If you know me, you probably wonder why I would go hunting for British education yet I did 8-4-4 and turned out quite well, yes?
Thank you! So did you!
Now, the government is working on scrapping our 8-4-4 education system to put in place 2-6-6-3. The new system aims to have fewer subjects and more practical skills, and appreciate more than just books. The elements the new system is trying to bring into the new system are found in the British curriculum. That spiked my interest in British education, never mind that we had the same agenda in 2013 and it never bore fruit. I also know that a curriculum change from 8-4-4 will require heavy financial investment which might lengthen the process. Opposers of change will definitely rise and teething problems arise. But we will be fine. Eventually.
I have been hunting for information on the British curriculum from parents with children in the British schools and from teachers. Knowing that owners and loyal employees of any company (in my case a school) will always portray it in its best light, I believe a parent or a student in a particular school are my best source of feedback. So I have been speaking to parents, and doing school visits.
I chose to start with random visits just to get a feel of what the schools are like.
I will hereafter narrow down to fewer schools THEN do a more in-depth consideration THEN attend a few school tours and THEN have my child do one or two “tester days” THEN conclude the matter. I hope Matiang’i will also be concluding the Kenyan curriculum matter soon so I know my options.
I have a year before my first born can start primary school (8-4-4) or prep school (British). You are so much luckier if your child is much younger, better still if they are not yet born, as you will find out in this blog post.
First, a few differences between our8-4-4 system and the British system:
|SCHOOL ENTRY AGE||School year begins in January. The new directives are that no child shall sit for KCPE before age 13. So right now, it makes sense to delay your child entry into Standard 1 (wait until they are 6 years old) so they will not have to repeat a class if the rule lasts. But then it might not. So I bet follow your gut :-).||The school year begins in September and a child cannot begin school unless they have turned the right age for the class before September 1st. For instance, to join year 1, the child needs to have turned 5 years old latest 31st August and a good British school does not bend this rule AT ALL. If your child is born even in early September, they go to the class behind. According to the teachers, this is actually good for the child as it places the child at a natural advantage in that class and also gives him an edge in leadership positions. In major competitions, schools will not allow a seven year old to match against an eight year old so if your child is “pushed ahead” that is just unhelpful.
See why I said this information is much more useful to those without babies yet?
|SCHOOL FEES||Government schools offer free primary education.
A pricey 8-4-4 private school is still a better financial deal than a cheap British curriculum school, as you shall find out.
|School fees rise from one stage to another so much more than Kenyan school fees rise between primary school and high school.
Once a child starts off in a British System school, it’s hard for them to switch back to Kenyan system so your initial decision has to be steadfast and well thought-out. The good news is that an 8-4-4 student always gets a soft landing into British school.
|TEACHING METHODS||In 8-4-4, a student has to know the content in the books,remember it during exams and write it down in the exam paper. It truly does not matter whether the student crammed or understood.
Education is basically a student knowing what the book says.
Example; A student in 8-4-4 is taught that an insect’s body is divided into three parts; head, thorax and abdomen. A student in British system will have an entire research process catching insects and studying them to find out if they all have the three body divisions, then explain findings instead of give a one-right-answer.
|Education focuses more on student creativity, out-of-the box reasoning and all roundedness. Extra-curriculum activities and other talents are considered as important as academic excellence.
Early education focuses more on learning through play than learning through classroom sitting. As the student grows older there is more formal education but still a lot of room is left for individual research and reasoning.
The aim is to express your understanding of the concept.
|CLASS SIZE||A few 8-4-4 private schools limit students per class, while public schools can have as many as a hundred students in a class and have three streams.||Teacher: Student ratio is considered. In all the schools I visited, the most crowded class would have 24 students in a class, attended to by one teacher and a teaching assistant. Most schools have a class size of 18-20.
|EXAMS & GRADING:||The Kenyan education system gives you a “position” in terms of how you performed in an exam compared to the highest-scoring student.
A student’s performance in the current class determines whether they should move on to the next class, thus children of various ages can be in the same class.
All students sit for the same national exams set by one examining body.
A school entry interview entails sitting for an exam appropriate to the class the new student wants to join. A low score in this exam might mean not getting accepted into the school or being taken into the preceding class.
