Education crisis in northeastern Kenya: Schooling on the frontline

GRAPHIC | LISA WAMUGUNDA

What you need to know:

  • At Guyu Primary School, the headteacher, Ahmed Dubat, is the only teacher employed by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) remaining, after four of his colleagues declined to resume duty for the second term.
  • According to statistics from Womankind, Mandera County needs 2,061 teachers, Wajir needs 1,867 while Garissa needs 1,715, respectively.
  • Mr Ibrahim said the government is capitalising on insecurity to punish parents and their children by denying them the right to education.

Although his Biology, Chemistry and English teachers quit teaching during second term this year, Abdirashid Hassan, a Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education candidate, is hopeful that he will do well in the ongoing national examinations.

“I am expecting to do well in the national examinations despite our teachers abandoning us. I have revised on my own and [with] my colleagues in the school,” said the Sankuri Secondary School student.

The board of governors at the school, which is 20km from Garissa town, hired untrained teachers to replace those who never returned following the Garissa University College terror attack by Al-Shabaab in April this year. Abdirashid said that while the untrained teachers could not teach some lessons, he is banking on the fact that he has been revising to do well.

In a similar situation are pupils of Garasweino Primary School, situated more than 120km from Garissa town. The school's headteacher, Abdi Aden Digale, who was brought in after all teachers including the school administrator left, was present, assisted by two other untrained teachers.

"Now that teachers outside the region have left, the education predicament will be worse and the examination performance will definitely be poor compared with the previous years.”

At Guyu Primary School, headteacher Ahmed Dubat is the only teacher employed by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) remaining, after four of his colleagues declined to resume duty for the second term.

“I teach 33 lessons daily because I have to at least make sure every class is attended on behalf of four of my colleagues. I also make sure the discipline in the school is maintained,” he said.

Mr Dubat is contemplating leaving teaching because of the pressure and workload. “It is tiring and extremely difficult, because sometimes I can’t get time for my family. You can imagine doing all the work of your colleagues who are required to be at the institutions,” he said.

The paralysis in learning across North Eastern Kenya started when the Islamist group Al-Shabaab attacked a Nairobi-bound bus outside Mandera, killing 28 people, mostly teachers, who were returning to their homes for the Christmas holidays.

TEACHERS STAYING AWAY

One out of three teachers employed by the  government in the North Eastern region, equivalent to 2,177 teachers, have kept away from their duty stations for up to eight months, according to Womankind, a non-governmental organisation based in the region. And that was before the national teachers' strike in September that only compounded the education crisis.

In Wajir County, about 14 per cent, or almost 500 teachers, did not return to public schools following terror attacks between November 2014 and April 2015.  

The worst affected are secondary schools, where 239, or one third of the teachers, boycotted work. Nine per cent, or 260, did not return to their work stations in public primary schools.

In Mandera, 21 per cent of government-employed teachers, numbering 805, boycotted work.

A total of 395 teachers, or almost half, did not return to public secondary schools, while 401, or 14 per cent, stayed away from primary schools.

In Garissa County, the story was much the same. A total of 173 teachers, about a quarter, abandoned their work stations. One third of all secondary school teachers, or 303, stayed away, while 570, or 20 per cent of all primary school teachers, stayed away.

According to Womankind Kenya, the current staffing in the three counties is 3,205 but there is a need for 2,438 more teachers to fill the gap left by teachers who have boycotted work in 699 primary and secondary schools.

The staffing gap has increased the teacher-student ratio way above the national average. For instance, the national primary school ratio is 1:31, according to the 2014 Basic Education Statistics Booklet recently released by the Education ministry. But following the teachers' boycott in Mandera, the teacher-student ratio is more than double that number at 1:106. In Wajir, the ratio is 1:69 and in Garissa it is 1:59.

The report also indicates that while the national primary school net enrolment rate is 88 per cent, it is 58 per cent in Garissa, 27 per cent in Wajir, and 25 per cent in Mandera.

Despite the adverse effects insecurity has had on education, data analysed by Nation Newsplex shows that the North Eastern region has been historically marginalised in education, even before the recent security-related woes began.

