Different people are called to different businesses for different reasons. When Maureen Ngesa, 34, decided to home school her children, she had no idea this would lead her to starting a fully-fledged establishment a year down the line. She decided on homeschooling because she couldn’t find an education system she believed in near her home in Athi River.
Soon, other parents took interest in her homeschooling project and encouraged Maureen to start a small academy in the neighbourhood, and Abacus School was born. She tells Hustle what it’s taken to actualise her calling.
You didn’t believe in the available education systems. Why?
Well, we’re all so busy these days with both parents working, getting home late and exhausted. Most education systems are geared towards teaching a child academics, but I knew that would simply not be enough. I wanted a system that would build my children’s character, teach them to make the correct decisions so that even when they are around other influences, they maintain the core values they have been taught.
What system did you choose instead?
It’s called ACE – Accelerated Christian Education. The focus is on Christian principles, but most importantly, the system is built around enhancing a child’s character, and their ability to learn and make positive choices. Before we teach them how to read and write, we teach them about the core values of life. Everyone eventually reads, everyone eventually writes, but not everyone is taught character building at this early age.
Is this a recognised curriculum in Kenya?
Absolutely. All ACE schools are registered with the Ministry of Education. We follow the rules and regulations just like everyone else.
What’s one unique thing about ACE?
Every child learns at his or her own pace. For instance, my son is 7. In the curriculum, we help him set his own goals. He knows in a week he needs to complete a certain number of what we call ‘Paces’, which would be equivalent to modules. So he decides how many he will do per day to accomplish this goal. If he finishes ahead of time, great. If he doesn’t, he has to put in extra time to meet the requirements. It’s all about teaching life lessons early.
You went from teaching your children in your house to setting up a school. Tell us about the journey.
Parents would interact with my kids and ask me where I took them to school, so I talked to them about the homeschooling system I was using. When more and more parents expressed interest, I was convinced to set up a school. Setting up within Greenpark was a case of perfect timing. A school already existed in the estate, but it was moving to larger premises, so that space was going to be vacant. An ad was sent out to residents of the estate who’d be interested in the space. I applied and got it.
What were some major challenges?
Finances was a big one. I had moved from tutoring children in my house to a place where I had to pay rent, electricity, teachers, equipment. It was a lot. Thankfully, my husband was very supportive as the financial backer of the business, but we struggled. Finances remain a major challenge, I won’t lie. Our fees range from Sh45,500 to Sh79,500 per term, depending on the child’s grade and the number of extracurricular activities they’re doing.
Did you ever think as you went down the road that perhaps this wasn’t such a great idea?
I had moments like that, yes. I think the strongest one was when my business partner and I decided to end our partnership. We had different visions and just had to go our own way. The split, which happened during the school holidays, came with repercussions.
After the split, we opened school to find some parents had moved their children from Abacus. It was a big blow to a small school. I was reeling. All my calculations for that term were thrown off. All together, we lost 11 out of 35 children.
How did you steer these waters?
I got on the phone and I called all the parents, those who were still with the school and those who had removed their children. I explained to them that despite my business partner and I going our separate ways, the school remained intact.
Did you get any children back?
No, but that was alright. In an odd way, I realised God was answering my prayer. I had been on bedrest before that school term due to a complicated pregnancy. I remember asking God during those long hours of solitude to keep the school aligned to our founding vision and principles, despite my extended absence. This is exactly what He did.
What was the most difficult thing about the situation?
Broken trust. I doubted God’s intentions sometimes, but most of all, I doubted myself. I doubted the call. I thought maybe I had made a mistake. Maybe I should have stuck to teaching my children in my house.
What is one of the most vital lessons you learned from this experience?
It’s not a coincidence that this difficult period in my school happened as I was on bedrest battling to keep my pregnancy viable. God was definitely speaking to me. Despite the complications, I gave birth to a healthy boy who is worth every difficulty I went through. It’s the same with our dreams, our goals, our calling. The darkness will be there but if we endure it, the reward will far, far outweigh the trial.
How are you doing now?
We are off track with our five-year plan, that’s for sure. But we are paying the bills and we are getting more students. We should be able to fully get back on track with our plan by the end of this year. God is faithful. That’s all I can say.