Education is a basic right, every child is entitled to enjoy this right but according to a new baseline survey by the Kenyan Government, UNICEF and the National Council for Nomadic Education in Kenya (Naconek), children between 6, and seventeen years cannot be accounted for when it comes to them being in school. The most affected counties include Baringo, Bungoma, Garissa, Isiolo, Kajiado, Kilifi, Kwale, Mandera, Marsabit, Narok, Samburu, Tana River, Turkana, Wajir, West Pokot and informal settlements in Nairobi County. Translated this means 1.8 million children; 593,650 are boys and 540,060 girls, all aged between six and thirteen, and these are children who should be in primary, while 357,110 boys and 301, 620 girls who are aged between 14 and 17 are out of school and should be enrolled in secondary schools.
It is with this background that the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya with support from UNICEF embarked on engaging and mobilizing Religious Leaders, county governments, duty bearers and stakeholders in the education sector such as the Parents Teachers Association and Teachers Service Commission to encourage out-of-school children to go back to school among faith communities in Kenya.
The COVID-19 pandemic has globally affected all sectors of society including the economic aspect. Many families have lost their jobs, which has brought financial strain in families, which has led to children dropping out of school. With the pandemic, there has also been an increase in child marriages and teenage pregnancies leading to dropouts. Young children have left schools to source income as the long closure of schools came with the allure of manual jobs thus young adults are not willing to go back to school and in some sub-counties, some of the older children prefer to engage in Religious studies rather than go back to school.
In Turkana, Kajiado and Kwale County IRCK held sensitization among key Religious Leaders in order to create awareness on effecting fundamental changes in attitudes, behaviour and demand for school-going children who are out of school to return to school.
In Kwale County, 20 Religious Leaders held 25 drives; 13 in the Kinondo area and 12 Msambweni areas. In Turkana County, 23 Religious Leaders held nine drives; six in Turkana North, 4 in Loima and 6 in Turkana West. In Kajiado County, 20 Religious Leaders held 11 drives; 6 in Kajiado East and 7 in Kajiado Central. Religious Leaders also were hosted on radio talk shows where they highlighted the need of taking children back to school.
Despite the bloomy reports of children dropping out of schools, these interventions by Religious Leaders have seen a number of children go back to school. A case is of 13-year-old Fatma Bakari Koroyo from Makongeni. At that, young age Fatma had been continually defiled and as a result, got pregnant thus dropped out of school. Through the interventions by the Religious Leaders, she went back to school because being a young mother should not hinder anyone from pursuing their dreams. For 14-year-old Mwaka, her story is different, she ran away from home to look for employment with a fix-quick mentally but Religious Leaders intervened and encouraged her to go back to school as this will in the long run enable her to get better and diverse opportunities.
The sensitization and intervention of the Religious Leaders have also had their challenges. Most parents are struggling to make ends meet therefore their condition to take their children to school is getting financial assistance, which the Religious Leaders are not able to provide. In some cases, the children are not bright enough to access the financial aid requirement thus do not qualify for aid therefore opt to go looking for manual jobs as an alternative to going back to school. In some cases, accessing some of the homes that have not taken children back to school is also a challenge for the Religious Leaders as some of the homes are located deep in the expanse of the counties. Other families view the children not being in school as family matters, therefore, see the Religious Leaders interventions as interfering.
There are still more children at home, therefore the work of the Religious Leaders is clear cut. There is a need to visit more counties and sub-counties to ensure that families understand the need for the children to go back to school. Linkages with organizations that can assist with financial aid will go a long way in facilitating the young ones to go back to school. Most families face social injustices and issues therefore there is a need for Religious Leaders to collaborate with organizations who can assist in addressing some of these injustices and chiefs, village elders to sensitize the young ones of early pregnancies and child marriages.
By Mary Ndulili