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.
“These children are suffering. Whenever it rains, that marks the end of lessons for them. I feel sorry for them but there is very little I can do,” says Wanjala who doubles as the Standard Seven class teacher.
“Their overall mean score has dropped from 220 to 174 marks and counting. For Math (which he also teaches) the average mark has dropped from 34 to 30.”
Out of a day’s eight lessons, the teacher says, they have been covering between four and six because of the wet weather now rocking Bungoma and other parts of western Kenya.
“We miss most of the classes in the afternoon,” he tells the Nation.
“But again, of the lessons covered, only about half of the time (20 minutes) is spent learning. The rest is wasted chasing the tree shade and fighting distractions.”
The worst nightmare for the young learners is during CATs and end-term exams.
“I suspect their mean score is declining because of the detractions they face during tests. The sound of vehicles and loud music from boda bodas affect their concentration,” says Naomy Wanyama who was teaching Kiswahili ufahamu when the Nation visited the school on Tuesday.
The school, located eight kilometres from Webuye town, now faces a learner-to-teacher-ratio crisis after the streams of the other classes were merged.
Standard One has 95 learners, Two (89), Three (120), Four (98), Five (105), Six (110), Seven (140) while Class Eight has 52.
And with a population of 1,012 pupils, Kakimanyi has 11 teachers only, including the headteacher and his deputy.
These figures are way beyond the 1: 40 learner-to-teacher ratio recommended by Unesco.
But what worries the headteacher and the school’s board of management most is the fact that after almost two years of suffering, there seems to be no end in sight.
“When the seven classes were demolished, we prepared reports with photographic evidence and submitted them to our MP Dan Wanyama’s CDF office. But we are yet to receive any form of assistance. No official has ever come to assess the situation here,” says Wechuli.
Wanyama’s office in Matisi, the seat of power in Webuye West Constituency, denied ever receiving Wechuli’s report and appeal for new classes.
The report was also submitted to the Bungoma County government, with the school appealing for assistance from the emergency fund.
Wechuli says his request was denied by the Governor Wycliffe Wangamati leadership who instead advised the BOM to organise a harambee, with the county boss as the chief guest.
On April 5, the school held the fundraiser and raised Sh480,000, which was used to erect three classrooms.
“The structure is nearing roofing but we ran out of funds. We are stuck and we don’t know what to do next. We already held a harambee and we don’t want to bother parents anymore.”
But even as the sun grows hotter for the children and their teachers, Education ministry officials in Matisi and Bungoma say they have not received Kakimanyi’s appeal for new classrooms.
REPORT NOT FOUND
When the Nation visited the Webuye West sub-County Director Adelaide Mbakali’s office in Matisi on Monday, a search for the report on the demolition was mounted.
Neither the demolition report nor a proposal for new classes was found in the school’s files.
“It was an oversight on our part but education officials come here. They know about this problem,” Wechuli said.
Mbakali advised Kakimanyi managers to file their report and request with the ministry and follow up to Jogoo House, Nairobi.