I visited Light Academy, a school that offers both 8-4-4 and British curriculums to its High School students in the same premises. The students use different classrooms. On asking why they cannot give the 8-4-4 students the same exposure to out-of-class activities as the GCSE students are getting, I learnt that 8-4-4 is so intense on book-work and exams while British system offers students very “user-friendly” exams.
Now I am feeling so “thomed” as an 8-4-4 granduand 🙂
|No one is “number one” or “number last”. The teachers of course know who had a 90% and who had a 30%, but this information is used to find out in which areas the student is performing well/poorly so that the student is nurtured in their strong areas or given learning support (learning support can be concentrating on what one is good at so they improve overall grade, or receiving extra coaching, or even being allowed extra-time during an exam of a subject the student struggles in…pure bliss!).
Extra-curricular activities are as important as book knowledge.
Student moves on to next class regardless of performance. A student is however free to re-sit an exam if they so wish, because they might be looking into joining a particular university which would require a particular grade.
Students do Cambridge exams or common entrance exams. None of the exams is better than the other as the content is the same.
A school entry interview into the British curriculum is not a series of written exams but a “tester day” which is not to pass nor fail the student but to determine where the student is at academically, socially, in creativity … so that the teacher can see how to work with that child.
|RELIGIOUS TEACHINGS||8-4-4 has more schools that offer any religious teachings and support. As a Christian , this is important to me because we live in a generation that aims to discredit God and all biblical truth has been termed relative. Seeing as children spend more time at school than at home and they also trust school so much, it would be lovely to be in a school where God is acknowledged.
However, I acknowledge that teaching of my faith, morals and values is my responsibility, a school can only reinforce or undermine them.
|Of the ten British curriculum schools I visited, only Cavina, Rusinga and St.Christopher’s are deliberate about Christian teachings, although the last two cannot compare to Cavina where Scripture reading is daily practice and even parents are welcome to attend the morning devotion. Rusinga has Nairobi Baptist pastors conducting devotion on Wednesdays and a scriptural theme per term. St. Christopher’s has Christian morals and values that they stand with.
|KISWAHILI & KENYAN HISTORY LEARNING||Kiswahili is an examinable subject in the Kenyan curriculum, being our national language.
Learning Kenyan history is an important part of the curriculum.
|Kiswahili is taught in most schools as a language, and not necessarily examined. It depends on a student’s interest.
Kenyan history is taught in some schools, given that they are in the country, but the students do not have to take the subject.
Below are the ten schools I visited and the impressions I got of them. Further down will be a cost difference analysis of what I would have to pay if my child was to join year one at the respective schools in 2016 September.
CAVINA SCHOOL: This is the school I would desire, dream and pray to take my children, but there is no vacancy right now, not even for my two year old!
See why I said this information is much more useful to those without babies yet?
Cavina school is a small warm school with a max of 20 students per class and only one stream. They do not want to make it bigger since they would not maintain the same control over the school’s running. They are very keen on biblical teachings and disciplines and the attention given to a child. As well, they have all facilities and experience for the British curriculum, and all this they do for friendlier price than the average British curriculum school! Looking at the price-comparison table, do not be deceived by year one school fees…look at the difference between year one and year eight fees and be as impressed as I was!
To go to Cavina, book a place as soon as you conceive. I am serious. Cavina school has so many students on its waiting list and it’s rare to find a parent transferring their children from Cavina. A late-comer like me hopes a miracle happens and one parent transfers their child, then the twenty nine parents ahead of me on the waiting list all say “No, we already found a school” so that my five year old can get a space next year . This miracle also needs to happen at the same time with the miracle for my two year old so that I do not take my children to different schools.
How much luckier are you?
GEMS CAMBRIDGE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL: I visited the school expecting it to be the most expensive on my list so that I strike it off on the basis of cost, but I had to visit anyway so as to be sure that I did due diligence in my role as a parent.
