Barbara Kirker Second Chance School
Students at the Barbara Kirker School in line ready to start classes
The literacy rate in Niger is 28.7 %. Thus education is a key factor in Niger’s ability to improve the standard of living of its people. According to United Nations statistics, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. As a result, it has trouble educating all eligible children. Only about two thirds of school age children attend school with a higher percentage of boys than girls and a lower percentage than the overall average for the rural rather than urban areas.
In 2007 Barbara Kirker, who was working in the rural Eastern area of Maine-Soroa for the Kirker Hospital, noticed that there were many children of school age who were not in school. She wanted to do something about this serious problem. So she talked to two retired local educators and various village leaders and found that they would gladly support a new school for these children. Therefore Barbara founded the“Barbara Kirker Second Chance Primary School of Maine-Soroa”.
The purpose of this school was to give these children and others like them, who had missed out on being enrolled in Niger’s mainstream educational system by the age of eight, a “second chance” to become educated. The school is fully accredited by the Niger Ministry of Education and provides an opportunity for children nine to fourteen years of age to attend school.
Originally the school was to be founded for girls only, who traditionally were not given much chance at formal education. Their parents did not enter them into the school system, but kept their daughters at home, thinking they would become wives and mothers as early as the age of 14. The girls, however, definitely did want an education.
To Barbara’s surprise, as many boys as girls asked to enter her school, so boys were included too. Although she had expected only about 20 to 25 students, 35 students, equally divided between girls and boys, enrolled in the first class. The village men had to make more chairs, desks and another blackboard.
A dynamic team of educators was chosen to head the school, an administrator for legal and fiscal responsibility and a school head-mistress for academic affairs. In their wisdom, they elected to accelerate the learning program, so that their pupils could one day catch up to their peers in the regular school system. Barbara’s students finish six years of the primary school National curriculum in only four years. The first two years encompass grades one and two and three and four with grades five and six being given one year apiece. Her graduates can then rejoin their age mates when they matriculate into Niger’s Advanced School system for further learning.
Barbara, whom her husband calls “the moral and spiritual heart of the school,“ wrote in December 2007: “My School is now officially in session and the students, like children all over the world, are excited and eager to learn. It is such a joy for me to see their happy and bright faces in the morning! Everyone in the village, especially the parents, has been wonderful and very helpful in getting this school started and ‘off the ground.’ “
At the end of the first school year, the building, then a grass hanger built and financed by Barbara, was totally destroyed by a terrific sand storm. Even the cement buried metal poles and the metal soldiered cross beams holding the facility together were uprooted, broken and blown away ! As the school year, was over by this time, fortunately no children were hurt. The school supplies and equipment, stored under lock and key elsewhere, were protected as well.
Noting the success of the school and the villagers’ fervent desire to rebuild, the President of Niger, the Honorable Mamadou Tandja, offered his assistance. Through his special fund for education, in 2008, he built a modern seven-room schoolhouse out of concrete and metal with locking glass doors and windows. The school has four student class rooms, a library/computer room, a joint office for teachers/school mistresses, a storeroom, and toilets with running water. Today’s structure is a wonderful school for the children.
As the new school was not completed by the time the academic year started in 2008, the new class of 35 boys and girls had to begin their first and second years in another grass hanger. The first class of 35 students moved upward into the third and fourth years of their education in a rented mud building near the premises. The new school building was finished at the end of this school year and is now the official Barbara Kirker Second Chance Primary School of Maine-Soroa.
Each year since then another 35 students have been enrolled. The first class of children, who began in 2007, has now graduated. One hundred percent of them passed the National Primary School Exit Exam. The highest child scored 99%, the next highest 95%. No student made less than 75%. With a required passing grade of only 60%, Barbara’s school’s collective score was listed as one of the highest in Niger.
To continue the school needs private funding. This funding provides teacher salaries, repairs, upkeep, electricity, water, equipment such as desks, chairs, tables, bookshelves, computers, general supplies such as books, pencils, paper, notebooks, cleaning supplies and testing materials are also needed. To keep functioning at its present level, the school must meet a financial goal of $10,000.00 per year.