Boarding schools help Maasai children overcome obstacles to primary education

Class in session at Elengata Enterit Boarding Primary School in Narok South Constituency.Children from pastoralist communities face many challenges in their quest to achieve their academic goals. [Picture: Joyce Chimbi]
Class in session at Elengata Enterit Boarding Primary School in Narok South Constituency.Children from pastoralist communities face many challenges in their quest to achieve their academic goals. [Picture: Joyce Chimbi]

Jonathan Tipapa is a nine year old boy whose daily journey to and from school exposes him to dangers that have seen him come close to dropping out of school severally, just like many of his friends who can be seen running after cows on school days.

Tipapa attends Enkutoto Primary School in the expansive Narok South Constituency in the Rift Valley region.

“I leave the house when it is still dark and walk to school by myself, our nearest neighbour lives very far from our house so I have no one to walk with. I fear the darkness, sometimes I fear that I might step on a snake when walking through the bushes,” Tipapa explains.

Tipapa’s village has often suffered from human-wild life conflict and he can never leave the house without his stick.

However, Tipapa’s small stick is no match to some of the animals like elephants that have been known to roam his village or the flash floods that sweep across the region without warning.

Tipapa’s story resonates to that of many other Maasai children leaving culture behind in pursuit of education.

The distance from their homes to school is too much for the young ones.

According to Tipapa, his friends do not go to school, they spend their day in the grazing fields while the girls help with house chores as others watch over children they delivered while they were children themselves.

The children are not home for lack of school fees. Primary school education has been free and compulsory in Kenya since 2003.

Millions of children from poor backgrounds have benefitted from the free education scheme. This is, however, not the case for children growing up in marginalized pastoralist communities.

However, this are taking a new turn and there is a wave that is slowly changing this narrative.

Bernard Ole Sankale, head teacher at Elangata Enterit Boarding Primary School in Narok South says proliferation of public boarding primary schools in Narok South is the boost that the education sector needed to make inroads into the pastoralist community.

“A boarding facility is the solution to most of the problems that we face. Distance has always been the main problem. Many become too tired of walking the many kilometres to and from school and they end up dropping out,” Sankale says.

There are 477 pupils in this school with at least 160 of them benefiting from the boarding facility. Parents are only required to pay a subsidized fee of KSh4,500 per year for their child to enjoy the boarding facility.

As a result, the school will have its highest number of candidates yet expected to sit for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations later this year.

“We have 60 candidates and 22 of them are girls. This is twice the number of girls who sat for the national examination last year,” explains Sankale.

School records show that the number of girls sitting for KCPE — the national examination that all students must take to be able to join secondary school — has been on the rise.

The school has gone from having no female student sitting for the examinations in 2007 to 22 girls this year.

“However, it is not just about having a boarding facility, it is the community embracing this facility that is making all the difference,” explains Sankale.

“We saw willingness from parents to keep their children in school when in 2009 our pupils begun to sleep in classrooms and the head teacher’s office for lack of dormitories,” says Sankale. He adds: “We could only accommodate very few of them at the .”

According to Christine Orono, board chair at the World Vision Kenya, an organization that supports vulnerable children to be able to access quality education, public boarding primary schools are serving as rescue centres for girls.

“Girls are protected from harmful cultural practices such as the Female Genital Mutilation, early marriages and early pregnancies,” says Orono.

Her sentiments are echoed by Sankale who says it is very easy to marry off a girl who does not attend school.

Boys are also kept away from the harmful culture of moranism where they are isolated and kept in the bush being taught how to become warriors. During this period, they engage in various violent acts such as cattle raids that often leave many wounded and others dead in retaliatory attacks.

“Boarding schools are also performing better compared to day schools. Pupils who have to walk long distances and also help with house chores in the evening cannot perform to their level best,” explains Peter Saitoti, the head teacher at Enkutoto Primary School, some nine kilometres away from Elangata Enterit Boarding Primary School.

In 2014 Elangata Enterit Boarding Primary School made it to number one in its division out of 23 schools and number one in its district out of 189 schools.

However, Saitoti says, his school’s boarding facility is only accommodating boys at the moment.

“Though all our schools in this region have more boys than girls, we have noted that the number of boys is reducing as that of girls continues to increase hence the need to first respond to the needs of the boy child,” he expounds.

According to Saitoti, there are 474 pupils in the school, 259 are boys and 215 are girls. “In class eight, the number of boys is equal that of girls. This is a good development but our concern is that the number of boys is dropping while more girls stay in school.”

As more and more primary schools invest in dormitories, there is a new optimism that the Maasai child will overcome the obstacles standing between them and the classroom.

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