In the past 13 years that Turning Point Trust has worked in Kibera Slum, Nairobi, Kenya, we have encountered remarkable children who in spite of the limitations presented by their environment have risen and gone through primary school, transitioned to secondary school and we even have some who have gone on to university and are in gainful employment. We have seen children with previous connections to the streets and all it represents slowly growing into young men and women who inspire a sense of pride in everyone who has partnered with us to support them.
As we continue to explore ways of creating an enabling environment for the children to not only develop and succeed academically but also emotionally and psychologically we felt there was need to create a tool to supplement the home study that would help us monitor, through their teachers, certain aspect of their behaviour. We hoped the assessment would; serve as a baseline especially for new students that would help us recognise and reinforce positive behaviour change, assist us early on identify sudden withdrawal or destructive behaviour in a child and thus begin to identify the reasons and together with the child and caregiver find solutions to the possible problem, we hoped the assessment reports would serve as sources of impact reports for our donors and partners and also as data we could use to continue improving the education program.
Once the tool was developed, the teachers were taken through it and a few changes were made. The first assessment reports were to be used as the baseline and therefore were not analysed nor discussed,. The second batch of reports is what revealed that we had failed to achieve our objectives since some students who had been scored highly in some aspects of behaviour the previous year were now scored low and some who had scored low were now doing exceptionally well. The team in charge of developing the tool and assessing the reports were no experts in child behaviour but they acknowledged that the tool had failed to capture what they hoped it would.
Discussions with the team and the social worker, who has training and experience in dealing with children, revealed the tool did not work because of a number reasons. One, the class teachers changed as the children moved to a higher class and therefore the tool was subjective as it depended on the teachers interpretation of the elements of behaviour being assessed and the child’s behaviour. Secondly, children respond differently to different teachers and the scores might not necessarily reflect their personal circumstances or struggles but rather their relationship or perception of the teacher. In addition, the development process of the tool involved drawing from different studies and tools used by other organisations and therefore we failed to take into account the context within which the tool will be used and also to include actors such as the social worker who had a better understanding of children’s behaviour.
The tool was dropped and we are yet to develop one that will capture what we aimed for. However, the process of failure taught us that it is important when developing a tool to involve the people who not only work with the target group but also understand the context within which the tool will be used. Involving them in the development of the tool beats merely consulting or training them after the development of the tool. We have also learnt discussing failure and understanding the reasons why we failed is not enough but we fully grow from failure when we set concrete and time bound plans on how to move forward and implement the lessons learnt.
Assessment of the academic reports that accompanied the behaviour assessment reports revealed that some students had dropped out and having learnt the importance of immediate action, we made a follow up and realised that their parents were unable to sustain them at home despite the free education and meals we offer and therefore preferred to take them back to their rural home, disrupting their education and even putting them at the risk of dropping out. We are currently making a plan to identify families that are in need of extra support and in agreement that the approach we take to further empower and develop these parents will be done in consultation with all the relevant stakeholders. We are not only learning to discuss failure but how to move forward and grow.
“Failure is a lesson learned. Success is a lesson applied” Anonymous. We look forward to applying these lessons and continue sharing the success stories of how with your support we are empowering the children and the families we work with and though we understand that failure will be part of this journey, we are now less afraid because we know that we can fail forward every time.
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