NAIROBI, Kenya — In Kenya, education is slowly becoming more and more accessible to Kenyan citizens. In 2003, Kenya’s government created a free primary education program. By 2008, it instituted the same for secondary education. More recently, Kenya published an education sector plan for 2018-2022. It aims to build upon its 2013-2018 strategy as well as improve access to education. Some of these strategies will improve female education in Kenya.
Challenges for Female Education
Historically, the education of women and young girls has not always been a top priority for many developing countries. Many families are impoverished, but girls are often the students who drop out of school because of extraneous reasons such as domestic responsibilities, menstruation and early pregnancy. Although women’s education is a useful tool for national development and poverty eradication, gender disparities remain, especially in rural locations. Other factors, such as period poverty, forced marriage, distance from the school or family reluctance contribute to the lack of female education.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Female Education in Kenya
Although the country continues to invest in its education infrastructure, the COVID-19 pandemic holds repercussions for education systems, especially female education in Kenya. On March 15, 2020, the Kenyan government mandated a nationwide school and university closure in response to the pandemic. Since the closure, the government recommended online learning or technology-mediated learning through television, radio or mobile phones.
There will be consequences for female education in Kenya due to the pandemic. While online learning may occur in urban areas, it is incredibly difficult for children in rural areas to access these technological tools. This means that girls living in rural areas are especially vulnerable to a loss of learning as they will not be able to attend a school or obtain their books until they can return. Additionally, these girls may not have access to essential learning tools, such as pencils, paper or other study resources.
Traditionally, boarding schools have served as a refuge for young girls. Schools give these girls a safe place to learn and the opportunity to further their education and escape poverty on their own. Girls enrolled in boarding schools receive support and protection from the Kenyan government. However, with the country’s government-mandated school closures, the pandemic is sure to disrupt the progress of female education in Kenya.
Besides the closure of schools, the pandemic has contributed to lost jobs and increased community need. Thus, because these girls are out of school and at home, they are more vulnerable to dangers like child marriage and violence. In fact, many girls may be married off to lessen the load on their families. With more and more girls at home, this population is especially vulnerable to female genital mutilation. Although female gender mutilation is banned in Kenya, the practice remains. Nearly 89% of women and girls in Maasailand, a rural, northern part of Kenya, have been circumcised.
Support for Female Education in Kenya
School closures in Kenya have had consequences for marginalized learners. Due to the pandemic, COVID-19 will deeply affect female education in Kenya. However, female learners in Kenya are receiving support from organizations like WISER and Beads for Education. These organizations have supported girls throughout their educational journeys, and their help will be needed once the pandemic ceases because of the significant impact COVID-19 has on girls’ education.
WISER works with the community to keep girls in school, reduce early pregnancy through sexual education programs and shape female learners into successful students. WISER schools are incredibly successful: in 2016, 100% of all WISER students in the graduating class went on to a higher education program. Additionally, 90% of all WISER girls subsequently attend a college or a university. During COVID-19, WISER is providing “non-perishable food, sanitary items and face masks to hundreds of WISER families.” It has also implemented “at-home education programs” using smartphones to keep girls connected.
Beads for Education
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Although access to education for women and girls in Kenya has posed difficulties, organizations such as WISER and Beads for Education have created and implemented long-term strategies that will keep girls in school and foster an environment for success. The future of girls’ education is uncertain in the face of COVID-19 as it is difficult to perform outreach. Nonetheless, these organizations are dedicated to improving the lives of those that they serve. Although Kenya has closed schools until 2021, these programs will support female education in Kenya from afar, by providing female students with smartphones, creating remote learning programs and providing COVID-19 relief programs.
– Caitlin Calfo