But the most exciting news about Tirrim – news that has had the whole of Northern Kenya buzzing for three months now – is how that first class of standard 8’s performed on their KCPE exams.
Some quick background info for you … Kenyans are pretty much obsessed with standardized testing (I know, I know, it makes me CRY). Kids are given exams from the time they enter baby class (three years old – THREE!!!) all the way through university. From standard 1 to standard 8, they are tested, tested, and retested to see how much of the syllabus they actually know. When they get to the end of primary school (standard 8) they sit the big government exams known as the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams that cover everything they have learned not from the beginning of the year, but everything they’ve learned from class 1 all the way to class 8.
These exams bring incredible pressure for these poor kiddies, as the marks they get will determine what kind of school they get into for secondary. Only those with top, top marks get into the cream-of-the-crop national schools. Very, very few students achieve scores high enough for these prestigious schools. Below the national schools are provincial schools, which are also quite prestigious and difficult to get into. The vast majority of students go to district schools or another rank lower than that (I forget what they’re called). Got that? National, provincial, district, and “other.”
So, back to last year’s standard 8 class at Tirrim. Of the twelve students in that class, nine of them got scores high enough to get into provincial schools, which is almost unheard of for students in the north. But the even bigger news was that the remaining three got into national schools. Every single student got a place at some of the best schools in Kenya because of their high marks. Tirrim’s scores were the highest in not only our district, but the neighbouring district, too. Scores like this are nearly unheard of in the North, and especially impressive was the fact that two of the three students who got national scores were girls, who normally score far below the boys on their exams.
One of my favourite stories of one of the class 8’s now studying at a national school in Nairobi is of Chimberreya (which means “little bird”). I’ve never met her, but have heard that she’s this tiny little thing (for whom they couldn’t find a school uniform small enough to fit her, so she’s wearing one that’s too big and rolling up the cuffs and the skirt drags on the ground!) who scored the top mark in the class. Before she began primary school, she lived in a goob that was far out of town. Because of this, she went into the boarding... the only thing was, she had never even been to Korr town before, and had never even seen a building with walls and doors, and was petrified to even go inside. Now, eight years later, she’s living in Nairobi - Nairobi! and going to the most prestigious secondary school in the country! Her parents really have no idea how big a deal this is – what do they know of schools and exams and rankings? They don’t even know what Nairobi is, other that it’s some place far away. All they know is that everyone is very happy with their daughter and that she’s living in some far-off land and will one day help provide an income for her family.
Ah, but how do these people who are just barely scraping out an existence – and very often far less than that – afford to send their kids to Nairobi and all over Kenya to go to school? Yes, secondary education is now free (as of this year), but still they must pay for uniforms, books, boarding fees – they even have to bring their own mattresses to school – let alone transportation to the school. It’s not like you can just hop a bus from the North – transportation around here is difficult and expensive.
However, thanks to a lot of hard work from a few people in Nairobi who have stayed in Korr, all three of the kids in national schools have been fully funded. Chimberreya has a sponsor in Nairobi who will sponsor her for the full amount – fees, room and board, everything – for the full four years of secondary. Muslimo went with a sponsor for the first term, and once she got there, the sponsor has extended it for the full year, with the possibility of it going further. Ajeysho didn’t have an official sponsor by the beginning of school, but was told by someone in Nairobi, “I don’t know where the money will come from, but I will act in faith that God will provide it. I can not let this opportunity pass this boy by. Bring him, and we’ll see what God will do.” What God did was find a sponsor for Ajeysho, too, for the full four years of secondary!
An education is something we take for granted so much in the Western world, but for these kids… man, it is SUCH an opportunity. It gives them so much hope for their future – maybe with secondary, they’ll be able to get jobs, they’ll be able to support their family, they’ll be able to pull themselves out of poverty.
It’s amazing – everybody wants to come and see Tirrim – to find out why the students did so well… what are we doing? How can other schools learn from the school? There have been teacher conferences (more on that one later!), celebrations, meetings on how to maintain this high standard, visits from rarely seen government education people, and even an invitation to host the annual (semi annual?) ball tournament at Tirrim so the schools in the district can come and see the school. And through it all, this little bush school in the middle of the desert can say – and has been! – that the first and foremost reason that the class eights performed so well was because we are encouraging them to put God first in all they do, and we strive to do the same.
It is so exciting to see the kerfuffle these students have made throughout Kenya, and even more to see the effect it has on the kids – they have hope, they are motivated to do well, they see what is possible when they work hard and remember to put God first!