- Blaring music from a boda boda splits the midday air, grabs attention and turns the necks of the vulnerable learners.
- A condemned block of seven classes, with more than 800 pupils, was brought down on orders of the county public health department.
- With a population of 1,012 pupils, Kakimanyi has 11 teachers only, including the headteacher and his deputy.
The midday sun rays in Webuye cut through the scattered shade of a flowering jacaranda tree and hit the pates and foreheads of some of the more than 70 pupils.
Braddy Wanyonyi, 14, a Standard Seven pupil at Kakimanyi Primary School in Sitikho Ward, Bungoma County, shelters his eyes from the bright star with his hand as he struggles to read from the blackboard three metres away.
His classmate, Stacy Masoni, 13, dodges the blinding light with tricks of closed and squint eyes as she battles to scribble on the shiny pages of her single-rule exercise book.
Quarter-way his science lesson, teacher Benson Wanjala places his textbook and chalk on a block of four bricks that now serve as his table and grabs the blackboard.
MOVE TO SHADE
“Class, let’s move to the cypress shade,” he says as he moves the board, his eyes keen on the direction of the sun.
“Boys, help move the desks and bricks (improvised seats).
Three minutes after resuming the lesson on cross-pollination, blaring music from a boda boda splits the midday air, grabs attention and turns the necks of the vulnerable learners.
With little success, Mr Wanjala struggles to regain full attention of the easily distracted class and rushes through the lesson.
At 12.40pm, the school’s master bell, an old lorry rim hang on a tree branch, is struck with a rock – signalling the start of the pupils’ trek home for lunch.
The exhausted, hungry learners start closing and packing their books.
“Eat fast and return for afternoon classes because as you can see it is about to rain,” Mr Wanjala tells the now murmuring teens.
“If you delay, we are likely to miss lessons like it happened yesterday.”
This has been the learning environment for close to 400 pupils of Kikimanyi — one of the biggest and oldest primary schools in Webuye West Constituency with more than 1,000 pupils — for close to two years now.
The 140 learners of Standard Seven, Standard Five (105) and Standard Three (120) have been learning under trees since October 2017 after a condemned block of seven classes, with more than 800 pupils, was brought down on orders of the county public health department.
“The block built in 1940s had big cracks and it was condemned in February 2014,” says Nelson Wechuli, the school’s headteacher.
“We delayed the demolition because we had candidates but in October 2016, they threatened to shut down the school. After another year of seeking a solution in vain, it was torn down”.
While the pupils of Standard One, Two, Four, Five, Six — some of which had two streams — were accommodated in single classrooms, their counterparts in classes Three, Five and Seven could not fit in their tiny rooms.
“We maintained their streams, which now take turns learning under trees,” says Wambulwa Stephen, the Standard Five class teacher.
“If stream A learns out in the sun this week, stream B will suffer next week.”
The plight of these pupils, once again, highlights the infrastructural crisis that has continued to rock many Kenyan public schools following the introduction free primary education 16 years ago.
In the ambitious programme introduced by President Mwai Kibaki’s administration in 2003, the cart was placed before the horse; the government opened gates to pupils without first improving infrastructure and expanding learning facilities to handle the big numbers.
According to sources at Jogoo House, the Education ministry headquarters in Nairobi, the situation is likely to get worse as the Jubilee administration turns focus to 100 percent transition, with new classes now being built in secondary schools.
At Kakimanyi, the open-air learners, like their counterparts in tiny and congested classrooms, lack desks and half now sit on bricks or on the bare ground (mainly girls) and write on their palms and knees.