Boarding solution to teen pregnancies in pastoralist communities
In 2007 not a single girl sat for the crucial and compulsory Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) at Elangata Enterit boarding primary school in Narok South County.
The situation was not much different in neighboring schools such as Enkutoto, Koseka, Enaramatishoreki or even Kuntai primary school in the expansive Narok South Constituency, Rift Valley region, approximately 110 kilometers (70 miles) from the capital Nairobi.
“This was nearly five years after the government had introduced the free and compulsory primary school education in public schools. Although at enrolment, there were and still are more girls than boys in a majority of schools in Narok South, they progressively drop out,” explains Paul Kasi Esho, the deputy teacher at Koseka Primary School and a former student at Kuntai primary school.
Distance to the school, the outlawed but still widely practiced Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and the consequent child marriages, teenage pregnancies as well as the community’s poor attitude towards girl child education are some of the main factors that have affected girl child education in the expansive Narok County.
Here, even though FGM was outlawed in 2011 through the enactment of the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, government statistics show that the prevalence rate of this heinous and widely condemned act is still at about 73 percent.
It is for this reason that in February this year, the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta led the nation in marking the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM in Narok County where the pastoralist Maasai community still favors the vice.
“Child marriages are common here because when girls undergo the ‘cut’ marriage quickly follows,” says Bernard O. Sankale, the head teacher of Elangata Enterit boarding primary school.
In June this year the Ministry of Health raised alarm over the devastatingly high number of teenage pregnancies in Narok County.
The national average for teenage pregnancies is about 18 percent but according to Dr Jeanne Patrick of the Reproductive and Maternal Health Services Unit, “the rate of teenage pregnancies in Narok County is the highest across the country at approximately 40 percent.”
Distance to the school has been a major factor as children as young as nine years have to walk for at least five kilometers each day just to access an education leaving their homes while it is still dark.
“Many are afraid of wild animals and this is not in their imagination, animals such as elephants and hyenas have been known to roam the County. We also have flash floods so all year around children have a reason to be afraid,” Sankale expounds.
Against this backdrop, it is the girl child, often more vulnerable compared to her male counterpart, who has suffered the most.
While millions of girls across the country have for over a decade continued to enjoy the free primary education program, this has not been the case in Narok County as many of them have progressively dropped out of school.
This has consequently prompted various stakeholders to go to great lengths towards ensuring that education in this County is not only accessible but that it also meets the standards and guidelines set by the Ministry of Education.
Through great advocacy efforts , this pastoralist community is slowly embracing boarding facilities for their children in primary schools.
As a result, the narrative is slowly changing with the establishment and rise in popularity of public boarding primary schools across the pastoralist community.
Sankale says that this is a unique intervention that has been embraced by a community eager to quench its thirst for knowledge.
“It is not just about having a boarding facility, it is the community embracing this facility that is making all the difference,” he says.
“In 2009 we began to see parents’ willingness to keep their children in school. To address some of the challenges, pupils began to sleep in classrooms and the head teacher’s office for lack of dormitories. We could accommodate very few of them at the time until stakeholders came to our rescue,” he expounds.
These stakeholders include the World Vision Kenya who continue to ensure that every community, particularly the minority and marginalized have access to quality education facilities that enable children to be educated for life.
The boarding facility at Elangata Enterit was made possible through the contributions made by the staff of the World
Vision Kenya under their Inuka Angaza (Rise Up and Shine) Fund with support from other like minded stakeholders such as the Family Group Foundation.
Christine Orono, board chair at the World Vision Kenya explains that the goal of the fund is to contribute towards the well being of children in hardship areas.
As a result, Elangata Enterit boarding primary school records show that the number of girls sitting for KCPE-a national exam that all pupils must take to be able to join secondary schools- has been on the rise.
The school has gone from having no female students sitting for the exam in 2007 to nearly 30 girls this year.
There were 60 candidates who sat for KCPE at Elangata Enterit in 2016 and 22 of them were girls, almost double the number of girls who sat for KCPE in 2015.
The boarding facility is generally open to those in Standard four, about 10 years old, but if a younger child is independent enough to do their own washing and to have the emotional capacity to be away from home, then the school does make an exception.
“Pastoralist communities are constantly moving and this increases the dropout rates, but with the boarding school, even when the family moves they communicate to the school and arrangements are made for their child to remain in school,” Sankale expounds.
Elangata Enterit has come a long way from pupils sleeping on the floor in classrooms and the head teacher’s office, to having proper dormitories.
The school’s star performance however says very little of the challenges the pupils have been through. In 2014 the school was first in the division out of 23 schools and first in the district beating 188 other schools and has remained in the top five position since.
Though the school has a total population of nearly 500 students and only about half of them are girls, the teachers are hopeful that as the circumstances under which they access education continue to improve, so will the numbers.
Kilometers away from Elangata Enterit, is yet another primary school, Enaramatishoreki which is about 47 kilometers from Narok town.
Francis Teka, the head teacher is hopeful that the school will not live up to its name.
“Enaramatishoreki is Maasai for a place that is good for grazing animals but we want this school to be the key to a brighter future for our children,” he says.
Teka says that pastoralist communities should be encouraged to embrace boarding facilities which he says have been key towards improving transition from primary to secondary schools.
“As the number of girls sitting for KCPE increases, so will the transition rate to secondary school and later to the university and other tertiary colleges,” he says.