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Lessons for learning institutions from successful Coast secondary school

By Suleiman Shahbal | September 13th 2021

Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed High School. [Courtesy]

During the weekend, I was the guest of honour at Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed High School in Mombasa. The school has achieved the spectacular goal of achieving a 100 per cent transition from high school to university.

Most schools in Kenya barely achieve a 40 per cent transition rate. It has always been my dream to see as many students in Mombasa make it to university, so I started to study how this school achieved such success and whether it could be replicated in other schools.

The school starts with a huge competitive advantage; they only accept students with very high grades. But this is not the only reason for their success.

Raising a child is a collective effort. Improving a school to iconic status is a similar effort. Sheikh Khalifa is run by highly committed board of trustees, management board and a Parent Teachers Association (PTA).

The board of trustees, retired politicians, travelled to Abu Dhabi and solicited funds to set up the school. Though ageing and frail, they attend every important event of the school and keep a hawk’s eye on the progress.

The management board is comprised of senior and respected professionals from the community who give their time pro bono to run the school. Finally, the PTA is deeply engaged in the management of the school. Without these three partners, no school can ever prosper. That is the starting point.

A child’s education is a process which requires a partnership of three parties: Parent, teacher and child. If this partnership fails, then the task of educating the child becomes very difficult. Your child needs to know that you are keeping tabs on his or her progress and that you care.

The teacher needs to know that his or her work is appreciated. Teaching is a rewarding task but even the teachers need to know that their work is appreciated. Even teachers need an occasional boost to their morale.

The biggest challenge we have is to show tangible support for teachers. People expect teachers to work on a higher moral platform, after all, “teaching is a calling”. Yes, it is a calling, but teachers have bills to pay and kids to educate as well and they also aspire for a better standard of living than what their salaries can afford.

I empathise with teachers as both my parents were teachers. When my parents could not buy me new school shoes, I knew why.

Unfortunately, Nancy Macharia at the Teacher Service Commission does not have more money to pay her teachers, so society needs to step in. Perhaps the county governments should find ways of supporting teachers by allocating to them bursaries, cheaper houses and free medical care in all county hospitals.

County governments should even make the extra effort to give spouses of teachers first right to any new jobs that come up. If we cannot increase their salaries, then we should try to find ways of reducing their cost of living and creating new revenue streams for them. A committed teacher is a better teacher.

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