On March 3rd, 2019, International Affairs students Kimberly Roberts and Bennett Donine visited Nairobi to collaborate on a project with the Starkid School and Rescue Centre. Under the supervision of Professor Mark Johnson, the group collected data and created visualizations as part of an ongoing monitoring and evaluation task. Kimberly Roberts and Bennett Donine write on their experiences and takeaways below:
Kimberly Roberts and I, Bennett Donine, recently returned from a 7-day trip to Nairobi, Kenya with students Shayna Hodge and Robert Jamieson. This trip, with the supervision of Mark Johnson and Zeynep Turan, primarily consisted of data collection from StarKid School and Rescue Center in Nairobi’s Githogoro district. It allowed for additional information to be gathered as well as updated visualizations to be included to the evaluation report produced last year. Participating in this project on-location and engaging directly with the individuals running Starkid School and Rescue Center resulted in a better understanding of the complexities of monitoring and evaluation as well as the development and needs of Starkid.
Starkid School and Rescue Center Background
The Starkid School runs from pre-K through secondary school and enrolls approximately 186 students. The school is a non-profit registered with the Kenya Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology. It is also home to approximately 60 of these students, some of whom parent-less children; others were rescued from unsafe homes, were victims of substance abuse, or escaped domestic violence. Still others are either HIV-positive or AIDS orphans.
Starkid School and Rescue Centre was founded in 2005 by educator and early childhood education expert Rosalyn Kimatu. Rosalyn grew up in poverty but was fortunate to have the opportunity to receive an education and become a teacher. Upon doing so, however, she noticed that similar opportunities were not available in her community, and that many of the slum children near her home did not attend school. She started Starkid in one rented room with a single table and chairs for its three students. At the end of the first month, the class size grew to five, and by the end of that first term, the class had expanded to 23. The school continued to grow to its current size of 184 students. Before free education was introduced by the Kenyan government, Starkid School served over 300 students. However, many parents opted to take advantage of the new public school option and moved their children. Starkid then began offering secondary education in 2013.
Rosalyn Kimatu, Starkid’s current executive director, is an impressive leader—dedicated, brave, and resourceful. But her already uphill climb became steeper last year when a new landlord made it clear that he wanted to evict Starkid and sell the land. Nairobi’s real estate boom has put additional pressure on tenants, even in slums. Half of Starkid’s area, formerly the school’s play area, has already been sold, and rent substantially increased on the other half. Aside from abandoning school infrastructure and other on-site investment, Starkid’s departure from Githogoro would leave a big hole in the community. Fortunately, as of March 2019, Starkid was granted permission to stay in its current location and continue serving the community. But continued support—financial and otherwise—is sorely needed to improve facilities, retain teachers, and provide essential services for the students.
Starkid is located along the highway that bisects the Githogoro slum. Established in 1991 by coffee plantation squatters, Githogoro neighbors the prosperous Runda Estate, and now has an estimated population of 20,000. Most Githogoro children are denied the opportunity to quality schooling and therefore also the chance to achieve higher level long-term life outcomes associated with receiving education. Most of these children will not escape the cycle of poverty they were born into. The Starkid School and Rescue Centre provides Githogoro’s children with a good education, which in turn gives them a chance to attend college and ultimately break out of poverty.
Children boarding in the Rescue Centre have substantially more time for study than their counterparts who live at home. Students living at home often need to work to help put a meal on the table for their families. After school, their responsibilities range from house chores, hawking, begging on the streets, to collecting scrap metal. They are then deprived of the necessary time to finish school assignments, and often end up sleeping late. The Centre provides a positive learning environment for its boarding students because it means relief from work, sharing meals, group discussions to tackle challenges and evening lessons from the boarding teachers.
We were asked by Mark Johnson to update and collect new data for further analysis of the monitoring and evaluation project that had been previously set up. This trip gave us a better understanding of the on-the-ground reality, obstacles, and struggles in Nairobi. We also found a deeper appreciation of Starkid’s accomplishments and greater context in which to evaluate the school, its students, and teachers’ achievements in an environment where simply getting these kids into a classroom, feeding them, and getting them home at the end of the day must be a success.
