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Teaching adolescents life-skills through WhatsApp


In a more normal world, in a more normal school year, Tom, a form four candidate in a school in Nairobi would be up by 6am and out of his parents’ house by 6.45 am. Between his way to school and the first school bell for Monday assembly going off at 7am, Tom would have met with Betty and Diana, his classmates, and told them how crazy life was getting lately. By the time the clock hits home time, Tom would be going home feeling happy about the time spent with his friends but also a bit apprehensive that the KCSE exam was approaching fast. However, this scenario is not possible for Tom and a large number of other children in 2020.

School closures

Physical classrooms provide learners with a platform to interact with their peers and connect socially and emotionally. According to an article by UNICEF, over 18 million students in Kenya have been affected by school closures. Thus, they are unable to get the social and emotional connection that only a real classroom setting provides. In addition, 2 million learners who were to sit for their KCSE/ KCPE examinations have been forced to reschedule the exam sitting to the year 2021. Appreciating that this change can have a serious influence on a student’s social, emotional and intellectual development, the Community Service Center (CSC) team of Strathmore University looked for a way to reach secondary school students to help them deal positively with the changes brought about by the pandemic.

Maadili Mema Project

Since 2012, the community service center has been running Macheo Achievement Program for secondary school students in informal settlements. 150 secondary school students from schools in Kibera, Mukuru and Kangemi attend the programme at Strathmore University every Saturday afternoon. The classes encompass both character development and academic revision. So far Macheo has helped 190 students to complete Secondary school and over 90 have received scholarships to study a degree or diploma courses at Strathmore University. Due to the school closures the programme activities were suspended and hence, the birth of Maadili Mema project. Through the Maadili Mema project the CSC team has written stories to help secondary school students make sense of the current situation and gain knowledge, skills, and attitudes to help them navigate through the present circumstances. Each story is accompanied by a teacher’s guide to enable the facilitator to conduct a class session.

As no physical classes or meetings were possible, we decided to, at the very least, share the stories with some secondary students we have contact with through the WhatsApp platform. A relevant story is shared a few days before our discussion to allow those with limited access to a smartphone to find time to read it and be present for the discussion. Students are expected to read the story beforehand, work on the activity accompanying it and show up ready for the discussion. The exchange takes the form of a competition and all great responses get a star. Each star earns the student data bundles.

WhatsApp discussions

On the agreed upon date and time, students show up (online) ready for the discussion. 8pm is the most preferred time as parents are home and smartphones are more easily accessible. Prior to the discussion, the facilitator prepares short notes from the teachers’ guide that she can easily post during the discussion to enrich the lesson. The questions allow students to reflect on the story and share their understanding and personal experiences relating to it. Sessions take an hour, during which we explore various aspects of the theme. By the end of the WhatsApp discussion, each student has received a star or two for answering questions.

These stories are a tool to help students reflect on their personal experiences, navigate through change, and think of ways to solve their challenges. The WhatsApp discussions provide a platform for adolescents to share these experiences with their peers, find a sense of connectedness, and together explore solutions to some of the challenging issues. Secondly, the platform has proven to be an avenue to nurture values, life skills and attitudes such as trust, generosity, resilience, and discipline, all of which are helping students deal with change.

Would you like to use some of these stories with your own students? Write to us at cop@strathmore.edu and tell us more about the students you would like to share our stories with. Each story comes with a teacher’s guide to help you in facilitating the class discussion.


This article was written by Victoria Mwema.