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Report highlights barriers to girls’ education in Kenya

16 November 2016

Following the launch of Education Development Trust's research report, Disadvantaged Girls in Kenyan Schools, we get an insight from Alfred Oduor, one of the team delivering our work as part of the Girls Education Challenge.

In the last decade, Kenya has covered significant ground in ensuring gender parity in primary and secondary education. Nationally, the ratio of boys and girls sitting national examinations is almost at par.  In 2016, the ratio of boys to girls sitting the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) stood at 53% boys, 47% girls. At the primary level, the figures are even more impressive; in 2015, almost equal number of boys and girls sat the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams – 50.4% girls, 50.6 % boys.

At face value the figures look rosy; however, further analysis reveal glaring gender disparities according to geography – namely in Kenya's arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL). For example, in 2015, girls accounted for only 29% of KCSE candidates in Garissa County. In Wajir County, girls comprised only 28%. The figures are more or less the same in other ASAL counties.

Dismal statistics

So, where is the problem? The dismal statistics of girls' education in Kenyan ASAL counties can be traced back to the lower primary level where negative cultural practices, poor attitude towards girls' education and socialisation have conspired to impede enrolment, retention and transition of girls to secondary schools.

It is from this perspective that findings of the study on Disadvantaged girls in Kenyan schools should be viewed: it highlights pertinent issues affecting girls' education in ASALs and slums in Kenya. The report, launched in Nairobi, Kenya, on 4 November 2016, gets to the core of the barriers impeding girls' education in Kenyan ASAL regions.

According to the report: 'While most headline data for enrolment, completion, attendance and learning in Sub-Saharan Africa and Kenya is encouraging, the high-level statistics mask regional variation and gender disparities. Poorer girls in Nairobi slums and Turkana have lower enrolment and completion rates, as well as lower learning outcomes.'

Providing a strong foundation for improvement

The report raises pertinent issues pertaining to girls' education especially with regard to the barriers that continue to prevent girls from enrolling, remaining and transiting to secondary in schools. More importantly, it provides a strong foundation upon which programming on girls' education in Kenya can be based.  

Interestingly, it is important to note that while girls in ASALs have high aspirations to excel in academics and become doctors, engineers, lawyers and journalists, their hopes are undermined by teacher absenteeism, unfriendly school environment and negative cultural practices. This clearly shows that the girls are not getting adequate support to achieve their dreams; the girls would want to excel academically but are limited by factors beyond their control.

Thus, it is important, as the report suggests, for schools to consider how they collect fees, build positive relationships between female pupils and teachers, and encourage active and professional leadership in order to build better learning environments in which girls are more likely to complete schooling and do well.

Policy makers to action

Our report is the starting point that has identified barriers to girls' education and considered solutions on the same; action now needs to be taken by policy makers to ensure gender parity – especially in ASAL areas of Kenya. Once more and more girls get supported to enrol and remain in school in these areas, we are likely to create a virtuous circle that will pull more and more girls to enrol and remain in school.