Shock of widening education gaps in marginalised communities

Pupils study under trees in Nachurur primary school in Tiaty, Baringo County, with rocks for desks. The children also have to watch for poisonous snakes and scorpions that inhabit the area. (Kipsang Joseph, Standard)

Some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are spending meagre resources in education, a Pan African conference held in Nairobi found.

Equatorial Guinea, a country whose per capita income stands at over $20,000, spends only 2.3 per cent of its GDP on education.

“Lack of textbooks, dilapidated schools and classrooms are the key constraints limiting pupils’ access to learning in Equatorial Guinea,” says Lucy Bassett, a basic education specialist at the World Bank, in a study on the current status of education in that country.

Inadequate resources

Whereas not all countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have adequate resources to improve education, there are existing severe geographical, ethnic and culturally-oriented disparities that could be dealt with without spending too much money.

That is the situation prevailing in Kenya, where relatively small ethnic communities are more or less living in the early days of colonialism in terms of ability of their children to access education.

According to a joint report of the Ministry of Education, the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education, such communities experience subjugation, marginalisation, dispossession, exclusion or outright discrimination because of their cultures.

The report on the vulnerable and marginalised groups in Kenya focused on Ogiek, Sengwer, Ajuran, Sakuye, Makonde, Wakifundi and Waswaka that are either hunters and gatherers, pastoralists, nomadic or fishermen. One common factor among these communities is that their children face serious challenges accessing education.

Surprisingly, even in circumstances where some of those small communities neighbour larger ethnic groups, they are still isolated in matters of schooling.

The general assessment of the study showed that vulnerable and marginalised communities, often described as hard-to-reach groups, had similar problems. Most common among them are high school drop-outs, truancy, high rate of pupil absenteeism, inadequate teachers and dilapidated classrooms.

The report highlights a school that had only four classrooms out of the required eight. “The staff-room doubled up as head teacher’s office, residence for teachers and a store,” says the report.

Elsewhere, there was shortage of desks and in one school, pupils from class one to six sat on the floors. Although Kenya has banned female genital mutilation, the practice seems to be unstoppable among some vulnerable communities. 

The practice that often spells doom for a girl’s education stands at 40 per cent among the Ogiek and Sengwer communities. But it is early marriages and teenage pregnancies that appear to be forms of active resistance against girls’ education in almost all the vulnerable and marginalised communities.

According to the report, early marriages stand at 80 per cent among the Ogiek, 88 for the Sakuye, 67 for the Ajuran and 60 for the Sengwer.

But while the prevalence rate for early marriages among the Wakifundi fishermen stands at a modest 25 per cent, teenage pregnancy in that community stands at 75 per cent. It is highest among the Makonde at 90 per cent.

“The issue is rather serious in that early marriages in some of those communities occur at the age of 12 for girls and 15 for boys,” says the report.

Specific schooling issues also affect learning among the small communities as education officials reported last year. Schools located in Ajuran areas were under-staffed at the rate of 87 per cent and 70 per cent among the Makonde.

Subsequently, under-staffing might have contributed significantly to poor discipline that accounted for high pupil absenteeism in those communities.

Almost in all those communities, truancy remains a major problem, as prevalence rate stands at 70 per cent among the Ogiek, 75 per cent among the Ajuran and Makonde 40 per cent.

The report lays major blame of poor learning and schooling among the vulnerable and marginalised communities in Kenya to retrogressive cultural trends and lack of interest in education in general. One wonders as to what mechanism the government will use to change this amid the struggle to achieve the African Union’s vision of the ‘Africa We Want’.

Under this rallying call, the AU seeks to ensure social and economic inclusivity, equitable quality education and life-long learning opportunities for all.

Rampant poverty

Unfortunately, addressing disparities and gaps in education in Kenya and elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa is not merely restricted to expanding access and quality to traditional communities.

In the words of Manos Antoninis, the director of Unesco’s Global Education Monitoring Report, many African countries are yet to make progress in basic and tertiary education, thanks to rampant poverty, retrogressive cultural barriers and policy gaps.

“Indeed a radical policy shift coupled with robust financing of public education is needed to boost school enrolment and quality learning everywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa,” says Antoninis.

To achieve quality education and inclusivity at all levels, Kenya and other African countries would have to invest heavily in appropriate schooling and learning facilities by increasing expenditure on education and not merely asking pupils to sit on floors, sometimes in open air classrooms.