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Gedion Kyalo spent seven years longer in primary school and always came last in a class of 100. He was an example of what not to be. Fast forward to today, Kyalo now runs a group of schools.

This is his story…

It took almost twice the ordinary time for Gedion Kyalo to complete primary school because he couldn’t keep up in class.

Things got especially hard in class three where his mother was the class teacher: “My mother caned me a lot until I would nose bleed. One time, other teachers had to intervene to save me from the abuse. My life was miserable.”

His life took a turn for the worse in class four when he dropped out of school. “I became rebellious under the pressure to perform and grew into a truant. I joined a gang of school dropouts and learnt how to pickpocket.”

Today having recently won the coveted ‘Oscars’ of the education industry – the Global Educational Supplies and Solutions (GESS) Education Award for ‘Outstanding contribution in Education’, Kyalo, the founder and director of Goodrich Group of Schools and Foundation says his bleak childhood gave him the drive to make something of his life.

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Saving grace

In class six, Kyalo had an encounter with the principal, Mr Paul Maingi, who was aware of his challenges in school. The principal told him he would be a very successful man in life if only he transformed his own life.

He made Kyalo the class monitor much to teachers disappointment. He was promoted to a prefect and later the school head boy and although he did not improve much academically, he was filled with hope for my future.

He believes that his principal understood that a ‘slow learner’ is not a diagnostic category. It is just a term people use to describe a learner who can learn necessary academic skills but at a below-average rate compared to his age peers.

Unteachable and untrainable

“I was suffering from nothing medical. Till this day, I don’t write or read. I have a computer in my office that I never use. There are people who help me with anything to that effect. I was born this way. Around class seven, my father hired a tutor, which is what helped me more than anything else.”

In secondary school, everything became even more difficult. “Teachers would come to class, dictate and talk endlessly then leave. I was much older then and had to wake up at night to shave my beard. I was isolated by my classmates and my teachers started seeing me as a burden. I was a grown-up yet unable to catch up. At this point, he decided to change his age and name from Titus Kyalo to Gideon Kyalo on both his birth certificate and identity card to reflect that of a high school student.

“After Form Four, my late father realised I would never excel academically and pushed me to become a pastor. I wanted to be an entrepreneur so I ran away from home.

He stayed at different houses before meeting one of his class one classmates who took him in to work at his butchery. He also helped Kyalo go to a technical school to study business administration.

“That was another low point in my life. College tutors would say my handwriting and level of understanding was similar at a pre-unit level. But I always knew business was my passion and I graduated with a diploma in business.”

Cleaner to the school owner

“I am better at speaking to people. So in my first job, I rose quickly to a sales manager. I am sharp at convincing (people). I cannot read or write but when you tell me something I can understand it better than anyone else.”

He was earning Sh15,000 before the company went into receivership. He became jobless and took a cleaning job, earning Sh3,900 and saving Sh500 of it.

Within one year he was a brand manager, simply because he had a business outlook on everything and he could advise the directors. He would hire someone to write proposals to present to the bosses.

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“It was my initiatives and these proposals that propelled me in my career.”

All along he saved money with Post Bank, to raise initial capital to start a school. To generate more income, he was vending tea and mandazi by day and working as a cleaner by night.

When you trust too much

While his career has mostly been a success, Kyalo speaks openly about his failure, especially when he started his first school.

In 2008, Kyalo started a daycare centre at an abandoned house in Kileleshwa and called it Like Mother’s Home. He only had three children; his child and two other children of domestic workers from the neighbourhood.

Within a year, more people enrolled their children and he had almost 30 children. “From the daycare centre, I scaled up to Goodrich Kindergarten and employed competent people to work with.”

His inability to speak fluent English prompted him to take his wife to an ECDE college to help manage the school. She became the pillar of management but barely two months later she passed away on the school term opening day.

“While her body was still in the morgue, one of the teachers who helped with the school’s management told people the school had closed and out of the trust the parents had for the teachers, they transferred their children. I was left with only seven.”

“I was grief-stricken at my double tragedy. I went and buried my wife and consoled myself. I started marketing from the ground up.”

Today, Kyalo is transforming the lives of slow learners through Goodrich Foundation, having overcome his academic challenges.

The school has academic clinics every term to meet parents and children to discuss their challenges. Sometimes, he says, they even go the extra mile to find out why a child is failing, finding out what’s happening at home and addressing it with parents.

Parting Shot,

“A slow learner is not failure; the understanding, inspiration and patience of a passionate teacher, makes a difference in a child’s learning abilities to discover and unlock their full potential.”