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Education Hard Hit In Drought-Affected North

Garissa/ Wajir South 28 September 2011 (IRIN) – Gains made in bringing education closer to children from pastoralist families in northern Kenya could be eroded by the ongoing drought, which has especially affected high-school attendance.

“All the 72 secondary schools in North Eastern [Province], with about 20,000 students, are facing very tough challenges,” Adan Sheikh, the Northeastern Provincial Education Director, told IRIN. “Most of the parents are unable to pay fees, many have lost their livestock [yet] the high cost of food requires the schools to increase their budgets.”
Sheikh said the government had yet to release grants intended to cushion the cash-strapped schools, which can no longer afford even to pay teachers.

The mobile school teaching programme, which follows nomadic children in remote grazing areas far from formal settled schools, has also been suspended.

“We hope to resume the programme after it rains, when pasture and water will be available,” Sheikh said.

Cash crisis

In a region with some of the lowest education enrolment and retention rates in Kenya, high schools are struggling to keep students.

Harun Mukhtar, head teacher of Shurie High School in Masalani, Garissa, said: “We are doing our best to accommodate all students. Unfortunately, [out of] our school population of 425, more than 100 students who are unable to pay [fees] are still at home. We are likely to lose more students.”

Mukhtar said his school, like others in the region, was operating on credit from banks and local traders.

However, some schools are benefiting from the food-for-fees programme whereby the Education Ministry, with aid agencies and local disaster management committees, provides food allocated according to the student population.

In return, schools use the value of the food to offset fees for those families that have lost their livestock.

Ongoing school-feeding programmes are also helping to retain younger learners, albeit with challenges.

“Improved meals at schools have motivated parents to enrol their children,” said Ibrahim Mohamed, the Wajir South Education Officer. “Over 500 new children have [enrolled] in lower primary classes and nursery [school] since April.”

But there has been inconsistent school attendance due to the drought conditions, he said.

Pupil movement towards water sources has increased, affecting learning at the Abkore, Biyamdow, Dagahaley, Dimayaley and Sabuley schools.

“Our school is congested, some children have [even] come without plates and they have to share,” said Marian Barre of the Sabuley Boarding Primary School management committee.

Barre said more boarding schools should be set up to enable children to learn without interruption.

A community leader, Mukhtar Sheikh Nur, said: “The situation is really bad. Many parents have lost all their livestock [and] hundreds of children are no longer able to resume learning in colleges while those who have been admitted to different colleges [risk] losing their places.”

However, he said, recurrent droughts in the region and subsequent livestock deaths were encouraging more people to value education.

Nur said: “The first locals to attend school and get good jobs in the past two decades from this community [were] boys and girls from poor families who lost all their animals to drought and cattle rustling. They are role models and have encouraged many families to sell livestock and use the proceeds to pay [school] fees.”


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