Hope restored as more learners return to school in Tana River

Hashora Esha Maro, a teacher at Bularig Primary School in Tana River County. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

On a sunny Monday morning, Khadija is hurriedly escorted to school by Sadia, her mother. 

The Grade Two pupil is not new at the school. She dropped out of school two years ago as she moved with her parents in search of pasture and water for their stock. Her family returned home in Bura, in Tana River County last year, only for floods to sweep away their house, killing their remaining stock. 

Death of the livestock rendered the pastoral family poor. “My daughter has not been in school because of erratic weather patterns as we keep moving with her to save our stock, our only source of income. But even with all these efforts, all my stock are dead,” says Sadia. 

She was convinced by a village elder to enroll her daughter back to school, to enable her pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. At the school, the pupil is taken through remedial classes to help her catch up with the syllabus. 

Khadija, a pupil at Bularig primary and Junior Secondary is among numerous learners re-admitted to school. 

“Absenteeism has been a big challenge in improving academic performance,” says Hashora Esha, Khadija’s teacher. In a class of 30 learners, she says at least 10 miss classes. 

Absenteeism has however been addressed through the out of school programme, according to Esha. 

“It fulfils my heart to see learners more, so girls enrolled to school,” says the teacher. 

She adds, “Education is the only tool to fight poverty in our community, early marriages and Female Genital Mutilation, a vice that continues to harm our girls”. 

The out-of-school project is implemented after a report released by UNESCO in 2020 revealing that at least 2.5 million learners were out of school in Kenya.

The project funded by UNICEF in partnership with Women Educational Researchers of Kenya (WERK) and the Ministry of Education in 2021 was targeted at the enrolment of 250,000 learners back to school, with at least 50 per cent of them being boys and the other 45 per cent girls and 5 per cent children with disability. 

It targeted 16 counties that recorded the highest number of out-of-school children based on 2019 national census data. 

Counties where the programme is implemented include Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Tana River, Isiolo, Marsabit, Samburu, Baringo, West Pokot, Turkana, Bungoma, Narok, Kajiado, Nairobi, Kilifi and Kwale. 

Stanley Edapal, Education Officer, UNICEF Kenya says through the project, at least 256,157 learners have been enrolled back to school across the country. 

Under the project, communities are engaged through a supported establishment of enrolment committees including the headteacher, chiefs, assistant chiefs, and village elders. 

The committee with support from the ministry of Education traces school-going children at villages, and enrol them back to school. 

Door-to-door campaign

“Village leaders and local administrators conduct a door-to-door campaign, identifying learners who missed out on education,” narrates Edapal. 

At school, learners are supplied with learning materials like uniforms, books, pens, pencils and school bags. 

Learners are also supported with desks. Teachers have been trained on the Competency-Based Curriculum and take re-admitted learners through remedial classes. 

“Teachers use remedial classes to help learners, more so over age, to catch up with the syllabus and curriculum,” explains Edapal. 

In Tana River, the project targeted 6,800 learners, but the number increased to 10,000. Among schools that have recorded an increase in enrolment is Bularig Primary and Junior Secondary School. The numbers increased from 270 learners in January 2023, to 414 the same year. 

School head teacher Daniel Karanja says they are working hard to have more learners enroll. “Clergies, chiefs, assistant chiefs, parents and local leaders visit villages to mop up learners who should be in school,” he said. 

Enrolment of learners has therefore doubled because administrators identify children at family level to have them back to school,” said Mr Karanja. 

Apart from increased enrolment, the school improved its academic performance from a mean of 208 marks in 2022 to 247 in 2023. 

In the 2023 KCPE, at least 12 learners scored 300 marks and above, from only three learners in 2022. 

The school was ranked as the most improved in Tana North Sub County. 

“Absenteeism was the main cause of poor academic performance at the school, as some learners would only come to write exams. 

However, through the out-of-school programme, learners are retained in school, and teachers help them improve their weaker areas,” adds the head teacher.

The school has adopted use of digital attendance application developed by UNICEF dubbed ‘Onekana’ to monitor attendance of learners. The tool that is accessed through smart phone captures names of learners, their Grade, names of parents or guardians including mobile phone numbers and the learner’s area of residence.  Nationally, at least 1,738 schools mark class attendance with the tool.

“Digital register enable teachers to easily know reasons to why a learner has not reported at school, and help get solutions to keep them in school,” explains Edapal. 

Plans are in place to integrate the digital register into the National Education Management Information System (NEMIS)

Edapal said school board of management are expected to develop sustainable plans of enrolment and retain leaners in schools. Among sustainability program developed is mentorship program, where learners are provided with psychosocial support. 

“Mentorship is important because it helps learners understand circumstances that keep them out of school, and still be in class to understand education and acquire life skills,” adds Edapal. 

The mentorship program is conducted on a weekly basis.  According to Karanja, the main cause to low school enrolment in Tana River is poverty.  He notes that the catchment area of the school consists of pastoralists who keep livestock, an economic activity that has been interrupted in the past two years due to erratic climatic conditions.

In the past two years, Tana River experienced prolonged drought that killed hundreds of stock, only for surviving stock to be swept by floodwaters last year leaving locals with no means to hack out a living.  

A number of learners engage in child labour to support their families-they work on rice irrigation farms.

National research and statistics agency Kenya National Bureau of Statistics places Tana River County among the underserved communities, with an illiteracy level of more than 69 per cent, a poverty rate of 76.1 per cent, and a digital literacy rate of less than five per cent. Available reveals that at least 80 per cent of the population is illiterate. 

“Speaking even Swahili among locals here is a problem. A bigger percentage has not gone to school, and therefore they see no reason to why they should enroll their children to school,” says Mr Karanja. Girls, he said, are also married early. 

But with the out-of-school programme, locals are gradually embracing education. “Initially, girls were not able to talk in class because their culture doesn’t allow them to ask questions, which applies even in class. But this has changed, and those being enrolled are performing better,” he says. 

To boost education, he urges the government, religious leaders and partners to sensitise the community on the importance of learning.

“Religious leaders should be sensitised on the importance of education, learners are divided between education and religious education,” says the headteacher.

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