Schools for Children of the World in Africa

Prior to our first visit in Africa in Dec. 2005, Schools for the Children of the World (SCW) had worked primarily in Honduras. Having worked with the Honduran ministry of education and military to evaluate all 16,000 schools in the country, we had a pretty good idea of the condition of educational facilities and the Honduran government’s objectives for education. As we worked in Nicaragua and Belize, we found that conditions there were very similar to Honduras.

At first glance, conditions in East Africa looked much better. During our first visit, we were told by President Karume in Zanzibar that more than 95 percent of the children go to school. We learned that education was one of his top priorities, and that Zanzibar led the way of surrounding African countries by making both primary and secondary education free for all children. As we talked with Ministry of Education representatives in Tanzania, we were told that the biggest challenge was training enough teachers and building enough classrooms for all of the children. To build classrooms, the Tanzanian government had offered to form a partnership with communities. If a community built the shell of a classroom, the government would complete the remainder of the work, including roof framing, etc. In addition to more classrooms, Tanzanian officials estimated a need for 15,000 more teachers during the next 10 years and were in need of assistance to build teacher-training facilities.

In Kenya, located just to the north of Tanzania, we were told that the country had plenty of teachers, but lacked the funding to pay the teachers. There is no fee for tuition for public primary education, but there is a fee for secondary education. Again, the government believes that a very high percentage of children go to school at least through the first through seventh primary school grades.

Since that first visit, we have learned much more about the true condition of education in East Africa — particularly in rural areas. Working with Kenyan member of Parliament, The Hon. Kiema Kilonzo, SCW members Alejandra Madrid and I traveled to Kitui, Kenya in Sept. 2006, and trained 10 college graduates from Nairobi to assess 140 public primary schools in a portion of the Eastern Province of Kenya. The data that was collected by the evaluators was entered into a Web-based data entry form developed by SCW. The data that was collected told a much different story.

Of the 140 schools evaluated, only one school had electricity. Only 11 percent of the schools had a source of potable water. Interestingly, the standard classroom size built by the government in Africa was about the same as in Central America, about six meters by eight meters (18 ft. by nearly 25 ft.), although we found that communities had built classrooms on their own that were substantially smaller. The most striking statistic was that the evaluators concluded that 88.7 percent of the available existing classroom space needed to be replaced. In addition, based on minimum educational facility standards established by SCW in Honduras, an additional 108.5 percent of the existing total classroom space is needed to address the current school enrollment.

The good news was that we saw several schools where parents of the students were actively building classrooms on their own without government support. The classrooms they were building were too small, but they were so committed to improving the opportunities for their children that they were hand making bricks and building classrooms.

From what I have seen so far, I am as committed as ever to provide whatever help we can give them. Please join us.

Chuck Newman, AIA, REFP is the president of newmanArchitecture and an active member of the Council of Educational Facility Planners  Interntional (CEFPI). Chuck can be reached at [email protected]