Disadvantaged girls in Kenyan schools

Alexia di Marco

This report explores aspects of school and schooling that affect the participation and learning of marginalised girls in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) of Turkana and the slums of Nairobi.

This research is related to Education Development Trust's Department for International Development-funded Girls' Education Challenge programme in Kenya. Complementing the monitoring and evaluation data gathered for the programme, this research was funded by Education Development Trust to enrich and develop a deeper understanding of girls’ experiences at school in Kenya.

The report offers a detailed, qualitative analysis of the practices and experience of education of 128 girls across 16 primary schools in these two regions. It examines:

  • Why marginalised girls in ASALs and slums participate and learn better in some schools compared to others
  • Why there might be a higher proportion of girls enrolled in some of these schools
  • How reform can be supported in other Kenyan schools to increase enrolment, achievement and the completion of basic education for girls

Three promising aspects were observed which reportedly improved marginalised girls' access to education and the quality of that education. Firstly, when headteachers approached fee collection with sensitivity, girls expressed feelings of confidence and said they were less likely to drop out. Secondly, the relationship that girls built with at least one teacher supported their continued enrolment in school and their educational achievement. Finally, leadership continuity, presence and skills were also important.


In spite of these areas of promise, this report also identified five common barriers in many ASAL and slum schools that appeared to negatively impact girls’ education participation and learning. The most critical barrier identified for girls was high schools fees and schools that were unsupportive, or even aggressive, in collecting fees. The second was weak teacher professionalism, including high teacher absenteeism, particularly in the ASALs. The third barrier identified was limited time for learning and a limited number of quality learning opportunities being particularly acute for girls, predominantly in ASALs. This included the cost of additional classes and the inability of girls to stay overnight and fear of girls commuting to and from school in the dark. The fourth barrier found in a number of cases was low expectations made of girls by teachers, which reduced their confidence and desire to remain in school. The final barrier identified was that schools have not yet recognised or responded to issues related to the most marginalised girls who seem to be neglected or invisible.

Recommendations for policymakers

The recommendations stemming from this report are for schools to adjust how they collect fees, build positive relationships between female pupils and teachers, and encourage active and present leadership in order to build better learning environments in which girls are more likely to complete school and do well.