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How Chinese Engagement is Helping Kenya to Overcome Educational Challenges

Updated: Dec 20, 2021

Kenya is one of the sub-Saharan countries with the most rapid economic development. The current education situation in Kenya, however, is not optimistic. Firstly, there are not adequate resources for standard education in Kenya such as teachers and teaching equipment.

Secondly, with the unemployment at a rate of 48% and being of primary concern, traditional education is no longer seen as attractive by those entering the labor force. Thirdly, some local customs such as circumcision hinder the female education development.

In recent years, large numbers of Chinese have migrated to Kenya to work and live here. According to incomplete statistics from the Chinese community, the Chinese population in Kenya grew from 3000~10,000 in 2007 to 40,000~60,000 in 2018. These Chinese people work in different areas, like infrastructure construction, service industry, industrial engineering. Besides doing business, companies also have an impact on the local education.

Most Chinese companies influence local education through vocational education programs. Compared to standard education, skill training is more applicable for jobs for local Kenyans, since lots of people cannot afford higher education. There are a few different types of Chinese businesses operating in Kenya: state-owned enterprises, large multi-national companies, and small local companies. While larger firms, such as state-owned enterprises or multi-national companies, may have the resources to provide both skill training internally within the company and external skill training, smaller companies tend only to have the capacity to provide internal skill training.

China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) is a state-owned enterprise. It is known for its construction of the Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), which reduced the cost of physical distribution by forty percent, and created 30,000 jobs for locals. CCCC provided internal skill training to its employees who had no experience before and made them all qualified for the work.

Frederick was a pedlar, but when he saw the recruitment information from CCCC, he signed up. CCCC then admitted him and trained him as a technology expert. After the construction, because of his new skill, he has then led a team with local people to assist with the construction of a train station. The internal skill training eventually leads to external benefit, which further helps local people’s re-employment.

As the largest telecommunications equipment provider in the world, Huawei, a multinational corporation, operates a mega Corporation-Social-Responsibility project called “Seeds for the Future (SFF)” since 2008. This project was found for teaching youth worldwide the knowledge of technology. Huawei is now setting ICT classes, a portion of SFF, in five universities in Kenya. As Su Shuqi, the staff of Huawei’s Training Department, said: “We are intended to deliver professional technology training for college students, in order to reserve talents for the nation.” This type of training clearly has external benefits, improving the skills of individuals outside of Huawei.

The author visiting a Huawei Training Center in Kenya

Except for substantial private companies like Huawei, a lot of Chinese operate small businesses such as restaurants, and also offer internal skill training to provide job opportunities for people who find it difficult to find jobs. In a Chinese Taiwan Restaurant, proprietor Wang Lai trains his employees to be efficient. Here, customs can see a phenomenon that they cannot see in other restaurants — waiter running around to satisfy customs by delivering dishes as fast as they can. Although Mr. Wang admitted the salary he pays, KSH 9000, is not high in the region of Nairobi, he believes that his employees can learn valuable knowledge which is more important than salaries.

In addition to vocational training provided by Chinese businesses, Chinese NGOs are also benefitting local education by engaging in a wider variety of activities and are closer to the need of local communities. Because of the rise of public consciousness, and the promotion of globalism, more and more younger generations of Chinese go abroad with enthusiasm, and establish NGOs and social enterprises to solve specific problems that exist and increase access to and quality of education.

The anti-Circumcision Rescuing Centre is a project funded by a Chinese social enterprise, China House. According to the program director — Ai Ziqi, in tribes of Kenya, such as the Massai, girls need to take circumcision before they get married, and usually, the marriage age of local girls is between 8~14. They cannot receive education after their marriage, because they have to serve both the husband and the children. “If they cannot receive education, then how can they know the defects of this custom such as high death risk.” said Ziqi. “In addition, lots of girls want to receive education; they want to leave their village to see a bigger world, we just want to give them a chance.” This center receives girls who escape from circumcision and provide free primary education for them. The first five girls have already checked in.

In addition to China House, Dream Building Service Association (DBSA), a Chinese NGO created by Yin Binbin, helped school construction in the Mathare ghetto of Nairobi. In the second biggest slum in Kenya – Mathare, DBSA helped to build six schools. Changrong Light Center was a school that can hold 70 students. In 2014, DBSA began to aid this school. Now, this school can contain 370 kids, from kindergarten to Grade Eight. After primary education, some of the kids will get fund from the Chinese volunteers, and continue their secondary education. “Some Chinese volunteers worry about their safety here.” David was laughing, “But they do not need to, the local people know the Chinese are helping their education, they will not hurt them.”

