On Friday, November 1, over 3,000 graduates celebrated their achievements at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology in Bondo, Siaya County.
Among them was a unique woman, an academician, Ms Onyango Daughty Akinyi, who started off as a P1 teacher in 2003 and graduated with a doctorate in Early Childhood Development and Education.
She stood out among the graduates because despite starting her career at a relatively low level, Ms Akinyi has been humble enough not to turn her back on the level of education that catapulted her to the major achievement she marked on that Friday.
The 40-year-old academician has worked hard over the years, “piercing the ceiling” to attain a diploma, a bachelor’s and master’s degrees and now PhD in the relatively novel field of ECDE, something not many would do especially if they land a good job in between the levels of education.
While many would expect someone who started at the lowest level to climb the social ladder and abandon her humble background, Ms Akinyi has never abandoned her primary school teaching obligations.
She was employed in 2003 by the Teachers Service Commission to teach at Anjech Primary School in Homa Bay County, where she was for a year before she was transferred to Atela Primary School in the same region.
In 2013, Ms Akinyi crossed to Kisumu County where she has been teaching at Sondu Union Primary School – to date.
She began her pre-primary education at Ndori BC Primary School where she was taught by career educationist Josephine Aduda. She later joined Nyakach Girls High School in 1993, then Asumbi Teachers’ Training College from 1999 to 2001. She then pursued a diploma between 2006 and 2007.
Having attained a credit, Ms Akinyi was offered a credit transfer at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, where she did her undergraduate course from 2010 to 2013.
LOVE FOR EDUCATION
She would immediately register for a master’s at the University of Nairobi between 2014 to 2015 and later pursued her PhD at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology.
Asked how she juggled all these, her response was: “My studies and teaching go along very well. I begin my studies after school and, studying from Sunday to Friday.”
Ms Akinyi, a widow with two daughters, one in college and the other in high school, says her persistence in studies has been promoted by her love for education and need to make good use of her free time. But how did she develop the passion for ECDE?
The desire to work with government agencies and other stakeholders in addressing issues affecting ECDE remains her main motivation to acquire and improve her knowledge, skills and attitude in ECDE, a discipline that remains novel at higher levels of education.
“I realised the weakness in social and cognitive skills in lower primary school children soon after joining the teaching career as a P1 teacher in 2003. It was clear to me that the problem was in how the children were brought up from infancy and the behaviours they observed either in school or at home,” she says.
Her passion for children has been a major drive, considering the circumstances under which many in this country live and learn.
She says this does not spare even financially stable families, some of which pamper their children to the extent that they grow up not fully prepared for future roles as adults.
To her, Competency-Based Curriculum, which is geared towards producing competent children in various areas will be key to correcting the many challenges faced by the young children.
It is the desire to bridge the gap that inspired the academician to register for and attain a diploma, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s and now PhD in ECDE.
Some people wonder why, despite her level of education, she chooses to teach at a primary school and not to seek a lecturer’s job in the local universities.
“People question a lot and my response is always based on the importance of a proper foundation and the well-being of children for holistic growth,” she says.
It is because of her passion to improve the foundation of learning that Ms Akinyi hopes that her PhD thesis, titled 'Parent-Child Attachment Types as a Determinant of Relational Aggression among Pre-Scholars’, will contribute towards resolving access, participation and learning outcome challenges faced especially by the African girl child in early childhood development and education.
In her thesis, she points out that the primary purpose of nursery schools is to prepare children for primary school and that understanding the factors that influence enrolment, participation and learning outcomes is essential.
Such understanding could help the government and all other interested parties to provide the needed resources, she adds.
To her, ECDE in Africa serves the critical purpose of preparing young African children for primary education, in line with the vision of the African Union’s Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2015 of moulding a new African citizen; one who would be an active change agent for the continent’s sustainable development.
Despite the benefits they portend for society, she observes that African governments are minimally involved in ECDE programmes.
She says that the challenges faced during her time in school and even now is neglect of learners.
“In the less established centres, the ECDE pupils are considered last or even taken to learn under trees,” she says.
Ms Akinyi believes that fiscal and policy commitment by county governments to ECDE in Kenya remains negligible, despite the fact that basic education is a devolved function.
Indeed, parents remain responsible for planning, developing and resourcing ECDE in Kenya and the rest of Africa.
“Problems such as funding, lack of curriculum relevance and consistency are common. Because ECDE programmes are essential, governments in Africa, at all levels, should play a more active role in the development and implementation process,” she says.
The scholar, however, admits that the long hours of study were not that easy for her.
“The journey has not been smooth and at times I felt I should never have started this, but I thank God for my family who have always encouraged me and supported me financially,” says Mrs Onyango.
She wants to engage the various stakeholders by ensuring the recommendations from her research reach them.