Shock of counties with 1.8m missing school children

A school run in Eldoret Town. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

A new government report now shows that an estimated 1.8 million children in 16 counties who are supposed to be in school cannot be accounted for.

The children, aged between six and 17, should have been enrolled in primary and secondary schools.

The counties affected are Baringo, Bungoma, Garissa, Isiolo, Kajiado, Kilifi, Kwale, Mandera, Marsabit, Narok, Samburu, Tana River, Turkana, Wajir, West Pokot and informal settlements in Nairobi County.

The details are contained in a new report published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNICEF) Institute for Statistics.

The report titled ‘The Study on out of School Children in Kenya (2021)’ shines the spotlight on the government’s 100 per cent transition drive that has in past been championed by the Ministry of Education.

The report also finds that the total number of out-of-school children may increase to 2.5 million, if 700,000 children aged four and five years and who are also out of school, are included.

The report indicates that out of the 700,000 children, 369,310 are boys while 337,690 are girls aged between four and five and who should be enrolled under pre-primary education.

The report, however, did not include this category of learners in the overall data as the Basic Education Act does not recognize pre-primary as part 6 of basic education, said Georges Boade, of UNICEF Institute for Statistics.

What should however worry Ministry of Education officials are the findings that some 1.8 million children aged between six and 17 years and who should be in primary and secondary school are not accounted for.

Of these, 593,650 are boys and 540,060 girls, all aged between six and 13. These, according to the report, are children who should be enrolled in primary schools.

Another 357,110 boys and 301, 620 girls, all aged between 14 and 17, are out of school and according to the report, should be enrolled in secondary schools.

The report finds that some of these children have never attended school, will attend later or have completely dropped out of school.

The report further finds that most common locations to find these children include grazing fields, market places, public transport businesses, on the streets and in entertainment places.

Another report, a baseline survey by the Kenyan Government, UNICEF and the National Council for Nomadic Education in Kenya (Naconek) in the same 16 counties found that “a majority of out of school children are found in Mandera with 170,050, Garissa with 166,010, Wajir has 152,130 and Turkana with 144,520. Mandera and Kwale, have higher percentage of out-of-school boys compared to girls.”

The counties with the lowest number of out-of-school children are Tana River, Bungoma and Kilifi.

“A total of 27,555 children live with disabilities within the 16 select counties. Counties with the highest number of out-of-school children with disabilities include Turkana with 4,573, Mandera with 10,082, Garissa has 4,317 and Wajir with 2874,” reads report.

The government, UNICEF and Educate-A-Child have now partnered to take some 250,000 children back to school by end of 2023.

Educate-A-Child is a programme of the Education Above All Foundation (EAA), with support from Qatar Fund for Development.

The drive dubbed ‘Operation Come to School, Phase Two’, targets children aged six to 13 in the 16 counties where children are most at risk of dropping out of class.

The first phase of the initiative enrolled about 350,000 out-of-school children from 11 counties between 2015 and 2019.

“Phase Two aims to increase the enrollment and retention of primary school-aged children, including girls and children with disabilities.

Approaches will include community mobilisation, cash transfers and educational supplies to support families, teacher training and generating new evidence and policies,” said Marilyn Hoar, UNICEF chief of education.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha said every child in Kenya has the right to an education as enshrined in the Kenyan Constitution.

“The longer children are out of school, the harder it is for them to get back to learning. We must do everything possible, as quickly as possible, to get those children who are out of school back into class,” said Prof Magoha.

UNICEF Representative to Kenya Maniza Zaman said all children have a right to an education but for many children in Kenya, Covid-19 and drought are making this a pipe dream.

“We need to act now to get all children back into classrooms, making a special effort to reach girls and children with disabilities. At the same time, we need to continue to invest in a better-quality education experience that will keep children in school,” said Zaman.

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