Teen escapes early marriage, embraces coding in school and pursues conservation
The scorched earth under the Isiolo sun crackles every time 14-year-old Christina Kinyagah walks while heading to school. It’s a sound she has become accustomed to hearing every morning.
As the ground partially breaks due to the drought that has ravaged across parts of Isiolo county leaving it yearning for replenishment, Kinyagah is also breaking barriers of what it means for girls in this pastoralist community to realise their dreams by seeking education.
Ntalabany Primary School is almost insulated from the outside world, nestled deep in the Isiolo rangeland and situated at the centre of iconic hills that characterise this landscape. At the heart of the institution of learning, are close to 500 learners who have defied traditional norms and decided to quench their thirst for knowledge.
Kinyagah, is at the centre of this tale of resilience knowing all too well that her destiny at one point in time could have taken an awful turn. “I come from a family of 12 children and some time ago my dream to pursue education and change my life for the better was almost destroyed because my father wanted to marry me off,” she said.
The 14-year-old says that her father had identified a suitor for her stating that her future had already been sealed. Cases of early marriages in her community are common practice, this time round, however, she sought to break the cycle saying that she did not want to be betrothed to an older man.
After much struggle, it was her elder brother that stepped in and stood up to her father saying that his sister should be in school with her peers.
“My brother defended me and called out my father. He told him that I was a bright girl and that education was my right. After that I have never looked back and my future is now in my hands. I want to be in school,” said Kinyagah.
Inside her classroom, she quietly sits in the front row and as the day’s first lesson commences, I realise an unmissable smile on her face as the teacher proceeds to dig deep in a special back pack, before distributing learning tablets to the students.
The 14-year-old who is one of the brightest learners in her class, is then asked to switch on a big monitor mounted in front of the class wall. The day’s subject is coding. Coding is the use of computer programming language to give computers and machines a set of instructions on what action to perform.
Under the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC), coding was introduced as a learning area after being approved by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) in both Primary and Secondary school.
The curriculum according to the Ministry of Education seeks to equip learners with 21st century skills in ICT that will further enable them to become innovative while developing a dynamic and robust ICT sector in the country.
Kenya is the first in Africa to implement the curriculum.
“Ever since we started learning coding, you can clearly tell that all learners are very excited. Learning has become more fun and interactive, now more than ever you can see the classroom is always full with children and this was not there in the past,” Kinyagah observed.
The digital literacy programme was introduced to the school by the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy who donated several smart boards and thousands of tablets to complement learning in the school.
According to the Education Programmes Manager at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy Purity Kinoti, 8,000 learners across 23 schools in Laikipia, Isiolo, Samburu and Meru counties have benefited from the project, which was initiated in 2015. “We have a lot of videos in the smart boards and part of those videos have to do with conservation challenges and real environmental issues that different communities are facing worldwide, they are really impactful because learners are embracing environmental solutions and actually implementing them,” said Kinoti.
With the current environmental challenges among them worst drought that continues to affect this region, learners have also been challenged to envision a future where sustainable livelihoods will thrive with pastoralism solo anger being sustainable. “In the distant past learning used to happen under trees now learners are inside a structure and with the introduction of technology we have been able to engage leaners consistently and see the change first hand,” said Martin Kiremi, Head teacher Ntalabany Primary School.
As the day’s lesson draws to a close, Kinyagah says that she hopes to transform her community by championing for smart agriculture and wildlife conservation. she says “All my life I grew up around wildlife like elephants and I saw how rangers from my community protected them. When I grow up I want to be a ranger and educate my people further on how the wildlife will benefit us and future generations.”
As she one day hopes to join university, Kinyagah says that she will leverage her skills in coding and ICT to develop an application that will protect and monitor wildlife in her community.