At the heart of Kitisuru, Nairobi, on a well-manicured lawn, preschool children dressed in royal-blue and yellow uniform, sing and play the day away.
You would think that its break time, from the way the teacher is handling them. Far from it. It actually is class time at Dukesbridge, an avant-garde international school.
The early years school which borrows heavily from the Australian Early Years Framework (AYLF) unveiled in Nairobi in September last year and has since enrolled 70 pupils in its two campuses in Kitisuru and Gigiri.
“What we offer is a lot more informal in the sense that we focus a lot on the outdoors—bringing lessons typically done inside a classroom out into the garden on a picnic blanket, on a balcony or even on the playground,” says Shannon Briggs, the school’s managing director, an Australian national.
For the early years, the Australian system of education combines elements of forest school concept, Montessori and Waldorf pedagogies albeit in a more structured way.
It focuses more on performing arts, learning through play, sports and phonics from an early age.
In the morning, the children at Dukesbridge—aged between six months and seven years—are welcomed to school with calming classical music before starting their lessons.
For about an hour, they participate in high-energy assembly with lots of singing, dancing and jumping.
“We teach happiness at Dukesbridge because when a child is happy, the mood puts them in a different perspective to be able to grasp lots of things,” says Rishi Nursimulu, the school’s founder.
Mr Nursimulu, a Mauritius national, says this is the reason yellow was picked as the ideal uniform colour. Studies, he says, have shown that infants and preschoolers gravitate towards yellow when presented with a colour block as it grabs their attention.
Unlike in most preparatory school settings, classrooms at Dukesbridge are not cluttered with toys and there are no cartoon characters stuck on the wall.
Instead there are big outdoor yards with trees where children have structured and unstructured play time, covered balconies and terraces, specific corners for doll houses and for reading books.
Mr Nursimulu, a former investment banker, says the plan is to show children that they can still have fun in a neat environment.
The preschoolers start class with the reading scheme which is British and includes books that are appropriate for the specific age groups.
Unlike the competency based curriculum (CBC) which is fairly structured, the EYLF system allows children room and space to learn and move at their own speed.
Tuition fee ranges between Sh110,000 and Sh130,000 a term with additional charges for other activities like swimming, taekwondo and skating. Established in 2014 in Mauritius, the school has grown to become the biggest chain of private schools in the island-country.
It operates 10 campuses and enrolling over 1,000 pupils.
Dukesbridge acquired Smart Start Academy in Kitisuru and Gigiri Montessori House, making them its debut campuses in Kenya.
Opening campuses in Nairobi is mostly strategic as the school plans to use this as a springboard to becoming a pan-African network of schools.
After kindergarten, the preschoolers join Peponi House Preparatory School, Braeburn Group of International School, Rosslyn Academy and International School of Kenya (ISK).