To my surprise, it’s not the most expensive, yet it has the most modern teaching facilities. Everything in Gems school is modern, the school is not cluttered and they use modern teaching methods; that’s their edge over their peers. The price-comparison table will not show an attracting cost, but remember that Gems school fees is inclusive of meals, which would cost you around Ksh 20,000 per term in another school. Gems is actually more affordable than it seems (although the fees increase from year 1 to year 13 is quite steady) . Gems school is an eye-opener that if you will pay so much for the British curriculum, then pay in a school that has the facilities and ability to give you the real deal.
However, the best thing about Gems School is that if a family migrates to another country with a Gems school, they simply transfer the children to those schools. No school searching and adjustment complications. Makes a perfect choice for you if your company transfers you a lot. The school uniforms are all the same, in Dubai, Kenya or Uganda, down to the staff uniform. If a were a very mobile parent, I would also be glad to have Gems’ one day or one week boarding facility for my child whenever I am away. The school has sufficient, friendly and unburdened staff. You can walk in right now and be served like you had made a booking years in advance.
ST. CHRISTOPHER’S: Maybe it’s because I am married to an architect, but the infrastructure of St. Christopher’s melted my heart!
If I had been with my husband in this hunt, he would have got there and said “This school was designed by an architect”.
He is always doing that to buildings, it’s rubbed off on me!
But I spared him from the preliminaries so when we get to the nitty-gritty part of school-choice I can look at him with an attitude of what’s-the-final-say?
Back to St. Christopher’s…I felt like the school was designed with children in mind! However, I need more information than I got from a random visit and the receptionist promised to call and give me an appointment with the head teacher before the end of this week. It’s Friday evening and I have not heard from her, thus I am not so much impressed. But again, I have a year. Meanwhile, the parents I have heard of with children there are not complaining AT ALL. I love their motto; British Education, Kenyan Warmth.
NAIROBI ACADEMY: I was not received well, not by the infrastructure nor by the staff, but hey, the price is great!
When I was young and my dad was finding me a school, somebody advised us that “It’s not the school that reads but the child”. This was meant to mean that if I am a good student, we could put me in any school and I would still thrive. That is the statement I will stand by when considering Nairobi Academy. The school might not have the classrooms or grounds of Peponi school for instance, but if my child is an achiever she will get Peponi quality from Nairobi Academy . So help us God 🙂 . A parent there tells me that the school is big on sports and there is little homework, which allows a child to be a child, and that’s a good thing. They also did not have current fees so what you will see in this post is a little less than what you will pay.
BRAEBURN SCHOOL: I visited Lavington campus, Braeside Primary School. I love the location, it’s a nice secure place. The school environment is big enough. On asking on whether they propagate any Christian morals or values, I was informed of the school prayer recited by all students, that’s it.
Best thing about them is that Braeburn schools are many, I will even find a Braeburn school in Thika. That’s an advantage because school-choice determines a lot on where a family lives, unless of course there is no consideration of how much time a child spends in traffic. Braeburn gives a parent most flexibility on choice of where to live compared to the other schools on my list.
ST. AUSTIN’S: No, it’s not a Catholic school nor a Christian school. I was informed that James Gichuru road was once called St. Austin’s road, that’s all there is to the name. I visited the school over lunch hour and did not find very enthusiastic staff .
Mrs. Ogoma the head teacher however did not mind to discuss many school issues including whether a two year old needs to be in school…those are personal issues not St. Austin’s issues, yet we engaged! Such a patient soul! Based on my interaction with her, it’s a school I would be comfortable to place a child in because if she values walk-in potential clients, then she must be kind to the real clients.
NAIROBI INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL: It’s ok, it’s busy. It’s by the roadside. And I visited the high school-side,not the prep school.
I was informed that I cannot lack a vacancy there because every July a lot of expats are moving away so the school will call me. That led me to only one question: the ratio of Kenyan kids to expat kids. I was told 50:50. School fees is good, compared to the others.
RUSINGA SCHOOL: Before I visited this school, I had been told that students from Rusinga School seem more humble compared to those of a lot of other British schools. I did not meet any student but the staff were humble and it felt like they really want me (my children) there. The general mood is not of pomp and colour, I actually would never have thought the school is British before I started my search.
