The road back to school for most learners in drought-hit Kajiado County is fraught with immense hardship and uncertainty.
Coming at a time when pastoralists have lost at least 500,000 animals while 300,000 people are facing starvation, it is feared at least 40 per cent of learners may fail to resume classes as schools reopen for the first term.
A high dropout rate is expected, with education stakeholders blaming the trend on drought as parents move with their children in search of water and pasture. A spot check by Nation on Monday and Tuesday revealed largely empty classrooms in remote rural schools.
At Lorngosua Primary School in Kajiado Central Sub-county, out of a total of 600 learners, only a third had reported back by Tuesday. Mr Emanuel Kasaine, the school’s headteacher, said they were trying to reach out to parents and village elders.
“The school is virtually empty and we are not even sure if they will return. Most families have nothing to eat. Elders are trying to comb the villages for learners,” he said.
At Oldoinyo Onyekie Primary School in Kajiado West Sub-county, the headteacher, Mr Patrick Sayianka, told Nation that only 59 learners had reported back by Tuesday out of a school population of 406.
“Most of the children have moved with their parents to Shompole [on the outskirts of Magadi town] in search of pasture for their livestock. The majority of learners who have reported back are in lower classes,” he said.
Ms Irene Melubo , the headteacher at Naningoi Primary School in Mashuru Sub-county, said only 10 pupils out of a total of 50 learners have reported back to the school so far.
The situation remains the same in Loitoktok and Kajiado East sub-counties, where human-wildlife conflict has negatively impacted the retention of learners in school.
Nation understands that the majority of girls who fell pregnant during the long holiday have not reported back for the first term. Last year,124 female candidates sat their national examinations while pregnant.
Of these,10 were candidates for the Kenya Primary School Education Assessment, 28 were for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education and 86 were the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education finalists.
On Tuesday, Nation caught up with Mr Kitia Parsintei,42, and his two sons, who were driving their herd of emaciated livestock from Kajiado East to Kajiado West in search of pasture.
“Nigani muhimu kwa maisha? Chakula ama masomo? (What is more important in life? Food or education?),” Mr Parsintei posed rhetorically when asked why the boys were not in school.
However, in urban areas such as Kitengela, Ngong, Ongata Rongai and Kiserian, schools recorded a higher number of learners reporting back.
Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Kajiado secretary Elie Korinko said close to half of all learners in the county are yet to resume classes.
Mr Korinko urged the Ministry of Education to intervene in an effort to keep learners in school.
“Most learners come from poor families who are bearing the brunt of the drought. The Ministry of Education should extend the school feeding programme to all learning institutions,” he said.
County Education Director Kosgey Kipruto said the drought risks exacerbating the already high school dropout rate and that the government is moving in earnest to arrest the situation.
“The drought has hit livelihoods hard. A multi-agency team is moving in earnest in collaboration with the Ministry of Education to address the various challenges,” Mr Kosgey said.
According to a survey by Care Kenya in Kajiado Central Sub-county carried out last November, the drought has impacted school retention as pupils are forced to drop out to support their parents in the search for food, pasture, and water.
Close to half of the 50 schools reviewed reported persistent absenteeism with three reporting less than 50 per cent attendance. Teachers reported that a vast majority of the students who attended class had a short attention span and most would fall asleep due to hunger.