Hidden costs undermine schooling in ASAL areas

Pupils of Paka primary school in Tiaty sub-county studying under a tree on October 9, 2017. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

As the debate on how to improve the quality of learning intensifies in Sub-Saharan Africa, questions are emerging as to whether many children are being left behind due to poverty occasioned by climate change, ethnic conflicts, insecurity, negative gendered cultural norms and little government support.

Dr Jules Siedenburg, a research fellow at the University of East Anglia in Britain, thinks this might be the case in pastoral communities in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid areas.

In a recent study, ‘Perils Facing Kenyan Pastoralists, Livelihood Innovations and Wider Impacts: Learning from Project Experience’, Siedenberg, an agricultural and environmental economist, argues “schooling in its current form is problematic in those areas, as paying school fees is often a major challenge, while the benefits of schooling to pupils are not always clear.”

Although free primary education has been in place since 2003 and free day secondary's since 2008, various hidden costs such textbooks, uniforms, school meals, school committee levies and development levies continue to persist.

Mohamed Diyat Abdi, an educational researcher at Kenyatta University, says the opportunity cost of sending children to school is a significant hidden cost that bars many children from schooling in pastoral communities.

“For instance, in the North-Eastern region, boys are sent to look after the animals in order to save money for the family that would have been paid to an employed herder, as many people feel schooling to be a loss of the household income,” Abdi says in his study on influence of hidden costs of education on access and retention of learners in primary schools in Garissa.

But whereas paying school fees is a challenge to many pastoral households, the benefits of schooling are not always clear in comparison to urban areas and counties that are not affected by ethnic conflict, insecurity or severely impacted by climate change in terms of irregular rainfall patterns, loss of pasture and general scarcity of water.

In this aspect, although schooling is universally accepted as a priority, in most pastoral households, it is usually regarded as a gateway to formal employment but this belief is swiftly discounted because few school leavers from pastoral communities secure such jobs.

“Sometimes, we have to remove our children from school when our livestock die due to drought, even if they may be doing well, but if we have no money then we cannot pay the school fees,” one herdsman told Siedenberg in Marsabit.

Another villager admitted that illiteracy levels were high among pastoral communities, as some people did not go to school, or dropped out early.

“Unfortunately, even the few who are educated up to Form 4 in our village have a hard time getting a job, as only the few who get a degree can get a job,” he said, sadly.

Despite progress in the growth of enrolment as a result of the implementation of free primary education, about 90 per cent of Kenya’s about 2 million children who have never been to school are currently living in arid and semi-arid lands.

Siedenberg expressed worries that unless poverty is reduced and the livelihoods of people improved, in the long run, these areas might manifest characteristics of instability and become home to violent extremist groups. This could be avoided through increase of pasture supplies, conflict resolutions, rehabilitation of water resources, commercialisation of livestock production and schooling that is compliant with pastoralism and protection of fragile ecosystems.

“Currently, our schools use a national curriculum that talks about farming but not pastoralism, so children do not get a sense of what best practice pastoralism looks like,” an assistant chief in Turkana lamented.