Schools Reflecting Society and Their Times: Experience in Kenya

A classroom with walls made of clay, three students to a small wooden desk that gives them splinters, and one teacher for 60 students. Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 6.34.45 PM

A classroom surrounded by brick walls and bright windows, a student with their own desk and chair, and a teacher for 25 students.

Which classroom would you prefer to teach in? Which classroom have you taught in? These classrooms are both a reality for teachers, but these teachers live in different cities… countries… continents…

I have experienced both classrooms. As those who know me are aware, I have visited schools in a variety of countries including: Kenya, China, Ecuador, India and of course,  Canada. Each of these countries has their own unique school system, with their own classroom structure and their own goals. Some understand the importance of education, others are still learning.

  Schools are a reflection of their society and their times. Each school system, each country, teaches what they believe to be important. For some countries this may look similar, for others it may look vastly different.



An all-girl high school in Kenya teaches girls biology, English, math, and other subjects which we would consider “normal” in our Ontario curriculum.



DCIM101GOPROGOPR3827.But the school also teaches proper farming and irrigation techniques which girls then pass on and teach their parents. The school also segregates time for students to learn about their traditional Kipsigi or Maasai culture from their mothers each week. Two “subjects” which are not traditional in our Ontario Education system

What we educate our students about correlates with what we value in our current society and our current community.

As a community grows, their schools grow with it. In Ontario, this may look a school with an increasing population, receiving more monetary funds to improve their school with the newest technologies. Or, a school whose extra-curricular activities are focused more on community issues and interests at hand. While it may be more challenging to see a well-developed school change on a continuum, it is much easier to look at schools around the world, which reflect our own history.

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 6.59.43 PMI bring a personal experience here to reflect the changes of a school in a local Kenya community. The community of Irkaat is a community I visited which is partnered with a charitable organization called We. The school has been partnered with the organization since 2013.

As the organization has worked with the community to improve infrastructure and general education (not just traditional schooling), there have been vast changes within theirDCIM101GOPROGOPR3956. primary school. School was not a priority for most families. Nor, were the community built, clay classrooms, appealing to those who wanted to go to school. As the community began to learn the importance of education and was educated about alternative income options their education system began to grow. In January of 2015 the school opened their FIRST grade 8 classroom, and for the first time in history they would have grade eight students write the national exam that is mandatory for high school placements.


In the past few years the community went from having a school of approximately 450 students that could only complete up to grade 7 to over 600 students that can now finish grade 8 in classrooms that have concrete walls and windows to help keep them focused. This is accompanied with a community that is making strides in getting more access to health care and clean water, Irkaat is only looking to grow stronger. So, as the community continues to grow their education system will to.

When talking about society and their times, I look at the bigger picture and see every community around the world as its own society. Some societies are very similar but others are very different. What surrounds the school is what will influence the school. There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration when you look at what a school reflects, and all of these factors are unique to the school’s community.




Project Based Learning – High Tech High

Project based learning (PBL), or performance assessment, is an authentic assessment and learning approach which allows students to actively explore real-world problems and challenges while acquiring a deeper knowledge. I believe PBL is a great assessment AS learning strategy which actively engages students in the learning process. When developing PBL, the Gailelo Educational Network provides and excellent rubric for such inquiry based projects.

High Tech High, provides excellent examples of PBL within classrooms, that use advanced technology and really focus on student centered classrooms. These schools really show the implementation of the New Story of Education in the Digital Age through not only the above characteristics, but they also involved inquiry based PBL, global connections and multiple literacies.

“This exhibit shows you what we love about ourselves. We are all unique and have different thoughts. In this exhibit, you will see photographs and writings. We want you to see that writing isn’t just a story, it is life. This project took a lot of hard work, and all photographs were taken by each of us. We learned to experiment, to try different vantage points. A picture is special, no matter how it turns out… Each picture, even if it’s not a picture of you, it still tells about you.”

