UNESCO: Long commute to school exposes children to security risks

Pupils from Arya Primary School in Kisumu leave for home after lessons. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

It has now emerged that school-going children in Kenya are exposed to insecurity and drop out due to the long distance they cover to access education.

According to a survey conducted in six middle-income countries by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), long commute to school exposes learners to safety risks, exhaustion, and can hinder their ability to fully participate in education.

The Global Monitoring Report 2023 found that Kenyan students walk an average of 2 kilometers to school each day, with 15 per cent of learners traveling more than 3 kilometers.

This places Kenya second only to Tanzania, where students average 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) per day, with over 40 per cent exceeding 3 kilometers.

In contrast, students in Costa Rica, Guatemala, South Africa, and Peru walk less than a kilometer or slightly above on average.

The report highlights the significant disparity in access to education based on geography, with students in rural areas often facing longer and more challenging journeys.

"The distance a learner covers to school is important as it greatly influences the learner's safety, well-being and school participation," the report states.

The long commute can expose students to dangers like traffic accidents, violence, and harassment. It can also lead to fatigue, impacting their ability to concentrate and learn in class.

Additionally, students who have to travel far may be more likely to drop out of school.

The report acknowledges that some countries have implemented policies to address this issue.

Switzerland, for example, sets maximum walking distances based on age; children should not walk more than 1 kilometer if they are less than 5 years old and no more than 2 kilometers if they are between 6 and 8 years old.

Similarly, England has similar regulations with statutory walking distances are 3.2 kilometres for children under age 8 and 4.8 kilometres for children aged 8 and above.

The maximum recommended commute time is 45 minutes in primary and 75 minutes in secondary education.

However, many countries, including Kenya, lack such policies.

In March 2020, the late former Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha raised concern over directives that required learners to be in school earlier than the official reporting hours.

Prof Magoha noted that the Ministry of Education prescribes that official class hours are supposed to commence at 8 am but most primary schools require pupils to be in class as early as 6.30 am.

He argued that this exposes learners to insecurity and was detrimental to their development.

Education expert, Emmanuel Manyasa, urged the government to prioritize building more schools in rural areas and consider implementing policies that limit travel distances for students.

Manyasa who is the executive director of Usawa Agenda said this could involve constructing boarding facilities, providing transportation options, or adjusting school catchment zones.

"Investing in closer and safer schools is an investment in the future of Kenya's children," said a UNESCO official at the report's launch. "Ensuring equitable access to education is essential for sustainable development and poverty reduction," he said.

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