Seven out of 10 people living in Garissa and Mandera counties, and eight out of 10 people living in Wajir County have never been to school, according to a report titled Exploring Kenya’s inequality in education: Pooling apart or pooling together?

SECONDARY EDUCATION RATE

The percentage of people with formal education in Garissa and Mandera is three times below the national average, so a person living in Nairobi is four times as likely to have formal education as a resident of Wajir.

Only one-third of residents of Mandera and one-quarter of Wajir and Garissa residents have had formal education. The counties of Turkana (3.3 per cent), Wajir (4.0 per cent) and Mandera (4.7 per cent) have the lowest levels of secondary education countrywide.

Attainment of secondary level education is highest in Nairobi County at 50.8 per cent of the population, followed by Kiambu (39.8 per cent) and Mombasa (37.0 per cent).  A person living in Nairobi is 11 times as likely as a person living in Mandera to have attained secondary education and above.

The report, from the Society for International Development and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, similarly shows that 20 per cent of Mandera, Wajir and Garissa county residents have attained primary education, while less than 10 per cent of residents in the three counties having attained secondary school education and above. This are unlikely to get better soon.

According to government statistics, while the national enrolment rate was 88 per cent in 2014, in Mandera it was seven per cent, Wajir 9.3 per cent and Garissa 12 per cent. A primary school-age child in Tharaka-Nithi or Kirinyaga County, which have enrolment rates of over 90 per cent, were more than 11 times more likely to be in school than their counterparts in Mandera.

Womankind Kenya Coordinator Abdullahi Mohamed is concerned about what perpetuating inequality means for the future of the region, where only one in every three children accesses school yet enrolment is now at 90 per cent in other parts of Kenya.

"It's unfortunate that our leaders and other stakeholders have raised these education problems with the relevant bodies such as the TSC (and the) Minister of Education but no satisfactory action has been taken by these duty bearers to ensure children in these counties are not denied their right to education and a future," said Mr Mohamed.

He said it was reprehensible that eight months into the education crisis the government was yet to find a comprehensive solution.

THE PRESIDENT HIMSELF

The TSC’s efforts to recruit trained teachers to replace those who have left the region have failed in the past, forcing the Ministry of Education to lower its standards and allow the recruitment of untrained teachers. 

In Mandera, 921 primary and 116 secondary teachers are needed to fill the gap while Garissa has a shortage of 445 primary and 197 secondary teachers. In Wajir, there is a need to add 715 primary and 44 secondary teaching jobs. 

According to statistics from Womankind, Mandera County needs 2,061 teachers, Wajir needs 1,867 while Garissa needs 1,715 teachers.

Several weeks ago, civil society groups, led by Womankind Kenya, took to the streets to protest what they said was the government continuously ignoring the education crises in the North Eastern region.

In their memorandum to President Uhuru Kenyatta, through North Eastern Regional Coordinator Mohamud Saleh, the activists claimed that the current status of the education sector was dire.

They called for immediate action by the President himself to avoid further degeneration into a disaster as the right to education for thousands of children was being threatened.

‘BAD PRECEDENT’

Garissa Parent Teacher Association chairman Ibrahim Mohamed Omar said it is unfortunate that the government has made the education crisis look as if teachers are the only ones directly targeted by terrorist groups, while other civil servants continue to offer required services to the citizens from the region.

“The government has set a bad precedent by not punishing those who abandoned their (jobs) in the region and instead transferring them to other areas, this is really punishing innocent (children) and their parents because terrorism is a global issue that affect(s) everyone including locals from the region,” he said.

Mr Ibrahim said the government is capitalising on insecurity to punish parents and their children by denying them the right to education.

“There have been a lot of problems in the education sector, even before non-local teachers left for security concerns. Lack of enough facilities such as classes and laboratories have been contributing to the poor performance in the region. Now that teachers outside the region have left, the education predicament will be worse and the examination performance will definitely be poor compared with the previous years,” says Khalif Sheikh Issack, a headteacher at County High School in Garissa town.

Even with the national teachers' strike, in many parts of Kenya, students had completed the syllabus but in the northeast barely any learning took place in most of the schools, says Issack, who is also the Garissa branch secretary of the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association.

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