Wilberforce Olum believes in second chances. He also has lofty dreams not backed by solid academic credentials.
Four years ago, at the ripe age of 39, he realised that time was not on his side. He enrolled in Kibabii Boys High School with the hope of sitting the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams this year, joining college and pursuing his goal to become either a pilot or an engineer.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic happened.
“I was ready and was looking forward to that exam. I am back to farming and fending for my family, but I will go back to school. I am too close to let this dream in me die,” Olum said.
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He joins a long list of adult learners who decided to take another shot at formal education but are now battling anxiety in what has been a season of redefining goals.
Garrison Ochieng decided to go back to school after working as a casual labourer at a construction site in Kisumu. After battling alcohol abuse that saw him drop out in Form Three, it was his belief that a KCSE certificate will be his ticket to a new life on a clean slate.
“I could not make a future plan without a good education so I registered as a private candidate in January. I would even dream about writing exams and passing. This disease threw a lot of mature candidates off,” he said.
Ochieng decided to throw in the towel, saying he does not think he will complete his education.
“My immediate plan is to find ways of getting out of debt because with the pandemic, we were all put on mandatory leave. Even if I wanted to continue with my education, I don’t have money to buy books,” he said.
Victor Nyaoke, who runs Elara Education Centre in Nairobi, said most of the adult students who had registered for tutoring and exams have pulled out.
“Most of them just went silent. It is a depressing time for them. Their plans got interrupted in a big way. Going back to school was their way of giving life a second shot,” he said.
But adult learners are not the only ones who have had a rough year.
Hilda Chebet sat KCSE exams at Kaptebengwet Secondary School last year and scored a C grade.
Her points were not enough to secure a place in a nursing school so she decided to repeat Form Four, work extra hard, pass the exams and start her journey towards becoming a medic.
But Covid-19 threw her plans into disarray. Her mother, Hellen Jelagat, said the pandemic tested her 19-year-old daughter’s resilience and she almost gave up.
“I remember having an emotional conversation with her, telling her that maybe it was a sign that it was not to be. I was willing to help her find another course with her grades but she is so passionate about nursing,” Jelagat said.
The vegetable vendor said that without access to books or e-learning facilities, Chebet’s hopes have been kept up by reports that schools might re-open.
“I tried talking to some teachers to give her private tuitions or books to study but they were charging too much. So we left everything to fate,” the mother said.
Salome Wanyonyi, a teacher at Kibabii Boys School, said that it is easy for adult learners to give up, especially female students who get immersed in their motherhood duties, but she encourages them not to let go of their dreams.
“The wait is worth it. A one-year wait might seem long but if it is something you want, you should pursue it,” Wanyonyi said.
She encouraged adult learners to continue studying at home and focus on the subjects they were struggling with.