Education in Kenya continues facing challenges ranging from lack of infrastructure, enough study materials and poor pay for teachers.
These are just a few of the challenges known on the national scale but for communities who rarely make it to the daily news, the challenges are further compounded.
“We are a pastoral community our sons normally help us move with our animals as the girls remain with their mothers taking care of our homes. We only send our children to Kametusa primary to go and learn how to read and write. Going to school does not help us much compared to our animals so we opt to give them (animals) a lot of our attention,”
says Francis Wamalwa the acting assistant chief in Samburu, Turkana County.
As the famous say goes, ‘If you can’t beat them,’ join them, the above confession has for long deprived children born in Turkana and other pastoral communities of their education.
However, thanks to the introduction of mobile schools project, an attempt by the government in partnership with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) to provide education to all Kenyan children may just turn the fortunes for these children.
Across the vast and semi-arid north-western corner of Kenya, threatened by alarmingly high malnutrition rates, live the Turkana. This is a traditional ethnic group who work the dry plains as shepherds. In a valley of microclimates, when water and green brush run dry and brown, the communities move on foot to new areas – roaming for life’s essentials.
Samuel Loscuwat is a head teacher at a fixed stationary elementary school called St. Boniface.
“The impact of this year’s drought is severe. School enrolment is down, people are on the move with their children looking for water and grass for their livestock. In this school, enrolment has dropped from 200 in 2013 to 156 this year. The drought, worsens the already fragile food security. Families are left with no choice but to withdraw their children from school. Mitigation against that is another element of UNICEF’s work in education.”
In the attempts to ensure that people adapt to the recurrent drought and ensure that every child goes to school the government and UNICEF came up with an innovative program to this corner of the Rift Valley – mobile schools which move with the pastoralists in Turkana.
Not far (about 5km) from St. Boniface is a simple structure, thatch walls covered by slabs of corrugated roofing plastic – it is Christine Tukei’s mobile school.
Since 2008, Christine, 35, has worked as a school teacher for the Ministry of Education in the Rift Valley, and as the Turkana move, she moves with them, accompanied by her two daughters, Rael, 13, and Lydia, 12. Currently her children attend St. Boniface, but they live in a typical and simple mud house among the Turkana people. She is assisted at the school by two volunteer teachers.
“I teach kindergarten and first grade for children, but also to anyone who is interested in learning. I use simple songs to help my pupils memorize numbers and basic english words; like parts of the body, animals, and plants. The classroom walls have neatly hanging, and carefully preserved, educational posters, including a map of Kenya.”
Mobile schooling is a key strategy in the UNICEF-supported Nomadic Education Policy, enabling children to access education even in nomadic lifestyles. To improve the quality of learning, it provides mobile schools with basic learning materials, such as books. It also undertakes high-level advocacy for long-term government support to mobile schools, including employment of teachers and provision of Free Primary Education funds.
Christine explained that the community she serves has been stationary long enough that the Kenyan Government built the temporary building, and another one about 15 kilometers away, in areas where families often move to in search of water and vegetation. She has worked and lived at the other location, as well.
One of her many challenges as a teacher is that her student body changes randomly, with families coming and going. Both Christine and Samuel have requested the Government to build dormitories at their schools, as this would encourage parents and guardians to leave their children in the care of the school while they find new areas for their livestock to survive.
Christine is a dedicated, charismatic, and inspiring woman, and one living an extraordinary chapter of service. She even has a battery-powered DVD player to share educational videos with her students. It is a quite a draw to help keep her students coming back and inspire others to make the long journey to St. Boniface.