Assessment for Life Skills and Values in East Africa (ALiVE) national assessment felt like a theatre with varying scenes and different characters all happening in very quick succession. Even without the bird’s eye view, working with one county was enough to give one a snapshot. The scene opened with my arrival at the magnificent gate to Shanzu Teachers College. Two students engaged the security officer at his booth.
“No, you will have to do without the mosquito nets tonight. It is late. You cannot go out,” the security man responded.
It reminded me of the college rules at my teacher training college many years ago. Ensuring my body language concealed my shock, I introduced myself, and soon, an officer was summoned to guide me to the dormitory.
“Researchers can survive anywhere,” I encouraged myself as I slid into bed without a mosquito net and other essentials.
At the training, the main character was very warm and reassuring.
“All logistics are in place,” the coordinator announced.
Enter the trainer and the assessment guide, who took us through a day filled with assessment procedures, scoring framework and micro-training sessions to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data-gathering and data entry procedures. The trainee teachers were upbeat with rising enthusiasm and an amazing attitude to learn. I was brimming with hope.
Meantime, two assessors had not turned up, prompting the coordinator to swing into action to contact the stand-ins. Unfortunately, the payment schedule did not reflect the details of these changes. Thus, the down payment was sent to one of the assessors who failed to show up. While everybody’s Mpesa was celebrating the new arrival, one assessor was anxious about her facilitation. A call to the recipient went unanswered, and soon, the phone was out of reach. I took comfort in the belief that working through the institution strengthens accountability, hence the funds would be recovered. So, off to the next scene.
Armed with an assessment framework and ardent motivation to do this for the first time, the young researchers headed for the field to conduct the pilot. Walking us around the college, the village elder introduced each pair of researchers to a household and left them behind to conduct the assessment. No sooner had he left one home than the previous assessors popped up to inform him that the target age group was missing in the last house.
“Kwani mnataka nini? Haja yenu si watoto?”
He insisted the available children could offer an opportunity for our pilot. With our host having remained behind, it was clear the confusion would be difficult to correct. We combed the staff quarters but only found six teenagers to assess.
“Teacher, is this how difficult it is going to be?” One student asked. Frustration was setting in.
“Kindly take us to the village outside the gate,” I requested. “Hapana, wakubwa wenu wamesema mnafanyia hapa kwa college.”
It was clear that the ground preparation was far from done.
These experiences taught me a few lessons: selecting a county partner entails more than identifying the Organisation. The Organisation backing the coordinator would add value in achieving the target outputs. Without assistance, the coordinator was overwhelmed, often working hard with few results.
The presence of Zizi Afrique Foundation (ZAF) on site was critical for assuring quality by back stopping the training and offering technical support on the field. With the ongoing national campaigns, ZAF networks served to assure us of their support. This article recognises the County Commissioner’s office, which provided security for the team during the 2-day fieldwork when political parties were conducting their primaries.
The village elders, whose role has an immense bearing on the outcome of the assessment, were a mandatory spice on the menu. Being the gatekeepers, their interests need the utmost care, or the assessment would crumble in their hands. The terms of their contracts should not only be clear to them but also to the assessors. The majority of the assessors felt trapped when some elders threatened to abandon the exercise due to the ambiguity around its facilitation.
And how should the pair of trainees respond to the village elders? Given the wide age and power gap between the assessors and elders, the latter often feel they know better. ALIVE should consider drawing up some guidelines for this critical trio, indicating what they can and cannot do.
Agatha Kimani is a consultant at Zizi Afrique Foundation, For feedback, send an email to email@example.com