Working towards the goal
Despite the introduction of the free primary education, the enrolment of girl child in school is low and is also likely to drop out of school due to the social and cultural factors they face. Eliud Kinuthia the Programme coordinator of Forum for African Women Education (FAWE) Kenya takes us through the achievements, challenges and the issues been worked on two Years after the policy was introduced.
How many more girls joined school since Free Primary Education was introduced?
Quite a lot of good things have happened since the pronouncement of FPE, but not without challenges. If you look at the eight provinces of Kenya each province has recorded some impact in FPE. The absolute number of one million two hundred thirty thousand children who came into the school after the introduction of free primary education, moved the gross enrolment from 5.9 to 7.2 billion children in the country.
This was a big achievement and if you look at the people who really benefited from it were the poor as they were not able to afford education due to the levies and various constraints that were there before.
However, looking at regions like Northeastern, the gross enrolment, did not improve by far. The gross enrolment for girls is 15.7 per cent and for boys is 23 per cent. The gross enrolment here refers to children regardless of age who took up the opportunity of free primary education. Looking at the coast province only 77.3 per cent of girls were enrolled after the introduction of free primary education while boys was 83.4 per cent. Nairobi did not record very high enrolment, as girls 57.4 per cent while boys are 74.5 percent.
That shows that they were specific issues in free primary education that were not addressed because if all were addressed we would expect the gross ratio to be 100 per cent and above. We would be talking about the net enrolment where as all those of school going age would be enrolled.
Is the program addressing other bottlenecks that kept girls out of school previously?
It is addressing but not all. We still find that they are disparities between boys and girls even after the free primary education. The plight of the girl child has improved but they are still disparities to be addressed. If you go back to the figures, out of 1.23 million children who were enrolled, 592,310 were girls this was only 42.8 per cent. While boys it was 51.8 per cent. This tells a lot in how the communities perceive this policy pronouncement.
If you look at the specific gender issues that affect girls were not addressed. The recent campaign of waving taxes from the sanitary towels, which only moved it from 100 to 75ksh, did not have much effect on the schoolgirl who needs only 10 ksh to afford a sanitary towel. This results to absenteeism for girls as they miss school during their period. So if the FPE policy could stretch a little further and involve a sanitary kit in schools this would take the girl child further in education.
What issues need to be addressed as FPE gains momentum in the country?
Girls are kept out of school by issues that have a cultural bearing. Now this becomes complex as cultural factors in education as much as a policy pronouncement would address them, other actions are required on the ground to address the cultural issues. The government needs to come up with policies that will reinforce and challenge cultures within the society that will ensure the woman and girl child is given equal opportunity to education, economic excellence.
Secondly, the professionalism of teachers should be addressed as this will help in empowering the girls so that they are part of the solution of the problem they’re facing.
Sometime last year there were cases of girls being impregnated by schoolteachers, which sparked negative reactions. What should be done to avoid this kind of behavior in our schools?
Their measures already provided by the government. It has been there and the teachers know about it yet they continue to molest the children. The punishment related to this has not been strict enough to set as a warning for other teachers.
Most cases go un established because the systems, which protect these girls, are not in place. In terms of what should be done after putting a code of conduct for teachers, the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs needs to make sure that women are protected within the constitution.
The judicial system that we have needs to make it easier for one to prove such cases of gender violence. As we know most of this cases happen in private. Either a teacher will call a girl to the staff room or ask a girl to attend school very early in the morning or a girl to go and clean the teacher’s house.
There is very low empowerment in terms of the girls’ ability to understand what is happening around them. Therefore an empowerment programme needs to be scaled up for all schools such that every girl is empowered with some skill for safety. This should enable them to discern a problem when relating to the opposite sex.
In relation to the Millennium Development Goals in terms of education, it was intended that by the year 2015 all girls and boys complete primary education. What specific actions are needed to achieve this goal?
A number of actions need to be taken to ensure that we achieve universal primary education by 2015 for all children to access primary education. But before that there was the gender goal, which was pegged by 2005 that they should be gender parity in terms of the number of boys and girls going to school. Looking at Kenya we are not yet there but we are not badly off because we are talking about a gender disparity of 1.8 per cent. That seems to be a narrow gender gap to cross.
But there is a long way of the millennium goal of 2015 that they should be able to be retained. The government is very well in advance preparing to cross over and has partnered with FAWE to review the policy document in order to make it more to both boys and girls and addressing the gender concerned. The National Action Plan that was launched last November outlines what needs to be done in every area of education and what is left is for the stakeholders to start working the plan.
In terms of the policy guidelines the paper on education act has been reviewed. FAWE the Kenyan chapter and the Ministry of Education have worked together to review this document. The input and the issue of gender concerned will enable the boys and girls of this country to participate equally.
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