Each Session, learn a new word by James Mburu

On this  Thursday afternoon, the sun was fierce and relentless. There was no wind to sooth the sun’s attack. Perspiration beaded my forehead and made streams down my face and back. I was bathed in sweat. I checked my phone again, ‘Tana Delta – 350 celcius’ and sighed. It was  hotter than that. I sipped on my bottled water again and instead of offering the most needed cooling effect, it was already warm. My two colleagues in Tana Delta, Faraj and Valentine were already acclimatized. 

“We can now move to the camp,” said Mr. Mwazomba the headteacher at Golbanti Primary school. We stood up, picked our bags and followed him. He led us to a classroom where the learners had gathered for the Accelerated Learning Program camp session. A camp is a remedial 2-hour learning session, which lasts for 10 days. The learners stood up to greet us and after a few exchanges, took their seats on the potholed floor. We joined the learners on the empty spaces that had been intentionally left out for us in form of a u-shape.

“Today we are privileged. We have visitors who will be with us during the session,” said madam Mary. She was the teacher assistant in charge of the learners in the camp. Immediately a hand shot up in the air. Madam Mary smiled and nodded her head motioning the learner to speak up.

“Excuse me, teacher, what is the meaning of the word pre vi… previous…” the learner struggled as the rest of the class giggled.

Madam Mary raised her hand and automatically there was silence in the class. “The word is privileged. Now say it with me pri – vi –le – ged.” The learners chorus the word with her. After a few attempts, the whole class was able to pronounce the word. “Privilege means tumejaliwa in Kiswahili.”

“Before we start our session today, who can remind us of the words that we learnt yesterday?” Several hands were up in the air followed by chants of ‘Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!’ I was  overly impressed that the learners were able to remember the session rules of raising their hands when they wanted to speak, being audible and speaking in  complete sentences.

“Now, let us look at the words we are going to learn today.” Madam Mary picked some colorful cards from her desk and presented them to the learners. “The first word is receptionist.” Madam Mary walked around the class ensuring all learners could see the card. “Who knows the meaning of the word receptionist?” The learners stared back at her blankly with the room being engulfed by pin drop silence.  “A receptionist is just like a secretary-a person who attends to visitors in an office.” Madam Mary displayed several words like appointment, doctor and clinic from the stack. As a custom, the teacher read the word aloud and gave the meaning as well as an example of the word in a sentence.. Part one of the session ended with Madam Mary leading an energizer activity.

Next, was the story reading session. The learners were very excited as shown by the wide smiles on their faces as they received Grade 3 English textbook from Madam Mary.  The story was a dialogue between a patient and a receptionist, booking an appointment with a doctor. Madam Mary started by reading the story out loud as we all listened attentively. The whole class then read the story and later she selected a few learners who read in a pair. I found myself nodding my head at the same time smiling, as I read along with the learners. The way they read indicated a sign of progress compared to the last visit, for learners who could barely read a word  just a few weeks prior. You could hear a few still struggling, however, a good number of them could follow the teacher’s reading pace.

The learners were then asked to be in their respective groups. It was time for level-based activities. I was inspired by Madam Mary’s pedagogical prowess notable in the seamless transitions across activities. The session had three groups; word, paragraph and story (reading club). I observed that the reading club had more learners than those indicated on the register meaning some had self-enrolled in the camp. “Excuse me teacher,” called out a chubby boy who was seated at the corner of the classroom, “What is the meaning of this word?” he asked as he pointed at the word ‘mourned’. My colleague, Faraj, swiftly responded, “This is mourned. The word means kuomboleza in Kiswahili. Now, do you know the meaning?” The boy smiled and quickly nodded.

A few minutes to the top of the hour, madam Mary ended the session and the four groups promptly dissolved forming  a circle. “Why do you attend these learning camps?” Faraj asked. One of the taller girls in the circle, raised her hand. “I attend the sessions because I want to learn new words which I never knew before. I never knew ‘appointment’ before. Thank you for teaching us.” Her fellow learners clapped. As we left Golbanti primary school, I was happy that the Zizi Afrique’s Accelerated Learning Program had given the learners who had been left behind, a chance to develop foundational literacy and numeracy skills. The program, which is funded by Safaricom Foundation, is currently being implemented in Turkana, Tana River and Bungoma counties. Data from the program shows that within 30 days, half of the learners gain the required proficiencies.



James Mburu is a Program Assistant at Zizi Afrique Foundation. For feedback, send email to info@ziziafrique.org

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