2010 will go down in history as the year when the first batch of pupils to benefit from the government’s introduction of free primary education sat for their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE).
The free primary education, which is also compulsory, saw many children, particularly from poor families; enjoy an opportunity to be in school. Based on reports by the Ministry of Education, the number of boys and girls enrolled in primary school has risen from five million to a staggering eight million.
'Although this is a significant development, particularly in light of the government’s effort to respond to global priorities outlined in key framework documents such as the Millennium Developments Goals, there are glaring obstacles that are keeping our children out of school,' explains Rosemarie Muganda, the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Adolescent (CSA).
She further explains that though enrolment rates in primary school are higher for girls, fewer girls complete primary school and enroll at secondary schools, compared to boys.
According to the latest Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS), 40 percent of adolescent girls without any education are either pregnant or have already become mothers.
In addition, for those girls with only a primary school education, 26 percent are mothers compared to an eight percent of those who have a secondary school education or higher.
'This shows that the impact of secondary and even college education can delay child- bearing and therefore give girls an opportunity to pursue their dreams,' expounds Nelly Mwangi, a teacher in Nairobi.
In a report released by CSA dubbed ‘Down the Drain’ which assessed the cost of teenage pregnancy and school dropout in Kenya, it is estimated that about 35 percent of girls between the ages of 16 and 20 are still in school, compared to about 50 percent of boys.
This is in spite of the fact that there is a ‘Return to School’ programme, a policy introduced by the government to allow girls who have already fallen pregnant to return to school.
'Most cases of girls dropping out of school occur in January. This is after a long December holiday where many girls have fallen victim to sexual advances and get carried away by the festivities,' explains Nelly Mwangi.
It is against this backdrop that stakeholders concerned with the low retention rate of particularly the girl child in school, began a programme dubbed ‘Social Policy, Advocacy and Networking’, which is aimed at promoting support for girls’ education.
In a recent repot released by CSA, the age of sexual debut is now at an all- time low of between eight and twelve years. In fact, eight out of ten young people will have had sex before they reach the age of twenty.
This increases the chances of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, as well as the chances of pupils dropping out of school. According to the findings of a national survey of secondary school students, over 13 percent of students will have experienced their first pregnancy by the time they celebrate their fourteenth birthday.
Other than depriving children of the chance at a good education that should ideally build their capacity to develop socially and economically in future, the financial cost that is incurred by the government when pupils drop out of school is very high.
According to a survey conducted run under the ‘Down the Drain’ report, for every 10,000 girls leaving school every year, the government alone loses an estimated 750,000 dollars (currency?).
'Clearly the need to focus on adolescents’ reproductive health in relation to education cannot be overemphasised because the single most significant factor that is contributing to girls dropping out of school is teenage pregnancy and related consequences,' adds Rosemarie Muganda.
'Although there is sexual education incorporated into the curriculum, it is too basic and may not be an effective intervention, based on all the explicit messages that children are exposed to from such an early age,' explains Paul Kipkorir, a teacher in Nairobi.
To fill the gap, various stakeholders have begun supporting the ‘Return to School’ programme, which has faced numerous challenges. ' Pupils taunt and mock those who come to school after giving birth. Schools therefore need to be more sensitive to teenage mothers if they are to continue with their education,' explains Paul Kipkorir.
Further, there have been various efforts towards more preventive measures. The Ministry of Education is now working closely with organisations that have vast experience in the field of adolescents’ reproductive health and are able to provide more comprehensive information on sexuality in schools.
This move has been driven by various reports, which continue to emphasis that more young people in school are engaging in unprotected sex. One such report released by CSA shows that over 33 percent of girls in secondary schools have had sexual intercourse, which is often unprotected.
Although there is no single intervention that is guaranteed to keep children in schools and reduce the drop-out rate, research shows that a multifaceted approach will go a long way to not only ensuring children’s access to education, but it will also enable them to remain in school for as long as the education system demands.
© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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