The school is simple, in a nice way. Not so much procedure to enter or to see a member of staff. Not so much documentation to carry home. And I love the pastoral work by Nairobi Baptist pastors. Lastly, they do not have whooping costs of extra-curricular activities. You will get ballet there cheaper than you will get from my daughter’s current kindergarten!
This school is also a favourite of many, unless I decide fast I might be put on a waiting list…but at least I will top the list there.
HILLCREST INTERNATIONAL: This is where I received the best welcome and an instant school tour by a very pleasant head-teacher. I got to see the students preparing for end-of-term activities, I was offered a cup of tea and I enjoyed being there, until they gave me the fees structure and I did a quick analysis of year 1 to year 13 and said a quick prayer, “God make me rich!”
On the flip side, the welcome letter that Hillcrest gave me reads that “all places are offered at the discretion of the head teacher“. Perhaps I am overthinking this, and maybe all schools do this, but when it’s told to me directly like this I feel “studied”, or like the parents with children there have met a certain mark which I may or may not meet.
But because I choose to be a joyful Kenyan, I will assume that the head teacher is careful not to allow thieves, robbers and corrupt people into Hillcrest. The rest of us are fine, let’s not worry 🙂
BANDA SCHOOL: Another wonderful reception by Karen, the head of communications, never mind my impromptu visit. (These expensive schools really know how to host a random guest, so again l hope to be very rich) .She was keen to discuss with me child’s age versus school-year benefit, and invite me to join the “Banda culture” this year…why wait a year to experience the Banda goodness?
Banda is expensive, and they know it…but she promised me value for my money. I think her promise is true because I have been with children from her school and yes, they love school so much and they take their work seriously, both academics and extra-curricular.
BROOKHOUSE SCHOOL: I loved Brook House admission office, they took time to answer all my questions about the British curriculum, even those that had nothing to do with their school.
I did not like the tedious procedures to enter the compound; having had to even give the phone number of my daughter’s current kindergarten at the gate!
I was invited for a tour and a “tester day” as soon as I would wish. They are big on sports, but I had to ask them why I pay caution money of one hundred thousand Kenya shillings since it’s the highest I have seen so far. What would my child possibly break worth so much? I don’t know, but I have a year to find out.
Below are the school TUITION fees I would pay (KSH PER TERM) if I were to have my daughter join any of the above schools in the 2016 September-December term; only tuition fees. The year 8 and year 13 fees are what a parent with a 12 year old or a 17 year old is paying compared to what a parent with a five year old is paying…this info is to help you analyze how school fees differs as a child goes higher in the system, so that you can plan your financial muscle 🙂 . This being tuition only, the final total figure for each school includes other costs such as food, transport (cost depending on where you live) , extra-curriculum activities (cost depending on your child’s interests), boarding fees (if you want), uniform, registration fees, caution money, etc.
(5 years old )
(12 years old)
(17 years old)
|NAIROBI ACADEMY||98,000||209,000||717,000 (paid once)|
|NAIROBI INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL||126,500||231,500||397,050 (paid twice)|
|ST. CHRISTOPHER’S||140,000||212,000||372,000 (Year 12-paid twice)|
|CAVINA SCHOOL||158,000||233,000||School goes up to year eight|
|RUSINGA SCHOOL||170,000||237,500||399,000 (paid twice)|
|ST. AUSTIN’S||192,000||239,000||252, 000 (paid thrice)|
|BRAESIDE PRIMARY SCHOOL||220,800||253,000||424,700 (paid twice)|
|GEMS CAMBRIDGE||239,100||471,500||520,900 (paid thrice)|
|BROOKHOUSE SCHOOL||280,000||535,000||605,000 (paid thrice)|
|BANDA SCHOOL||320,000||550,000||School goes up to year eight|
|HILLCREST INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS||396,000||522,500||616,000-paid thrice|
I am happy to share this information with you. Remember we have more options than 8-4-4 and British system. There is home-schooling, there is ACE, there is the American system…our options are diverse.
I will put together a write-up on the others too. Looking forward to knowing all there is to know!
Edit note (14 December 2017): I have been watching a great piece by Family Media that talks about the home-schooling (home-educating, better term) option. Here is a link, you might want to consider the option. https://familymediaonline.com/video_listing/family-matters-episode-3-homeschooling-1/