Risk analyst shifts focus to running top schools

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 - 00:00 -- BY JOHN MUCHANGI

After working for more than five years as a risk analyst, her ability to predict future trends and cut any risks sticks out like a sore thumb. But behind the large mahogany desk on this quiet Friday evening her two thumbs softly press on to a pile of congratulatory notes. “We don't let the accolades distract us,” says Anne Wado, who has molded a chain of schools with more than 2,000 students. “And we are still growing.”

The former top risk analyst has put her hands in developing the three schools in Nairobi and Mombasa. The Karen-based campus produced among the best schools in Nairobi in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams last year. The success was replicated by the sister secondary school in KCSE last month. Wado, a staunch catholic, runs schools that admit both privately-sponsored students and those on school scholarship.

The former Tumu Tumu Girls and Kangaru School student studied Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics at the University of Nairobi. She then studied Risk Management at Chattered Institute in the United Kingdom in 1980. Anne says her dalliance with running schools actually began before she became a risk analyst. “After Kangaru I was given a contract to open Gatarakwa High School. I worked there for 10 months before joining the University of Nairobi,” she says.

In the UK (Kent), she specialised in construction risks and later returned to Kenya where she worked independently as a consultant analyst in several projects including one in the Tana Delta. Her job involved creating innovative programmes to reduce risk and create capital. Anne says she traveled a lot in work yet as a young mother she wanted to bring up her family. She later married a Central African Republic peacemaker, Christian Wado, and the family maintains a home in the central African country.

Her dream has however been to start what should become Kenya's leading chain of schools . “We established the first campus in 1999,” says the mother three sons and one daughter. That school – St Elizabeth Academy, based in Karen – has rapidly grown to be one of the best schools in Nairobi. It is surrounded by pristine trees, whose leaves, in the evening breeze, break into a soft hum that envelops the neighborhood. Anne says the undisturbed environment has worked miracles.

St Elizabeth produced among the best performances in the KCPE in December, which Anne finds satisfactory. “We had 68 candidates and 40 of them scored more than 350 marks. We feel it was a very good performance,” she says. The rest qualified to join at least district schools. The school has at least five buses used to ferry the non-boarding students and an ultra-modern academic block. Student population has also been growing and Anne says has 550 pupils in primary school and in the adjoining secondary school.

The A level has 140 students and last year, all of them qualified to go to university. In, she also established another school in Mritini in Mombasa with 600 pupils, and Bombolulu in Mombasa with 800 pupils. Anne credits her prayerfulness and hard-work among the staff with the rapid expansion. “We prepare for each day knowing everyone will have to work hard,” she says. Anne says giving pupils a good chance to succeed in life gives her a sense of fulfillment.

The school also gives scholarships to children who cannot afford the fees and who may not even afford cost of a public school. She says: “We go through our church parishes every year. We get orphaned children and admit a number of them in our boarding schools. We later integrate some of them IN OUR secondary schools.”

Many of these children come from the neighbourhood from security guards and domestic workers employed in Karen. “It's only at St Elizabeth where kids of presidents and gardeners study together.” Anne has mixed feeling toward the proposed changes to the education system. She says the elongated terms are simply “exhausting”. The first and second terms will have 16 and 15 weeks, respectively, if the changes are adopted. Third term will be eight weeks long "to ensure peace and calm during the exam period in October and November," according to Education minister Sam Ongeri. A term has traditionally been 13 weeks long.

Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association, the private schools and Kenya National Union of Teachers have all criticised the move. Knut secretary-general David Okuta says some teachers took advantage of the school holidays to further their education and this would disrupt their studies. “Although kids need time to play, I'm sure parents are worried of the October to January holiday. Instead of pupils resting I fear that it will be another tuition opportunity for many schools,” says Anne. “We have held meetings to strategise how to go about it because we feel the children will need midterms.”

She welcomes the proposed re-introduction of the A- Level system saying they already have that system in the school. But the apparent inclination by the Ministry of Education to put public school candidates into national schools at the expense of private school, disturbs her. Anne says most pupils in private schools are from average families where parents merely scrap through. “Yet those who are doing this to the children are adults who themselves enjoyed high quality education,” she says.

She however hopes ministry officials will eventually realise that parents in private schools struggle as much as their colleagues in public schools. Anne says she will one day retire from active running of the institutions. A staunch catholic, she hopes to practice lay apostolate. These are people who carry out church work but are not members of the official Church hierarchy nor in Holy Orders. Apostolates operate with the permission of the local Diocese, but often without material support.

Anne wants to promote education of destitute children by visiting them in their institutions, supporting them and even counseling them. Her husband, ambassador Wado, also works in their schools, aside from his peace work. The Central African Republic (CAR) has been unstable since its independence from France in 1960, with different rebel groups fighting across the country The diplomat offers his peacemaking services freely to his government, according to his wife. The couple's formula to success? Prayer and handwork, she says.