As the world marks International Women’s Day, at the General Mulinge High School in Machakos County, Ms. Rebecca Kisilu is a teacher on a mission. As a Computer Studies teacher at the mixed day school, Becky, as she is popularly known, is at the frontline of building a new generation of ICT innovators.
The last born in a family of nine has set her sights on creating a positive impact on the young boys and girls who are studying at the school and demonstrating the power of ICTs in education, and opening up new career frontiers for students.
She traces her passion for Information Technology (IT) back to St. Anne’s Girls High School Kiriari in Embu County, over 100km northeast of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city.
It is here that the seeds for IT were sowed, watered, and nurtured. ‘‘I found computer studies an exciting subject and I became passionate about it, largely from the motivation from my teachers. I remember in my first exam I had the least marks in the class but this motivated me to put in all my effort and from the second exam I remained the top student in Computer Studies up to my final Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam,’’ she says.
She had grand ideas of trailblazing this space, mainly dominated by men. But her dreams could not materialize just soon. Her parents had better ideas for her, she tells me. ‘‘After high school, I wanted to pursue IT in my further studies but my parents insisted that I join a P1 training college (primary school teacher certificate), first since that’s what they could afford at that time and they also believed that that could get me a job faster but they promised to have me pursue my dream thereafter,’’ she says.
So she would later join Asumbi Teachers Training College in present-day Homa Bay County for a P1 course graduating in 2006. Still focused on the ultimate prize, she immediately enrolled in a diploma course in technical education at the Kenya Technical Teachers College (KTTC) in Nairobi, where she admits, peers influenced her greatly that she could teach IT.
This would catapult her to university, taking a Bachelor of Education in Computer Studies and Business at Mount Kenya University. She admits that her earlier exposure to computers made learning easier at this higher level. ‘‘In the university, much of the interest was to pass the examination. There was no thorough exposure to IT unless we did the research by ourselves, largely because of the limited time we had there,’’ observes Becky.
It’s been 10 years now since Becky began teaching Computer Studies, and she’s been on a roll. ‘‘I have liked interacting with high school students at different levels and capacities, influencing them to change their perception, particularly about IT and education in general. The positive feedback from their results especially in the national examination has rewarded me in a million ways,’’ notes Becky.
As a teacher, Becky goes beyond the usual teaching routine and ensures that she moulds her students into holistic individuals who are capable of creating change in their societies.
‘’Being a very new subject right from form one, the students purely depend on you for content and everything. At times they have fears about it but once you win their interest and have their attitude changed, they embrace it, create a passion for it, and get performing well. Learners are also very curious about so many things on technology and their interest is easily captured in their curiosity to want to learn and discover how it came about, how it is and the future it might hold,’’ she says.
No Easy Task
It is not always easy teaching technical subjects like IT. A lot of challenges stand in the way of even the most passionate of teachers like Becky. These range from lack of adequate resources and infrastructure, including electricity supply for schools that offer subjects like Computer Studies, to attitudinal aspects of students who may not have interest in such subjects at the high school level.
‘‘Some of these technical subjects are offered in tertiary institutions and therefore some students claim that they will study the same in the colleges and fail to show interest at this level of education,’’ she adds.
The challenges notwithstanding, Becky has gone out of her way to create a positive impact through her computer studies.
The General Mulinge High School is among 884 public secondary schools that benefited from Internet connectivity by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), Kenya’s ICT regulator, under the Universal Service Fund (USF). The fund was created in 2009 to enhance access to communications services in various parts of the country.
The school Education Broadband Connectivity Project, from which the Gen. Mulinge High School benefited, was meant to integrate ICTs, particularly the Internet to enhance the delivery of education in schools.
This resource has been at the core of Becky’s stellar performance in her subject, evident from the excellent results posted over time. When she presented her first Computer Studies class at the 2011 KCSE, she managed a modest mean score of 3.54, but this was just the beginning of brighter days ahead.
‘‘Over the years, I have kept motivating and encouraging students to embrace this subject and this number has tremendously increased over the years until to date I am presenting a total of 25 candidates in March and 35 in November 2022 with the highest number being girls,’’ she notes with satisfaction.
She has used her position to motivate the young students, particularly the girls, that they too can create meaningful change and succeed in this field as well. Since 2015, her subject has posted the highest mean score since the year 2015.
Setting the Bar High
She does not take this achievement for granted. It has taken a lot of hard work, dedication and a singular commitment to nothing but the best.
‘‘The improvement on the mean score and also the increase in the number of students taking the subject have been a great achievement for me having in mind that my station is a small village day school. This has been a great motivation for me and I am looking forward to presenting larger numbers in the future even though the facilities are limited in the school,’’ she opines.
And her students have paid a glowing tribute to her outstanding teaching philosophy.
