On the 28th of March 2023, an inspiring journey unfolded during the Policy Dialogue Conference, hosted by PAL Network in Nairobi. At 2 pm, the participants attending the conference embarked on a field visit to Machakos county, to gain insights into the assessment processes using the International Common Assessment of Numeracy (ICAN) tool.
Machakos County, with a population of 150,041, is situated in the Eastern part of Kenya. After about two hours of travel, myself a member of PAL Network and the participants of the policy dialogue conference arrived at Masii town, a serene town in Machakos county. We gathered at the Tumaini Center, a community hub that houses a hospital and is adjacent to a secondary school. Here, we got the opportunity to meet the volunteers and the village chiefs. We were divided into five groups, each group assigned to visit a different village. Our group was assigned to a village called Utithini, which is about a kilometer away from the Center.
Arriving at Utithini, we visited various households to assess children between the ages of 7 to 16 years, guided by the chief. We came across a 10-year-old girl walking home from school with her mother. With the assistance of our volunteer, we introduced ourselves, obtained the necessary permissions and commenced the assessments.
To gain a holistic understanding of the child’s background, the volunteer initiated conversations with her mother. This exchange provided us with valuable contextual information regarding the child. The volunteer then handed over the ICAN tool to the child and began the assessment process. The child performed extremely well in the numeracy component of the tool, having solved the word problem successfully. Witnessing her courage and determination during the assessments filled us with immense pride and joy.
After this, we met a grade four boy whose mother had just returned from the farm. Post introductions and securing his mother’s consent, we proceeded with the assessment. While the volunteer gathered information from the boy’s mother, one of us assessed the child as the rest of us keenly observed. He managed to answer a few numeracy questions but was challenged with the word problem. As we were concluding, the boy’s elder brother, who is 13 years old, came from school. We gave him a story to assess his reading skills. He did well but it was strenuous for him to pronounce some words. We provided the ICAN tool to the children, encouraging them to practice and improve their numeracy and reading skills.
As the clock approached 6.30 pm, a drizzle began, signaling the end of our assessments. We made our way back to the buses, commencing our journey to Nairobi at 7 pm. During the return journey, we reflected on the field visit and its profound impact. We realized that the volunteers played a pivotal role in creating a conducive environment for the assessments. Their ability to make children feel comfortable or scared had a direct impact on the children’s performance. Additionally, discussions arose among the participants regarding the presence of parents during assessments. The parents could either create a sense of pressure for the child to get correct answers or create a comfortable environment that facilitates a smooth assessment process.
In conclusion, the journey to Machakos was an eye-opening experience that reinforced my commitment to working diligently and ensuring that every child has a strong foundation for lifelong learning.