There is a remedy to the significant gender gap in education sector
Even though Kenya’s basic education Act N0.14 adopted in January 2013 guarantees the implementation of the right to free and compulsory basic education as stipulated in the 2010 Constitution Articles 20, 35, 42 and 43, the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2014 paints a grim picture.
While at least 93 percent of women ages 15 to 49 have attended school, fewer have completed a full course of primary school and even fewer have transited to secondary school.
Going to secondary school is critical as statistics by the Center for the Study of Adolescents (CSA) show that only an estimated 12 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 with at least some secondary education have started child bearing.
Numbers paint grim picture
KDHS shows that five in 10 women either have some primary education or have completed primary education.
Three in 10 have either some secondary education or completed secondary education and only one in 10 women have gone beyond a secondary education.
There are many benefits that a girl child, her family and the nation at large can reap from enabling girls to enroll and stay in school.
Within this context, the government has made some progress towards supporting girl child education overall.
A significant number of girls do not attend school while on their period missing at least one week each month because they cannot afford sanitary towels.
More than a decade ago taxes were scrapped on sanitary towels to make them more affordable but still, the non-profit consulting firm FSG showed that about 60 percent of women could still not afford them.
Government led solutions
This year, the Education Act was amended to state that “free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels” must be provided to every girl registered at school, as well as providing “a safe and environmental sound mechanism for disposal.”
Additionally, there are good laws in place to protect children from harmful cultural practices as well as all forms of sexual violence but implementation remains a challenge.
These laws include the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Act of 2011 as well as the Sexual Offences Act of 2006.
Yet in the face of distance, child marriages, teen pregnancies and a general poor attitude towards girl child education, these interventions have fallen short.
Marginalized and minority communities are characterized by significant gender gaps in the education sector as girls continue to lag behind.
Pockets of interventions supported by various non-governmental organizations are keeping girls in school and are evidence that there are solutions to the gender gap in the education sector.
The World Vision-Kenya for instance which works towards ensuring that children are educated for life is supporting a bicycle intervention in Kakamega County. Students who walk for more than three kilometers are enabled to own a bicycle to help them get to school on time.
This has also become a solution to teenage pregnancies by preventing boda boda (motorcycle) taxis from taking advantage of the poor girls through free rides as a way to lure them into sexual relations.
Since the intervention began in 2015, nearly 1,000 bicycles have been provided in Kakamega, Siaya and Uasin Gishu Counties.
The World Vision is further supporting boarding facilities in public primary schools in pastoralist communities.
Girls have significantly benefited from the unique intervention as it keeps them safe from the outlawed but still widely practiced FGM which is often the gateway to child marriages.
In yet another marginalized community in Kilifi South, Kilifi County, girls are benefiting from a church supported program known as Compassion.
This is a partnership between the African Inland Church (AIC) Kilifi and Compassion International Kilifi, a Christian humanitarian aid child sponsorship organization dedicated to the long-term development of children living in poverty.
The partnership involves the sponsorship of children in the expansive Kilifi County to enable them to enroll and remain in school.
Compassion has seen many children from very poor households complete their primary education and transit to secondary school.
A pupil under the Compassion sponsorship is fully supported. While primary education is free, there are levies that a pupil is expected to pay such as examinations fee, minor repairs in the school as well as buying the school uniform and these expenses are enough to keep a child from a poor background out of school.
Each pupil also receives a goat that is expected to deliver more goats to be sold later towards supporting the child’s secondary education.
Small scale solutions
These are a few of the interventions that are on going on a small scale across the country. They work because they are context specific and are therefore tailored to meet specific needs that a blanket free primary education program has been unable to address.
In many rural areas reducing distance to school can significantly reduce the dropout rates among girls.
In other areas targeting boys and men as change agents in addressing cultural and traditional practices that interfere with girl child education such as FGM is yet another important intervention.
Overall, there is a need to increase the number of female teachers especially in marginalized and minorities communities to serve as role models for the girls.
Building safe and inclusive learning environments for girls such as the public primary boarding schools can help improve their plight.
To improve the transition rate from primary to secondary school, the government has set aside an estimated 58 million dollars, money that could only end up increasing the gender gap if many of the other underlying issues that have so far widened it, are not addressed.