Initiatives that keep children in school in Marsabit

KDEF country director Ahmed Kura

KDEF country director Ahmed Kura interacts with learners at Loruko ECDE centre on February 9, 2022. The organisation is using a cloud-based application to track pupils' school attendance in drought stricken Samburu and Marsabit in bid to improve retention of learners.

Photo credit: David Muchui | Nation Media Group

Mr Joseph Lesanjir, a teacher at the Nairabala early childhood education centre in South Horr, Marsabit County, walks 26km daily to and from the school.

The most important aspect of his daily trek is that it keeps a majority of the 41 learners in class. Mr Lesanjir picks up most of the children along the way, ensuring they remain in class.

"When I was posted here, I discovered there was a high rate of absenteeism. When I inquired, the children said they cannot walk all the way because their parents leave early in search of water and pasture. If I don't pick them up, many will drop out," he says.

Distance, coupled with drought and cultural practices, remains a major hindrance in children’s access to education in many parts of Marsabit and Samburu counties.

“During drought, the children cannot come to school if there is no feeding programme. The attendance is 100 per cent when food is provided,” observes Mr Lesanjir.

The Nairabala Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) centre, 13km north of South Horr, is one of the 10 centres built by the Kenya Drylands Education Fund (KDEF), a non-governmental organisation that supports the education of pastoralist children in Marsabit and Samburu counties.

Not enrolled

According to the Marsabit Integrated Smart survey of 2019, more than 30 per cent of children aged above six were not enrolled in school.

Last year, the government, Unicef and the Education Above All Foundation launched an initiative to enrol 250,000 out-of-school children by the end of 2023 in 16 counties including Marsabit.

The initiative, Operation Come to School, aims at increasing enrolment and retention of primary school-age children.

But according to KDEF country director Ahmed Kura, the unique challenges posed by climate change, culture and lack of school infrastructure make it much harder to enrol and retain learners.

Livestock herding

Despite government-led initiatives that involve door-to-door campaigns to reach out-of-school children, the number of minors involved in livestock herding remains high.

"In terms of retention, the government has access to the daily school register but there are gaps when it comes to communication among stakeholders. This is the gap we are filling though a cloud-based digital school register," Mr Kura says.

Based at Ngurunit in Samburu County, KDEF uses an application called the Enrolment, Attendance, Retention and Transition EnART system to monitor registration and attendance trends in more than 10 schools in the region.

The custom cloud-based application helps primary schools track attendance in a systematic way. It is supported by an offline data collection app installed on tablets. The system can alert the area chief and other relevant stakeholders when a student drops out or is absent for more than 10 days," Mr Kura explains.

Tracking system

He says more than 2,000 learners are being tracked through the system.

"Once the chief is alerted, they find out the whereabouts of the children and ensure they go back to school. We have seen an increase in retention due to this intervention," he says.

Besides the use of technology, KDEF also supports a feeding programme and water supply to reduce the impact of drought.

Mr Kura said access to education in the Marsabit and Samburu region is highly dependent on climatic conditions.

“The persistent drought due to climate change has contributed to a rise in people living in extreme poverty. Therefore, education is the only way out of this situation. We are providing infrastructure, food and water to learners. This ensures the schools have a conducive learning environment," Mr Kura says.

He said the organisation has built 10 new ECDE centres to increase enrolment in primary schools.

“Putting up the ECDE centres is aimed at addressing the problem of distance that bars children from going to school. The other intervention of feeding programmes ensures that we keep the children in school even when the drought intensifies.”

“We are also building dormitories in primary and secondary schools for learners who may drop out due to distance. Our goal is to have centres with capacity to enrol 2,000 school age children every year,” Mr Kura said.

He says the 10 ECDE centres built by the organisation have brought in about 400 children into the education system.