their Chemistry teacher explains different concepts.
Just like their colleagues, they are donning grey sweaters, marching skirts, and white tops.
But they stand out.
Chepkemoi, a mother of five, sat her final primary school examinations in 2001 with great hopes of joining high school the following year. This was however not to be.
“I always dreamt of joining high school and later pursuing a career that would help me become more useful to my family and society. My parents however could not raise the required fees at that time. I had to shelve my ambitions,” said Chepkemoi.
Still with hopes of continuing with her studies, Chepkemoi enrolled in a local polytechnic in her home in Bomet where she trained on tailoring and dressmaking.
It was not until 2005 that she finally got married as her hope to join high school continued to dim.
“After the training, I couldn’t start my own job. I had so much time at my disposal and was doing nothing constructive with it. I got married and today I have five children,” she said.
In 2016, she approached her husband with the idea of going back to school. A discussion that she had started as a joke became a turning point for her as her 32-year-old husband even offered to pay her school fees.
“I jokingly told him that I wanted to go back to school. Our 11-year-old first born was already in primary school and this wasn’t going to be easy. It was a chance I had been waiting for since I sat for KCPE and there it was,” she said.
Going back to school meant that she would have to plan how her younger children would be taken care of.
Her mother back in Kuresoi offered to babysit them while the two who are in primary school were left with her husband.
Chebwogen on the other hand made her come back to class this year after dropping out in Form Two. She too is married with one child.
“I got pregnant when I was in Form Two in 2015. I had to stay away from school to nurse my daughter. I moved in with my husband and our daughter is almost three now,” said Chebwogen.
Towards the end of last year, her husband suggested that she goes back to school and complete her education. Chebwogen was elated by the suggestion especially as it came from her husband.
Her mother-in-law became a great source of encouragement and just like Chepkemoi’s case, she offered to take care of her child.
Learning as an adult in a normal class has not been easy for the duo as they have to make sacrifices to share facilities with younger classmates.
“As a mother, I have to prepare one of my children for school before I leave. In the evening, there is limited time for private studies. The children are usually all over me once I get home,” said Chepkemoi.
Chebwogen says family issues at times are a distraction to her learning.
The two who have become close friends have to create more time for studies. They both wake up at 5am in their respective homes and after house chores they hit the road to school.
“We usually get to class at 6am ahead of other students. We utilise this time to complete assignments given the previous day and personal studies. This helps us compensate for time not available to us back at home,” said Chebwogen. Japhet Korir, the school principal, describes the two as great sources of inspiration to the rest of the students due to their commitment and discipline.
“They are more disciplined and committed to learning as compared to their teenage classmates. They have never been in trouble with the teachers and are very honest. From them, the rest of the learners have learnt a lot,” said Mr Korir.
He says they do not hesitate to reprimand the rest of the students whenever they find them straying.
Nakuru County Director for Adult Education Jimford Mokua said the county has only three community learning resource centres which are not enough for all the adult learners.
“We only have three centres in Molo, Nakuru and Njoro which do not have enough space to meet the demand. This year, we have more than 7,000 adult learners in primary and secondary education. As a result we have to explore alternative venues for learning,” said Mr Mokua.
Among the alternative places for adult education include churches and nursery schools in the afternoon when the children have left. These venues are however not comfortable for the adults.
The centres also do not provide learning materials, forcing them to dig deeper into their pockets. The adult learners, most of who hail from poor backgrounds, find themselves juggling family bills and their own education.
Nominated MP Gideon Keter has called on the government to establish more institutions for adult education in the Rift Valley region. He said the region is among the areas in dire need of adult schools.
“Rift Valley is among the areas where people, especially women have been subjected to cultures that have forced them be in class at a late age. The government should consider setting up adult education centers in the region,” said Mr Keter.
With the introduction of free primary and secondary education, many Kenyans who missed an opportunity to be in school due to financial constraints are finding their way back to class.