Friday, May 30, 2008

Solinsky Podcast on RunningTimes.com

Listen to Chris talk about life on the European circuit in this podcast at RunningTimes.com. The podcast is a supplement to an article Matt Taylor wrote featuring Chris, Matt Tegenkamp, Michelle Sikes, Simon Bairu and Tim Nelson in the magazine’s July/August issue.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Coming Soon to KIMbia.net…

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Millicent Gathoni Wins Bolder Boulder

Millicent Gathoni en route to victory.Millicent Gathoni kept the women’s Bolder Boulder title in the KIMbia family for another year, taking the Memorial Day 10K in 32:49. She battled Ethiopia’s Amane Gobena for most of the race before pulling away for a 4-second victory. Her victory also helped Millicent lead the Kenyan women to a second-place finish in the international team competition behind a strong Romanian contingent. Returning to action after last month’s Olympic Marathon Trials, Elva Dryer ran 34:39 and was the second American behind Deena Kastor.

Running as part of the British Commonwealth team, John Yuda placed fourth in 28:48, one place and 9 seconds ahead of John Korir, who was the top finisher on the Kenyan men’s squad. Charles Munyeki was eighth in 29:12. Ethiopia won the men’s team title, followed by Kenya and the Commonwealth.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

In Kenya, Primary Education is, at best, Secondary

school1.jpgOur Peter Vigneron sent us the following analysis of Kenya’s public primary education system. In Kenya for the past few months on behalf of the KIMbia Foundation, Peter has immersed himself in issues related to his work on education.

I saw a teacher beat four of his students last Thursday. They were late returning to class after lunch, and they carried plastic bags of berries, which the teacher took and threw away. “They were collecting wild fruits in the bush,” he told me with a smile. “What if one is bitten by a snake? What can we tell the parents?”

Two weeks ago I visited a different public primary school, on the other side of Kipsomba Location from where I found the berry collectors. With my research partner and translator, I was investigating a family we had come across while surveying in a remote corner of the location. We had found the family—seven children and their father—through a neighbor. The mother was dead, and we were told that the father, an alcoholic, spends most of his time drinking or looking for drink. I wanted to see if there was something the KIMbia Foundation could do for the children, whom the neighbor indicated were struggling to feed themselves.

In the course of my research, which I have just recently concluded, I focused especially on public primary schools. KIMbia is principally interested in supporting education efforts in Kenya, and I wanted to understand better what problems we were up against. When I asked parents about schools, I expected to hear about overcrowding and the poor quality of instruction. In fact I did, but for weeks I was puzzled at the number of parents who told me that too many families cannot afford to send their children to class. Kenya is famous, of course, for instituting free and compulsory public primary education in 2003.

When the government launched free primary education it neglected to fund the effort properly, and the number of teachers nationwide increased only slightly against a tidal wave of new students. Within months, student-teacher ratios, which were high before the initiative, exploded to 60- or 70-to-1 in some schools. The number of students going to school has risen, but for most of them, the quality of instruction has declined precipitously. And there is this: free public education is not entirely free. There are nominal fees for uniforms, books, and examinations, usually totaling about 1,200 Kenyan shillings per child per year, about $20. It is unknown how many more children would attend if these expenses were also waived.

school2.jpgI have spent the majority of my time in Kenya at private schools, especially at Paul Koech’s boarding school, Silgich Hill Academy, which I have long viewed as an oasis of scholarship and learning in a vast expanse of failed and failing classrooms. My perception of the public schools—as overcrowded, understaffed, and unruly—had affirmed our decision to focus the Foundation’s efforts in places where education is succeeding. Right now, at the primary school level, education is succeeding only in private institutions.

It has taken visits to public schools over the last weeks, however, to jar my understandings of overcrowding and disorder into a visceral and more realistic appreciation of what happens at these schools on a daily basis. Most classrooms are in a state of startling disrepair—they are dirty, without chalk boards, and often lacking even glass in windowpanes. Students are dismissed for lunch at 12:30 p.m., and in grades four and above, are due back for afternoon instruction at 2:00 p.m., meaning that older kids must complete two round-trip treks between home and campus every day. At one school, the principal told me that he had a staff of 12 teachers for 667 students. He counted himself among the 12, but I did not see him perform anything but administrative duties during the course of my visit, and I imagine that the number of actual teachers is 10 or 11.

We met with three of the seven children that day two weeks ago. Three more have dropped out to work as laborers on nearby farms, and we were told that another, a seventh-grader, was home sick. One of the three we met, a 14-year-old girl, short and rail thin, did not look a day older than 10. “They don’t eat enough,” the principal said after they returned to class. “The one who they said was sick is probably home looking for food for the others.” He explained that, twice a year, when crops have been planted and the last harvest has been eaten, the school experiences a dramatic drop in attendance: children are kept home by their parents to look for food or earn money to buy it.

I suspect that the children I saw being whipped Thursday were searching for lunch. If they knew they would find no food at home, they may have decided to scavenge on their own. It is a realization that, for me, makes the reality of their beating difficult to bear.

school3.jpgYet teachers are hardly to blame. They are responsible for too many students, they work in inadequate facilities with inadequate teaching materials, and cannot readily use the threat of suspension or expulsion to discipline their charges—it is a challenge enough to maintain regular attendance in perfect circumstances, and probably close to impossible in these. For its part, the government, which has struggled to meet payroll deadlines for prison warders and teachers over the last month, appears close to bankruptcy and unable to consider education reform.

In six weeks of research, I never encountered a family willing to admit that they were too poor to send their children to public primary school. I visited dozens of houses with a full complement of children running around during school hours, but my questions about their attendance were met with polite smiles and little more. Those fees for uniforms and books are enough, evidently, to prevent many children from attending class, and in times of hunger, I suspect, education becomes only a passing concern. I worry, as Kenya prepares to confront its own unique national food shortage, and as the World Food Program warns that it will begin limiting food disbursement as international cereal depots run dry, that the crisis in Kenya’s public schools will continue unabated.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Korir, Chepkurui Produce KIMbia Sweep at Bay to Breakers

John Korir repeats as Bay to Breakers champ.John Korir and Lineth Chepkurui won this morning’s Bay to Breakers 12K in San Francisco, often called the world’s largest road race (once you factor in the thousands of unofficial entrants–it is San Francisco, after all). Korir ran 34:24 to repeat his victory of last year. For good measure, he was also the first man to the top of the infamous Hayes Street Hill. John Yuda was third in 35:03, behind Moroccan Ridouane Harroufi (34:28), who won the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler last month over Johns Korir and Yuda. Our Julius Koskei was 4th in 35:56.

Lineth won yet another major American race, adding the Bay to Breakers title to victories at Cherry Blossom in April and the Bloomsday 12K two weeks ago. She ran 39:22 to keep the women’s title in the KIMbia family one year after Edna Kiplagat, who recently gave birth, won here.

Lineth was among the elite women given a headstart of 4 minutes and 40 seconds over the rest of the field. Korir caught her in the last mile to win the race-within-a-race equalizer bonus.

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