Their stories are as sad as they are inspiring, gripping tales of intelligent and promising children mainly from parent-less or single-parent homes.
Their dreams of getting an education were almost ended by poverty, but they defied all the odds to excel.
Over the last few weeks, the lives of these 9,000 pupils, who sat the 2019 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams and make up some of Kenya’s most needy and marginalised, have started looking brighter, thanks to the Elimu Scholarship Programme.
The scholarship is an initiative of the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the World Bank and Equity Bank’s Wings to Fly scholarship programme.
Yesterday, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha launched the pioneer programme in Nairobi. It seeks to sponsor the education of 18,000 of the country’s poorest students over two years.
This year, 9,000 scholars were selected from a pool of 38,000 applicants, meaning one out of the four applicants was selected.
“Through hard work, I was able to score 405 marks and was admitted to Asumbi Girls High School. My mother is a single parent who does casual jobs to provide for me and my brother. I am happy to get this scholarship and I hope to be a neurosurgeon,” said Tamara Taliah, a 14-year-old living with her mother and brother in an iron-sheet house in Nairobi’s Mbotela estate.
Margaret Wanjiru’s story is similar to Taliah’s, and the stories of other students who spoke in a documentary about the scholarship.
“I am being raised by a single mother. I do not even know my father. My mother heard about the scholarship and helped me apply,” Wanjiru said, excited at the opportunity to join Olosois Girls Secondary School in Kajiado County.
Without the scholarship, Wanjiru said, she could have dropped out of school at Standard Eight.
Prof Magoha said the scholarship would transform lives. He relived his experience as a poor boy who grew up in a poor family and earned a scholarship to join Starehe Boys Centre, followed by another scholarship by President Jomo Kenyatta to study abroad.
He said the opportunities took him from poverty to a surgeon and now heading one of the country’s most important dockets.
Less than 300 marks
Although many scholarships characteristically offer opportunities to students who excel, some of the Elimu scholars scored less than 300 marks in KCPE.
The selection of students with less than 300 marks was intentional, according to Magoha, who said: “It does not make sense to give scholarships to children who only score above 400 because many of them do not need the scholarship. The selection of scholars should be done wisely. They should select children who are needy and unable to pay school fees.”
Magoha said many children perform poorly in exams due to the difficult conditions they face, but if awarded scholarships, they can perform better.
“When I accompanied the selection teams, I came face to face with the worst forms of poverty, which I knew in my yester-years. I witnessed the hardships and nightmares that some candidates had to go through,” he said, recounting his visit to the homes of some of the selected students.
He said the Elimu scholarships were fairer in the selection process and would have more impact than the Constituencies Development Fund scholarships, which he said had failed to produce the desired results, mainly due to corruption and biased selection of beneficiaries.
Equity Bank CEO James Mwangi said the selection process was a duplication of Equity’s Wings to Fly scholarship: “Over the last six weeks, Equity has worked with the community to identify the first cohort of 9,000 beneficiaries. Community scholarship advisory committee members visited beneficiaries to verify their applications.”
With the Elimu scholarship, Magoha aims to ensure 100 per cent transition rate, since many children stay out of school mainly due to poverty.
Julius Melly, the chair of the parliamentary committee on education, said the scholarships would transform the state of basic education in the country.
Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang said that through the scholarship, the government was securing Kenya’s future.
Magoha said the list of the beneficiaries would soon be published on the website of the Ministry of Education to promote transparency.
Dr Mwangi said the scholarships would change lives, just like Equity Bank’s scholarship programme.
“Hope is manifested in two scholars. Benson Kata is 21 and went to Kavingo Primary School in Kitui. After three years of roasting maize in Mlolongo and earning Sh100 to support his three siblings (they are orphans), he realised Sh100 would never change their lives and decided to go back to Standard Eight. He got 340 marks. He missed the Equity Wings to Fly scholarship but the Elimu scholarship gave Benson the opportunity to join Kitui High School,” Mwangi narrated.
The Education ministry plans to scale up the programme in the coming years to benefit more needy children. It will also collaborate with non-governmental organisations to provide more scholarships.
Magoha acknowledged that many more students were still in need.
He called on other organisations to partner with the government in providing scholarships, while warning to schools against sending away learners due to lack of school fees.
“If you are sending a child to the kind of slums I saw, you must be very wicked,” he said.
Magoha said that the government was considering harmonising scholarships and bursaries so that some pupils do not benefit more than once at the expense of other needy cases.
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