Youth First | A scalable model to improve adolescent wellbeing in Kenya’s schools

December 3, 2019
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It’s a fact that one-on-one counseling and dedicated attention to a student’s mental health and wellbeing can improve classroom behavior and adolescent wellbeing. In 2017, the Kenya Ministry of Education issued a directive mandating that every primary and secondary school in Kenya must offer guidance and counseling programs for its students.

This is a major step forward in holistic education practices and it shows that the government of Kenya recognizes the importance of teaching students these valuable skills. However, under this directive, teachers are expected to provide guidance and counseling services for students. Yet, there is no training provided to show the teachers how to effectively do so.

Students + facilitators participate in an opening circle session | Youth First Kenya
“Resilience is the ability to achieve positive life outcomes despite significant stresses, challenges or adversity.”
Jane Nungari Njuguna

A rising challenge for teachers in Kenya

Practical changes have been nonexistent or slow to implement, with many schools still having no counseling program in place. If they are fortunate to have a counselor in the school, teachers have found that an open and honest communication channel with students can be hard to cultivate.

Some have found that the initial atmosphere is either tense or suspicious. Teachers who do try to support the positive mental health of their students might not know where to start or might be already overburdened with existing classwork.

Efficient, effective and scalable training for teachers and school staff is needed in order to deliver on this crucial mental health directive to help students across Kenya.

A field-tested + proven solution for change

Youth First Kenya | YFK is one such program that has already been tested, with studies showing that it improves students’ mental health and resilience and is feasible for teachers and school staff to implement, even considering all of their other responsibilities.

Youth First focuses on resilience as a critical tool for students. Resilience, or the ability to achieve positive life outcomes despite significant stresses, challenges or adversity, is important not just in ensuring educational success but also success elsewhere in life. The ability to bounce back and recover from setbacks and trauma is crucial to youth dealing with social and educational challenges.

Without it, the challenges and the societal issues they face could instill a feeling of defeat and hopelessness, therefore jeopardizing their future.

A teacher-facilitated program comprised of lessons delivered through group sessions | Youth First Kenya

Knowledge, skills, and training to succeed

Youth First provides a holistic resilience and health training program to improve outcomes for students academically, emotionally, physically and socially.

Youth First is a teacher-facilitated, school-based program comprised of 23 lessons delivered through weekly hour-long group sessions. Youth First draws from evidence in positive psychology, social-emotional learning and restorative practices. The program has been shown to build the assets, knowledge, and skills that traditional schooling doesn’t address.

The success and evidence base for Youth First has been growing, showing in multiple settings the efficacy of the program.

Data supports improved adolescent wellbeing

In India, randomized controlled trials in government schools demonstrated that Youth First can be implemented effectively at a large scale.

That study saw a 23% increase in emotional resilience including coping skills, self-confidence, self-concept, adaptability/flexibility, courage, focus under pressure, determination/persistence, and their ability to handle negative feelings. The study also showed an increase in clean water behaviors, the ability to access healthcare when needed and overall attitudes towards gender equity.

Clear effects of learned resilience

In 2017, Youth First Kenya | YFK was adapted specifically for the Kenyan context and was implemented in 2018 as a pilot in 9 schools in two counties (Kajiado and Tharaka Nithi), by implementing partners BasicNeedsBasicRights, and SOWED Kenya, supported by Echidna Giving and Johnson & Johnson.

In 2019, YFK was expanded to reach a further 25 schools. Pre-and post-intervention assessments from 2018 showed statistically significant changes in student-teacher relationships.

The strong emphasis on facilitation skills also helped teachers to use facilitative rather than didactic teaching methods, and improved their disciplinary practices, becoming less punitive and aggressive. Beyond the YFK sessions, these teachers’ improved capacities have a spillover effect on their other classes and student relationships.

Among students themselves, significant and sizeable results were found including:

  • | Improved Resilience
  • | Enhanced Self-efficacy
  • | Improved Social Wellbeing
  • | Increased Psychological Wellbeing

Global partners focused on positive change

Youth First Kenya is well-poised to fill the existing gap in Kenya’s schools, helping schools prioritize the mental health and well-being of their students with a feasible, scalable model.

The consortium of WorldBeing, BasicNeedsBasicRights, and SOWED Kenya has set ambitious targets in the coming years. We look forward to scaling up and increasing our reach in order to impact the lives of more youth across Kenya both inside and outside of the classroom.

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