No One should be Left Behind: Dr. Lucy Muthoni

|By Annete Karanja|

The Kenya Examination Council results have shown a constant decline in the performance of Mathematics and Sciences in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) in comparison to the Kenya Primary Certificate Education (KCPE). Therefore, it was frustrating to see a student who had scored an A in Mathematics at KCPE level, scoring C and below in KCSE. Consequently, I decided to work with a few schools to change this narrative by involving the Board Members, teachers, students, parents, and school support staff.

Which are some of the schools you are involved with; when did you start working with them?
My desire to bring positive change to academia has always been there. Still, I did not know how to actualize it. In 2018, I was invited to a school to talk about how differently Mathematics and Sciences should be taught. It was the beginning of achieving my dream. I was invited to join different boards in 2019. I agreed to join St. Clare’s Girls’ Secondary School (Chair of the BOM), Regina Caeli Girls’ High School, and Masii Girls secondary school (Academic Committee Chair of both schools).

How do you manage to find time to volunteer on the school board while still being a lecturer in Strathmore and a mother?
Strathmore University has a flexible work schedule, and that has helped me tremendously in planning my time. A flexible work schedule means rearranging one’s teaching time, class preparation time, research, mentorship, and project supervision. However, I have to make myself available to my students after-work hours and put aside one day strictly for project supervision and guidance to make this work. Most of the board meetings occur on Fridays; I have to ensure that I complete all my teaching/research/supervision tasks between Saturday and Thursday. For those meetings/school activities that fall on a Saturday, I sometimes take my children along so that they can learn a thing or two from the activities and give us time to bond. It’s a mini road trip where they get to see what Mommy does while visiting other parts of the country.

What other measures have you introduced to ensure continuous progress?
For continuous improvement, we have to ensure that no student is left behind. Teachers get monetary rewards for the A’s, B’s & C’s their students acquire in the national examinations and, in some schools, termly assessments. Therefore, they pay more attention to the academically gifted students to increase the number of good grades. However, this reward system does not consider the value degradation of the students who get D’s and E’s. So I introduced ‘grade trading,’ where a teacher’s total monetary reward is reduced by deducting a previously agreed monetary amount for the D’s and E’s in their subjects. This led to teachers paying more attention to the weak students, ensuring that none were left behind.

The role of the support staff is not acknowledged in the students’ good performance, and they are often ignored when rewarding their teaching counterparts. So I introduced a reward system that apportions a percentage of the total teachers’ rewards to be shared by the support staff. I also introduced pension scheme adoption by one of the schools, funded by the employees (support staff) and the employer (the board). Initially, upon retirement, the employees would be given a token of appreciation which I felt was inadequate. However, engaging a professional Pension Manager meant that the retirees got better retirement income. This led to the support staff encouraging the students continuously through constructive conversations and general morale boosting actions (example: the kitchen staff making food tastier).

Did you always want to be a lecturer?
Growing up, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, but a ‘B’ in Biology disqualified me from pursuing medical-related careers. I, therefore, opted to pursue Actuarial Science, hoping to get bags and bags of money. However, I later learned that peace, personal time, and flexibility are invaluable attributes offered by a career in teaching. I am Dr. Lucy Muthoni, currently a lecturer at Strathmore Institute of Mathematical Sciences. I am fulfilled and love what I do as a lecturer. My students are the reason I enjoy my journey as a teacher. Their achievements are a reminder that I need to be at my best because teaching impacts all lives for the greater good.