In March of 2017, DBSA began the Free Lunch Program. Children in six schools, which aided by DBSA in Mathare, are able to enjoy free breakfast and lunch. “The food is nutritious and adequate, which is good for children’s brain development.” said David. DBSA has helped to increase access to education by extend school size, and provide free food.

Besides physical aid, NGOs like Kenya Compassion provide soft-skill aid by mainly focusing on educating teachers, one of their projects is to deliver affordable professional training to teachers. The founder Huang Zhaoyi and Yuan Xiaoyi came to Kenya as international volunteers. They established this organization to make it easier for teachers in informal schools to be able to get teaching licenses.

The Changrong Light Centre, a Chinese-funded primary school situated deep inside Nairobi’s Mathare slums

Zhaoyi and Xiaoyi discovered about 50% of schools in Kenya are informal schools, teachers of which do not hold licenses. Zhaoyi then found most of the teachers cannot afford the teacher training. This is because there are not enough teachers in the training course. For example, usually one training class can hold 30 teachers, but only five teachers signed up, so their tuition becomes much more expensive. To enlarge the class size, Zhaoyi then cooperates with Community School Association of Kenya (CSAK), which advertise their programs, to reach their objective which reduces the fee for every teacher.

Kenya Compassion began their five-day-experimental-class in August of 2016, 200 teachers participated, according to the self-media of Kenya Compassion, all teachers only need to pay KSH 200, instead of KSH 1200. In December of 2016, Kenya Compassion arranged the first official teacher training course, five months in total, and each teacher finally got a fee reduction of 86%, more teachers who work in slums can finally afford the training. The first batch of teachers is already graduated and waiting for the exam results now. “The program,” said by Principle Bluma, “can allow 90% of teachers pass the teacher examination.” Kenya Compassion is an institution only organized by two people; their achievements encourage more Chinese youth to do things bravely.

Besides these establishing these organizations, many Chinese youths choose to become individual volunteers to serve in some poorly-equipped schools. Six years ago, former primary school teacher Nancy established a specialized school called Rare Gem Talent School, which intended to give support to children who have dyslexia. “Students do not pay a lot, and since we do not have support from the government or anyone, we are on our own,” said Nancy.

In 2012, two Chinese volunteers came to this school. “One of them built a water tower for us!” Nancy was excited. She said the volunteer, named Rao tried to donate a washing machine, but soon he found the school does not have a sustainable water supply. Then Rao used crowdfunding and began to buy water tanks and pipes. “It does take much effort, but Rao finally did it!” Nancy said proudly. Rao’s accomplishments are not as tremendous as NGOs, but he tried his best to improve the facilities of Nancy’s school, which provides safe water resources to students.

The author and another China House fellow visiting the Rare Gem Talent School

Apart from non-government organizations, the Chinese government, though in the interest of its own soft power, benefits local education by funding local Mandarin language programs. The Confucius Institute is a famous Chinese language and culture learning center, which belongs to the Chinese government. There are four Confucius Institutes that cooperate with universities in Nairobi. Besides colleges, some private schools have Confucius Class, and Rusinga School is one of them. About 60 students are learning Mandarin in Rusinga School, and eighty percent of them want to attend tertiary education in China.

For arranging a qualified Chinese learning class, the teacher Mr.Michael received a two-year free skill training in China, and the Chinese government covers all fees. Besides, the decoration of the classroom and all of the textbooks are all provided free. “Because of China’s influence in this country, more and more children want to learn Chinese.” according to the head-teacher Mrs. Echessa, “And because Michael used to study in China, he now works with the education department in Kenya, and is working on introducing Chinese as a part of the curriculum for public schools.” Confucius Institute provides funds to support the classes and trains teachers to provide quality education for students.

China House Fellows visiting the Rusinga school Confucius classroom

Chinese companies, NGOs, individuals, and government are all helping Kenya’s education in various ways and made significantly effect. While corporations are providing vocational training and employment opportunities, the other agents are working more directly with enhancing access to and quality of traditional education in Kenya. The Chinese Government is even going so far as to change the nature of education in Kenya, by supporting the effort to incorporate elements of Mandarin language and culture into local curricula. In the future, more Chinese companies will enter Kenya, more Chinese social organizations will pay more attention to Kenya, and the Chinese will assist to make the Kenyan education system better.


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