Homeschooling success sparks edupreneurship

Homeschooling advocates Tony and Stephanie Mwiti

Advocates for homeschooling and directors of Hampton School, Tony (left) and Stephanie Mwiti compare notes during an interview on May 13, 2024, in Nairobi.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

Stephanie and Tony Mwiti’s daughter Regina was always a bubbly girl. You know, the one that leads and others follow. But then as she was nearing her final year in primary school, her father noticed something. Not at once but gradually.

“I noticed a reasonable difference in attitude and presentation. First, she started having a slouch that seemed to be a product of something inside,” Mr Mwiti says, "It was the workload at school."

Parents are required to sign their child’s diary and one night when Regina still had eight pages of work to complete, her dad thought it was enough. He sent her off to bed but not before noting in her diary, ‘Unable to finish.’ He thought the school would call but nobody did. This continued on and her character changed further sparking a deep conversation in her parents’ room as to their options for Regina the child, and the student. If this is what Class 7 was like, how would she be the next year as a candidate?

In a chance meeting, the couple met up with a girl their daughter’s age. They were struck by how bubbly she was, like the Regina of old. When they asked where she went to school, her response was – she was home-schooled. The bulb went ping! At least in Mr Mwiti’s mind, it did.

“If we are homeschooling, you’re the one who’s going to do it!” Mrs Mwiti told her husband later when it started increasingly looking like they would go in that direction.

“It was going against something I had held dear and thought defined me, and that is being busy, being corporate,” she says.

Mrs Mwiti had been a career woman her whole life, first as a hotelier, then as personal secretary to the late Vice President Kijana Wamalwa and didn’t see herself bogged down at home with children.

In 2012, the East African Community of Homeschoolers (EACH) came in handy for the novices and Mrs Mwiti eventually agreed to be their children’s teacher - after training, of course. Her husband became the sole breadwinner and as with everything in her life before, she dove in headfirst.

Reaping the fruits

At A.C.E School of Tomorrow, the Mwitis were provided with a structured curriculum and supervision. As for Regina, she would finish her Standard 7 in her mainstream school as her mother went through training and the creation of a resource centre at home – Mrs Mwiti doesn’t like to call it a class – before finishing her final year under her watchful eyes at home with blackboards and 11pm sleep times completely out of the picture.

Mr Mwiti reminisces on the changes they saw. From not waiting on a school bus at 5am, the first one to be picked and the last one to be dropped.

“The joy came back. The laughter came back. When you start to see results, no one can [then] tell you anything.”

Before at school, the mathematics teacher could decide to have make-up classes during swimming lessons, now the Mwiti children could incorporate even more extracurricular activities into their day, slotted in between lessons.

Mr Mwiti was surprised that their children could get two hours with a music teacher during the week, the same teacher who could barely afford an hour at the weekend when all regular school children had time.

Today, Regina is in her third year of medical school at the University of Toronto.

Cynic to convert

“I came from [being] a sceptic who hardly wanted [anything to do with this path] to leadership in different elements. I realised for the first time that I was now in my calling. I brought my drive from the boardroom home,” Mrs Mwiti says.

The bonds formed then are still apparent today. “I know exactly what’s going on in their lives. When a boy smiles at them, they call me and say ‘Mom, you won’t believe what happened,’” Mrs Mwiti says of the close relations homeschooling brought between parents and children in their household.

In Nanyuki where the family moved, Mr Mwiti vowed that the culture they’d created in the capital would continue. The ballet teacher and the swimming instructor would travel to Nanyuki, which made them soon think that if there were a few other children, then the cost could be shared.

The interest in town soon grew and a few other children joined the Mwitis, which saw them decide to centralise the cohort’s activities – thus Hampton School was born on January 1, 2016 at a rented facility.

By the time the school was closing in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it had grown from an initial 10 children to 80 with Mrs Mwiti as headteacher.

Taking it online

Ever the entrepreneur, Mr Mwiti, during an evening jog with his wife, deep into the pandemic, suggested they take the school online. They used their children as researchers to gather information and a few days later, a presentation was made in their living room where Mr and Mrs Mwiti heard the words Google Classroom – a platform which can accommodate up to 650,000 students – for the first time.

In January 2021, the first online classes got underway with subsidised fees to cater for a population squeezed to its limit economically and otherwise.

According to the Mwitis, they are to date the most active online schooling platform in the country.

The school still does, however, offer boarding facilities as before to a maximum of 20 students but with 100 percent of the learning being conducted online. So is weekly assembly! Today, Hampton School is edging close to the number of learners they had enrolled pre-Covid 19.

School for all children – sick or…

Mr Mwiti’s mother, who is now fully recovered from cancer started him thinking on the idea. What about sick children who can’t go to school? Hampton School offers an education to children who are unable to attend physical school due to varied reasons, be they undergoing chemotherapy, treatment or long-term illness.

Teachers are trained to handle such cases and to take it slow if the particular child needs a break. That’s in theory. In practice, Mr Mwiti says, “The teachers are instructed that should the child tire, they should be allowed to pull out of the class for the day. But do you know what? By and large, they don't.” Even if they can’t be involved in gruelling sports like their counterparts, they’re able to get a similar education.

Also, the beauty of online school is that it’s a global village and if the numbers get too big to manage, Mrs Mwiti reckons she will wear her trainer’s hat to recruit others who can replicate her model. She likes to keep her numbers manageable and remembers the words of Prof Eddah Gachukia to her, “If you are an educator, be an educator. Don’t be a business person. You can’t do both.” The business side she leaves to her husband.

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