What is the SLUMS Curriculum?

SLUMS stands for Student Leaders Understanding My Slums and is the cornerstone of our proposed solution. The curriculum is a child-centered, discussion-based andragogy (adult-learning model), centered around service learning. Why an adult-learning model? SLUMS takes into consideration the development of slum youth and how they “grow up” faster living in the harsh realities of the slums (exposure to violence, drug abuse, sex) and also gain various skills (negotiation and problem solving) by being pushed to the brink of survival (earning income for their families or taking care of their siblings as orphans). As a result, we are aiming to bridge the disconnect with their development and their classroom learning.

Today’s classrooms are “oppressive” as the reliance on standardized testing and rote learning have stripped students of the ability and opportunity to explore, think critically, and create, which if developed can have positive impact on academic and learning outcomes. Under this lens, our service-learning curriculum encourages students each month to ask, dream, investigate, create, and reflect — to become active citizens and problem solvers in their community by designing and participating in service-learning activities. The themes each month are varied, ranging from human rights, self-identity and community trust, and community advocacy.

The curriculum is integrated into the normal lesson planning for the teachers and is implemented weekly for all three terms of the school year. Currently, schools have integrated 2-3 hours of SLUMS into their weekly educational delivery.


How to Tackle the Specific Problem

We believe that ending extreme exclusion, the core problem of slums, requires engaged citizens and increased civic engagement levels, which we believe service-learning can produce.

Changing the Student-Teacher Relationship

Paolo Freire, a leading advocate of critical pedagogy, comments that a traditional teacher-student, top-down relationship is often oppressive for the students. So, our solution focuses on student-driven processes while teachers act more as facilitators.

Standardized Tests are Important but Not Everything

The national examinations are important to receive a secondary school degree. However, it can not be the only focus for slum youth, who face many external challenges, which lead to unforeseen interruptions.

College is Unaffordable for the Majority

Over 90% of slum youth in Nairobi do not qualify for college or cannot attend for financial reasons. Therefore, they must be equipped with the tools and knowledge to live successful lives as citizens.

Understanding the Unique Development of Slum Youth

Slum youth are exposed to many adult things at an early age including drug abuse, alcoholism, and sex. In addition, they are also forced to grow up more quickly as they take care of their orphaned siblings or do casual jobs after school. As a result, a more adult based andragogical approach may be more appropriate.

Considering Education Before Colonization

Many of the education systems and models in developing countries are carry overs from colonization. As a result, there is a need to re-consider what local and indigenous education looks like to make education more relevant, engaging, and impactful.

Low-cost Private Schools are Viable and Preferred

Currently low-cost private schools are growing in popularity amongst families in developing countries, particularly those in urban slums. They are performing just as well as their public/government school counterparts but more importantly, providing greater access for these slum youth. Their flexibility and schedule allows us to pilot our SLUMS Curriculum.

Gaining Government Support for Alternative Curricula

Governments have begun to recognize the viability of low-cost private schools in reaching and serving students on the fringes. In addition, they are implementing new education policies that are supporting new curricula, particularly those that integrate civic education. We want to continue to work with the local and national governments to scale up SLUMS.

Creating a Network of Schools Could Lead to Sustainability

Though there are always requests for school builds or new infrastructure projects, we firmly believe that building the capacity of existing schools and forging a strong network of like-minded institutions who will drive SLUMS forward, is the path to sustainability and local ownership.

So, what exactly is service-learning?

Though not common in developing world contexts, service-learning is easily adaptable and can be highly effective. We believe that disrupting the current education delivery for the extreme poor and excluded is necessary for the slum context in which standardized testing and rote learning can be too limiting.

Service-learning is defined as a pedagogy that exposes students to the needs of the larger society, engages them in addressing those needs through community service, and connects what they learn in the classroom to real-world conditions. At its best, service-learning is a powerful teaching method that allows students to reflect upon why such conditions exist and what their democratic responsibilities are in addressing them (Center for Liberal Education and Civic Engagement).

There are Four Types of Service Learning:

Direct Service Learning

Direct, face-to-face projects in which service impacts individuals who receive direct help from students (i.e. tutoring, work with elderly and disabled)

Indirect Service Learning

Projects with benefits to a community as opposed to specific individuals (i.e., environmental, construction, restoration)

Advocacy Service Learning

Working, acting, speaking, writing, teaching, presenting, informing, etc., on projects that encourage action or create awareness on issues of public interest (i.e. care for the environment, AIDS awareness, redefining the urban slums)

Research Service Learning

Projects with benefits to a community as opposed to specific individuals (i.e., environmental, construction, restoration)

We believe all of these service-learning components are important for the slum youth to transform the urban slums. Through direct and indirect service-learning, they will engage with their community’s problems, with advocacy service-learning they will redefine the narrative about the urban slums and bring exposure to the various plights, and through research-service learning, they will create new hypotheses and solutions for upgrading.