One of the neat projects explored by a third grade classroom in Explorer Elementary involved integrating photography across curriculum’s with a project called “Through My Eyes“. There are several smaller activities within this one project which integrate multiple curriculum’s including: science, art, social studies, writing, and literacy. On the topic of literacy, 21st century literacies are embedded deep within this project.  When you read the caption to the left, for a group of previous third graders at Explorer Elementary, they talk about how they all have their own perspectives, both in how they think and in the photographs themselves. This is a great exemplar of media literacy, as the students recognize that each photograph portrays it’s own message based on the photographers personal constructs and stories.

Another great incorporation of literacies can be seen within the activity Picture Me, Picture You. Quoted exactly from the website: “This year-long cultural exchange promotes global understanding through photography and writing. Students from Explorer Elementary first learn about Africa, then share letters, poetry, and photography with children from the Tunahaki Foundation orphanage in Tanzania”.

Global and multicultural literacies are explicitly stated in the description as students aim to understand a different culture around the world, and how that culture creates knowledge and shares their perspective through their own photos. The photographs add a more creative and fun aspect to the idea of pen pals, so as students develop their writing skills they are also developing other skills associated with the literacies I have previously mentioned. This type of project could be developed to become more inquiry based through many ways (i.e. recognizing issues the Tanzanian children may face such as lack of access to clean water, or conduct an environmental experiment and compare the recycling or pollution in both countries, through photos and writing).

High Tech High provides a plethora of examples of different projects students have completed in a variety of grade levels, and is definitely a website I will continue to explore to find ideas for my own classroom. The inquiry based rubric from the Galileo Network, as mentioned before, is a great resource for teachers who are developing their own performance assessment for students, as it is clear and organized in a way that makes it easy to understand, even as a new teacher.

Check out other projects on High Tech High!

Quick Addition for RPAT:

As a future 21st century teacher I will be using High Tech High as a place to find new ideas for Project Based learning. There are so many different resources on the High Tech High website, I only chose a few to comment on above. But, while skimming through the other projects, there are clear connections to other literacies, as well as opportunities for integrating curriculum’s within one project. I believe using the website as well as the Inquiry based rubric from the Galileo Network, will allow my to strengthen my ability to create deep-learning and inquiry based tasks for my students.

Bringing a Futures Perspective into Education

I was doing a reading for one of my classes the other day. It was from the UNESCO website for teaching and learning for a sustainable future. While I was reading the required sections, it brought up a very good question: If it is true that all education is for the future than why is the future not an explicit element in all levels of education? We always talk about how one of the goals of the current education system is to have children grow up to be participating members in society. We are supposed to be ‘grooming them for the future’. I know this is a highly contestable ideal, and I personally do not agree with the idea of school as a factory system, producing future adults, but that is not what I want to focus on. I want to focus on the fact that children are the future, yet schools do not teach from a futuristic perspective, rather they teach about the past and how we can use that information in the present.

I have recently learned about David Selby’s 4 dimensions of Global Education as a transformative education (spatial, Issues, temporal and inner).Dimensions I think I may write a post about these later. The temporal dimension incorporates prioritizing the future within education. It is important for students to understand their alternative futures. There is the possible (all future scenarios), the probable (the most likely future) and the preferred (the future you would like based on your values). “The visions that we have of the future affect what we think is worth doing in the present. Fear of the future can be disempowering but it can also lead to engagement in social and political action to bring about a different sort of world” (from UNESCO Activity 5). If students are truly going to become globally literate and active global citizens, they much recognize that their choices and actions (as well as others) help shape the future. If students were to understand the importance of their actions, this could hopefully drive them to attempt to make a difference.

The reading I had to do was actually a 5 step activity created by UNESCO which I think would be useful for other teachers who wish to/are already incorporating global education into their classroom. The activity makes you look at your own preferred futures in relation to both the local and global, and then makes you reflect on how to incorporate these views into your classroom. Give it a try and let me know if it was useful!