Friday, August 14, 2009
Return to Kaimosi Primary School/Education in Kenya - July 28, 2009
When we arrived in Kaimosi all those years ago, the community put me to work teaching. I ended up working with the students who were preparing to take their 8th grade and 12th grade exams in English and teaching Health. After visiting the hospital, Maureen and I walked over to see the school buildings.
The school has changed more than the hospital. There are more buildings and the secondary school has moved off site, but the primary school building looks the same. The preschool children were out playing in the yard as we approached, and seeing a muzungu (foreigner/white person), ran to the fence. As we walked along the road to the gate for the school, they followed along the fence, and then ran to greet us as we entered the compound. The children all gathered around, each wanted to shake my hand, and I felt like royalty of some kind. These children are beautiful, and are among the 1.2 million children receiving some kind of early childhood education today a significant rise, from c. 500,000 in the early 80s, indicative of Kenya's commitment to building a universal education system.
The teachers invited us into the classroom, and the children and I sang head, shoulders, knees and toes, which seems to be a fairly universally known song. (I learned the words in Luo and Maasai while I was there.) The classroom had sparse materials, but the children were engaged and the teachers caring and committed.
Education is one area that has changed significantly since Marshall and I were in Kenya. The Kenyan government is moving toward universal primary education, and their millenium goals have set 2015 as a target date. Free primary education was introduced in 2003, and there is some movement toward free secondary education as well. Enrollment in primary education has increased from the c. 800,000 students attending school in the late 60s to 1.5 million today. government, however, estimates that although primary education enrollment is rising, there are about 2.8 million children who are not receiving any secondary education.
The schools are structured in an 8-4-4 system, with governmental exams at the end of 8th grade and at the end of high school which determine whether a student will progress to secondary or post-secondary education. Competition for slots in the public universities in Kenya is fierce; only about 5% of the students who sit for the secondary exams are admitted to the seven public universities. According to the Assistant Minister of Education, Dr. Kilemi Mwiria, gender parity is still a problem; only 33% of those admitted to public universities are women and most of them are enrolled in arts based courses. Although, according to Education Minister, Professor Sam Ongeri, at the national level primary education ratios show 46% of those attending primary school are girls, this national statistic masks steep regional disparities. The north eastern province registers a gross enrollment rate of 29.3% for girls. The highest percentage of education for girls is in the western region, where the Ombogo Academy is. The staff at Ombogo are clear that intervention for these girls, giving them the chance to complete a secondary education, is a key step in making changes in this part of Kenya.
Special education services for students with disabilities is also an unmet need in Kenya at this time. Out of the estimated 800,000 school aged students with disabilities, only 80,000 have been evaluated for services and only about 30,000 were receiving services in the public schools.
The significant number of orphans also is a significant challenge for Kenya's primary and secondary system. According to Dorothy Otieno, an education correspondent for Msafiri, there are almost 1 million orphans enrolled in the primary schools and about orphans make up about 11% of the enrollment in secondary schools.