Kenya ranks among the more peaceful and most prosperous of African countries. It has experienced over 50 years of peaceful and stable government. It has also seen impressive economic expansion and stable growth.
Unfortunately, not everyone benefits from the opportunities available within this country. While some people have a high standard of living, there are also those whose circumstances are as desperate as you would find in the most unstable and poverty-stricken of countries.
14 million people live in the Northern and Arid regions of Kenya, but because of the harsh climate, a lack of understanding of pastoralist and ‘nomadic’ needs and limited economic opportunity and resources, between 74% and 94% of these live in extreme poverty. Also disadvantaged are the urban poor who live in the slums of major cities such as Nairobi.
The Kenyan education system mirrors this inequality of opportunity. While there are progressive education policies in place, impressive academic institutions, and public education is provided at both primary and secondary level, education often fails to reach people in remote and poor communities.
The Northern and Arid regions of Kenya rank lowest in the country in terms of school performance and literacy. Over 50% children in these areas have never attended school. In the most remote regions, adult literacy rates are 18%, compared to the national average of 87%. Girls and women fare worse than boys and men. 50% of boys complete primary school compared to only 30% of girls, and there is only one literate women to every five literate men. In many cases it is not poverty that is the barrier to education. Providing free public primary education among pastoralist communities only raised enrolment from 45 to 50%. The larger problem is that the current education system is not suited to pastoral life. From the language of instruction, to the location of schools, and the hours of the classes, traditional schools don’t fit with pastoralists’ way of life.
‘Education for the poor is not just a right. It is a route to survival’
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, 2010
In slum areas, many of the poorest children are not able to benefit from education because there are few public primary schools and almost no secondary schools in these communities. Instead, children attend low-fee private primary schools where the quality of education is quite poor making it very difficult to continue to secondary school. There are also limited opportunities for alternative and vocational education, leaving 50% of boys and 80% of girls without any identifiable way to earn an income.
Kenya is our newest programme. Our expertise in reaching remote and excluded communities made expanding into Kenya a logical extension to our work. First, we partnered with the Leigh Day law firm to help support schooling for vulnerable children in Laikipia North. This provided us with the opportunity to better understand the educational needs of the communities in this region, and in particular the local Maasai community who have lost their traditional pastoralist livelihood and yet still remain isolated from education and opportunity.
The lack of local language instruction and materials was one significant barrier to education for the Maasai in Laikipia North. Though Ministry of Education policy supports both local language instruction and the provision of early childhood education, neither of these policies has been realised for this community. In 2014, we launched our first major programme to support Maasai children to study in their local language while also preparing them for fluency in English, so important for modern life in Kenya. We are working to expand this initiative by establishing similar projects aimed at providing education to other excluded groups.
Mother Tongue Education for Early Childhood
This project provides teacher training, local language resources and community support for the provision of mother tongue education and English language preparedness for Maasai children in Laikipia North.
The project will reach 3000 students over the course of three years and provide the foundation for better early childhood education for years to come.