We are currently updating the previous year’s evaluation report to reflect the 2019 development and to incorporate a student nutrition orientation. We are producing this in reference to the previous work by Spring 2018 graduate students Hannah Barrueta Sacksteder, Brigid Miller, Lisa Romero and Thea Smaavik Hegstad, who designed the initial April 2018 data collection, data collection, database set up, and writing of the 2018 draft report.
Three data sets have been collected:
- In April 2018, 63 Starkid residents had their height and weight measured and calculated into a Body Mass Index (BMI) value. This value can help determine whether a child is underweight, and continue to track their growth and development.
- In October 2018, the BMI values of 52 Starkid boarding students were collected by Steven Wambuakim (15 of which were not on initial roster).
- In March 2019, all 168 students present (residents and commuters) had heights and weights measured and BMI values subsequently calculated to allow comparison between the two groups. All but 40 students had their date of births documented and recorded.
Upon review of each students height and weight with Ms. Kimatu, we identified missing information, inaccuracies to be corrected, and explanations of outliers. This was helpful in developing the context necessary for analysis. We assembled a list of students of concern that Ms. Kimatu indicated she will work with in improving the conditions necessary for their development, which we hope to be reflected in the next round of BMI data collection.
Both March 2018 and October 2018 data did not include the date of birth nor the student status of enrollment in either primary or secondary school. October 2018 data did not document the gender of each student measured and this data set only included the boarding students’ BMI and not day scholars. Without the BMI of day scholars, there is no ability to capture the overall nutritional status of the whole school. Further, there are no points of comparison to assess the importance of the meals the students are receiving at the center nor sufficient consistency to track over time. BMI for all students must include the date of birth, gender, and student enrolment status (primary or secondary and day scholar or boarder) for each student to ensure effective tracking and analysis in the future. Therefore, during this March 2019 trip to Nairobi, we made sure the BMI was calculated for the 168 students present out of the 184 students enrolled (both day scholars and boarders), making note that of these students, 40 do not have documentation of their date of birth.
Our current analysis underway entails comparing the BMI value to the World Health Organization standards to categorize whether one is underweight, normal weight or overweight. To understand participants’ relative BMI values, the number is plotted on a grid, which has two WHO lines running through it: a “High Line” that indicates a nourished child, and a “Low Line” indicating a “moderately under-nourished” child. The WHO standard has critics who contend it reflects a Western standard and is not particularly indicative of an individual’s health (considering lifestyle variables). The High and Low lines are significant in that the High represents our target of success whereby a child can be considered nourished, and the Low is a line below which the child should perhaps receive additional nourishment.” Though Starkid first collected data from 63 boarding students in March 2018, only 29 of those had measurements consistent enough over the three data collection periods to analyze through March 2019. The production of BMI + WHO graphs for these students is underway and will be completed by May 2019.
Understanding the purpose of monitoring and evaluation and who it serves, as well as accountability, planning and follow up, are critical in producing meaningful and accurate information. Qualitative and quantitative data are especially important when it comes to making context a priority, and in doing so, it becomes imperative to acknowledge that simplification is sometimes not the answer if it does not appropriately capture the context and needs of stakeholders. Additionally, the kind of data being collected in monitoring and evaluation impacts results, as BMI and exam scores collected and analyzed in this project only tell one part of the story. The first round of data collection is not always the most reliable, therefore, capturing data multiple times and conducting a supplemental review of the data being generated is essential for ensuring accuracy in order for data captured over time to be tracked productively. There is a responsibility to make sure that the content produced acknowledges these concerns.
Starkid is achieving both educational and life outcomes, given its limited resources and seemingly limitless challenges. Former Starkid students now in college attributed their success to the persistence and motivation Starkid teachers and Ms. Kimatu instilled. However, as the relationship between The New School and Starkid School and Rescue Center progresses, it will be imperative that funding sources and opportunities continue to expand. Ms. Kimatu is making incredible strides with very little resources and will need the ongoing support and fundraising expertise of ACH and The New School in order to maintain and improve upon the impressive educational outcomes Starkid has already achieved.