‘‘Through the learning of computer programming and information system development, I now understand the different aspects of technology and how to apply them to solve real-life problems. She brings the aspects and the concepts in the simplest way possible and makes her sessions very interesting to attend. No one wishes to miss any,’’ says Cynthia Akinyi, a form three student.
For Dorcas Mueni, another form three student at the school, teacher Becky has motivated her to want to be a computer scientist in the future. ‘‘As a girl, I feel and believe that I can make it in the field of technology. This is because I have seen many girls doing it and succeeding on it. Again I have a teacher who is a woman. If she made it, why not me?’’ She quips.
Hillary Ayieko, another student, says the world is changing, and the need to be tech-savvy is imperative. Computers studies have thus opened up a new world of information to him and expanded his knowledge base in exponential ways.
‘‘The need to be computer literate in the modern world motivates me. Concepts such as science fiction and robotic equiptment are admirable.I get motivated too by programmed tots, remote driven acrs, iPhone and drones,’’ oberses Hillary.
It is not just the students who acknowledge the tremendous work done by teacher Becky. Her colleagues admit she has set the pace for everyone, motivating others to replicate her teaching philosophy.
‘‘One of the good things is that Computer Studies happens to be one of the leading subjects with the highest mean score in the school, always with an 8 + mean score. ICT as a subject also helps to improve engagement and knowledge retention in education,” says Ms. Triza Alukwe, a teacher at the school.
Becky believes the Internet has been a game-changer in education. It has made learning interactive and interesting to students. It has brought alive abstract concepts in simpler and easier-to-understand forms.
‘‘Availability of the internet has made the subject appear simpler and easier to the learners by enhancing their ability to recall what they see but not what they hear hence creating the interest in so many of them. It has given me unlimited access to information and a pool of knowledge and made the teaching of ICT easier for me and more interesting,’’ she acknowledges.
He achievements read like a citation for a Hollywood Hall of Fame inductee. She has attained the highest mean-score at the school for five years in a row. She has challenged her students, particularly girls to take up IT with great success. She regularly takes students to IT related study tours for additional exposure and sourcing for partial scholarships for those who opt to pursue IT at higher levels. The list is endless.
”Having motivated students to pursue the course at higher levels and getting feedback that they appreciate the outcome is a great inspiration for me to continue doing what is right,”she tells me.
With IT and technical subjects being male-dominated spaces, Becky is breaking technology biases and barriers, that have made it difficult for young girls and women to break the ceilings and create a difference.
‘‘Being a lady in IT has given me a lot of boldness to put it across that it should not be the case. I have in many cases used my personal experiences in this field to motivate the girl child to embrace technology. I have also reached out to some of my female friends who have made an impact in technology to give talks, motivate and encourage girls to find it doable,’’ says Becky.
For young girls who want to venture into technology, Becky advises them to be open-minded and know this is not a unique field and that with the right attitude, they can achieve anything they set their minds on.
‘‘I teach with a lot of passion and use my personal experience in this field to inspire young girls to make them see how very possible it is since it all lies on their attitude,’’ she urges.
She tells me, there is a need for concerted efforts to support technology in all schools, to build a critical mass of future innovators and problem-solvers to the myriads of challenges that the country faces.
‘‘If there is anything that the government could do to support technology in all schools, I believe it would go a long way to enlighten and create more opportunities for many Kenyans who are still waiting for formal employment opportunities,’’ suggests Becky.
She cites her school as a perfect case, that would do exceedingly well, with additional support of computers and other related ICT equipment, to not only make learning a pleasurable experience, but also provide room for more students to take up Computer Studies. This is an appeal echoed by her students, who say with additional space and modern equipment, the sky can only be the lower limit for them.
For now, as the world marks this important day that recognizes the role women play in societies the world over, Becky’s story echoes the hard work women are putting in various spheres of work, to make the world a better place.
The mother of three is challenging herself to be the best that she can be and to continually reinforce the power of women in shaping the world. Her work at the small village school tucked in Nzaikoni village in Kathiani, Machakos County is reverberating in the minds of the army of students who’s imagination she has ignited, and are now ready to face the world ahead of them.
‘‘ I hate failure. I never want any responsibility assigned to me to fail at any given moment. I am a go-getter and with this quality I know I can go out of my way to bring success to any activity assigned. I love to work. I love to study. I love to learn, more so in this field of technology. I believe nothing can be too hard for me,’’ she adds.
Ms. Rebecca Kisilu has shown, that with opportunity, women can make a difference in their societies. She has broken several biases and shown it is possible to succeed. Through her tender hands, a new generation of boys and girls is rising, to influence the direction of the world and to solve practical problems, using technology.
And this is precisely why on this day, we salute her and all other women, making the world a better place for all.
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