Adolescent girls’ education in Kenya: a case study
Gender gaps in education widen significantly at the time of adolescence due to the compounding disadvantage faced by girls, including negative gender norms, and health and safety risks. Our Girls’ Education Challenge project in Kenya works to support girls in a tailored way as they transition to secondary or vocational education and training pathways. In this case study, we illustrate the power of our guiding principle for adolescent girls’ education: as girls grow, we need to grow with them.
An estimated 62 million girls globally are out of school, half of whom are adolescents. The highest number of adolescent girls out of school are sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. We have identified several causes of the widening gender gap at this time:
Health related needs – as girls hit puberty and transition to secondary school, they have different mental health and sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) needs, alongside heightened physical safety and pregnancy risks.
Gender roles and norms become more fixed and influential during adolescence; attitudes towards what girls can and should do impact on their learning, aspirations and transition to work.
Cumulative impact of setbacks – specific gendered challenges make it easier for girls to fall behind or drop out, especially if foundational learning is not in place.
Supply side barriers become more problematic at secondary level: increased distance, cost, time needed to study, subject specialisation, shortage of female teachers, selective entry and the impact of gender stereotyping in schools becomes even more pronounced.
Our UK-funded adolescent girls project in Kenya, Wasichana Wetu Wafaulu (WWW), meaning ‘let our girls succeed’ is running in eight counties – six in arid and semi-arid lands and two in urban slums. By 2023, the project aims to support 72,000 girls in primary school to complete their current phase of education, achieve improved outcomes and successfully transition to the next phase of their education. At this critical point in a girl’s life, we focus on their changing needs and challenges ahead. Our approach is systemic, contextualised and rooted in good pedagogy and effective engagement beyond the school. It involves strategic shifts in five key areas:
At adolescence, we approach education with a broader vision for how it equips girls to improve their life chances and we build multi-sector coalitions at system level to drive better outcomes. As such, the purpose of school widens beyond the provision foundational learning to teach girls life and livelihood skills and our curriculum encompasses SRHR lessons, financial literacy and psychosocial wellbeing to prepare students for life beyond the classroom.
To develop an effective and relevant curriculum (and accompanying teacher training), we combined our own global evidence with partners’ deep understanding of specific local needs. We also collaborated with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development and continue to partner with Kesho Kenya, Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team and Concern Worldwide to co-design and implement responsive interventions across the eight programme counties.
Our WWW project ensures families and communities understand that education is a high returns investment for adolescent girls. Using sensitisation and reflection exercises, parents and community members, including community elders, are engaged with girls’ education and better understand its myriad and lasting benefits. This includes the importance of re-enrolment for girls who are pregnant, married or with childcare needs. The father of one girl, who overcame great odds to attend to secondary school last year, is now the girl’s education champion for his village. He said,
Before his daughter transitioned, her secondary school had just one other female student. However, as a result changing attitudes, transition to secondary school on the programme is now at 97%. Renewed focus on the purpose of girls’ education has enabled parents and communities to encourage large numbers – up to 60% – of out-of-school girls to return to school.
By secondary school, the place where learning happens becomes much more varied and adaptable compared to primary level. Longer distances to school, increased independence, and the need to study beyond school hours means learning shifts from classroom-only to home and community spaces and alternative providers of catch-up and/or skills training. Girls on the WWW project are supported through this change – formal classroom lessons are complemented by the opportunity to learn in multiple co-curricular and cultural activities, low-tech digital spaces, girls’ social forums and afterschool clubs. We have also awarded travel grants to 1,731 girls who face long distances to boarding schools and have links with local transport service providers to ensure girls get to school safely. We also encourage girls to walk in groups for safety.
Children’s clubs are a key means of facilitating additional learning – we provide mentorship, curriculum materials and training to the ‘club champions’ (learners and teachers) who then facilitate the club activities. One Grade 8 pupil from Kwale county said,
Older girls also organise mentorship programmes during the school breaks. One mentee explained how sensitive and constructive mentorship boosted her confidence and ability to set goals:
During the Covid-19 school closures, the project initiated community-based learning whereby girls were organised into peer groups for academic learning and mentorship, with support from local teachers in the community. Our research showed that the reading camps, combined with paper-based learning resources, had the greatest impact on learning – average scores for girls were 8.3% higher for reading and 17.6% higher for mathematics compared to girls who had not accessed either.
Just as we reimagine the places where girls can learn at adolescence, we likewise expand the possible transition pathways for girls at this critical juncture (see figure 2 below). Faced with changing and additional barriers to learning, we support a more diverse range of ways for girls to reach their potential. This includes accelerated catch-up pathways for girls who have fallen behind, formal and informal tailored pathways for out-of-school girls, and progression pathways to vocational training.
Under WWW, we effectively engage girls who are out of school and facing barriers to re-entry through our Catch-Up Centres with community-led identification of the children most in need of support. Hosted in schools out-of-hours with wrap-around support to meet the needs of the girls, such as childcare, learners take an intensive Accelerated Education Programme that gives them a route back to formal education. Our Catch-Up Centres, which are embedded within the school system for long-term sustainability, have so far reached 885 girls, with 649 girls completing the programme and transitioning back to mainstream programmes or alternative pathways.
A popular alternative pathway, TVET – an accredited vocational training course, has been taken by 731 girls so far, while another 151 girls joined informal apprenticeship programmes. One girl from Samburu East, who signed up to TVET after finishing primary school, finished her course in electrical installations in March 2021 and is now the first female electrician in her town – with clear goals for her career. She said,
Meanwhile, a girl from Kilifi County explained how important it was to have another pathway open to her after school: