A Kenyan school is putting Africa at its centre to preserve cultural heritage and pass traditions down to future generations.
Those behind Freedom School in Nakuru say some western education and cultural concepts have pushed African traditions to the back of the textbook
Children at the school in western Kenya follow an “Afrocentrism” based curriculum that is teaching children to embrace their own culture.
The school was founded in January 2018 and now has over 300 students, aged between 5 and 14 years old.
In the school, students are taught their respective mother tongues and an alternative local dialect. For instance, a child from the Kikuyu tribe will be taught, Luo.
They are also taught their history, where they’re from, who they are and from which clans they originate.
Co-founder Oku Kanayo says they realised most children were just going to school to learn, not to gain an identity. He says most students here have started performing better academically.
“We decided to start teaching these children an identity clause which is called the Afrocentric curriculum, which is the freedom curriculum. And when we started doing that, we saw a serious transformation.”
Afrocentrism means the education provided is African-centered, children are taught to embrace who they are and where they’re from.
Utheri Kanayo, principal and co-founder of the institution, says other cultures have been cancelling out African culture in the classroom.
“We are opening it up again because a lot of cultures have come and overridden our own cultures,” she says.
“So, to be Afrocentric means to purposively and consciously go back to the African culture and agenda.”
The school is unique in that it allows students to use their traditional names while dressing in traditional African attire.
This isn’t common in most African countries, where the majority embrace common school uniforms worn in the west.
The children are allowed to dress according to which tribe they come from.
The children are also taught in their respective mother tongues and taught to embrace their traditions, while still learning the traditional Kenyan curriculum.
“The reason we edify our mother tongue, our African colours and prints, African attire is because this is who we are. Our culture carries our heart, our soul, our mind, our essence,” says Principal Utheri Kanayo.
Thirteen-year-old Otieno Toby is a student at the school.
He says he’s happy about the school’s direction. It’s changing the mindset of young people like him to embrace where they’re from.
He says at a previous school, fellow students made fun of African names and children did not embrace them.
“In my other school, it was very hard for someone to be called by their African name because people thought that the African names are not valuable.”
“They really admired the European culture and failed to admire our own culture.”
Fourteen-year-old Zara Muthoni is also a student at the school. She says the school helped her embrace her Africanism, giving her the opportunity to showcase her culture to the world.
“This school has helped shape my Africanism by making me embrace my African name, making me love my African name, making me wear my African attire, basically letting us embrace to the world our culture,” she says.
Parent Clare Nyaboke has two children attending the school, aged 6 and 9 years old.
She argues most parents nowadays are too busy with their work schedules and tend to forget to teach children about their culture.
“With westernisation, African culture is being eroded and with the modern parents, being busy with so many things with education and with work, we tended to forget to teach our children about their culture,” says Nyaboke.
“And we are so excited that Children in Freedom have taken it up to teach our children about our culture, in terms of dressing, and even cultural foods and speaking the vernacular language.”
Teaching for the African context
UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has been advocating for multilingual education at all educational levels.
Regional director Hubert Gijzen says many African curricula still include concepts that are not relevant to the African context today.
“Whether it is science and scientific concepts that do not relate to the African reality and the real world here in Africa,” he says.
“So, it is important that we revisit the curricula approaches, that we teach about the issues and the challenges, but also the opportunities in relation to the African context.”
It’s the hope of teachers here that the children’s link to African culture will remain long after the school bell rings.