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February 21, 2019

Despite all odds, Learning continues at school funded by parents

Jennifer Saisa, teaches some of the class one pupils in Olmkonge primary school in Kajiado county.
Jennifer Saisa, teaches some of the class one pupils in Olmkonge primary school in Kajiado county.

As the government's laptop project pilot for 150 primary schools comes to an end, pupils at Olmkonge Primary School in Kajiado county are still learning under a tree. Located in Osilalei location, Mashuru subcounty, the school is in dire need of classrooms for its 40 pupils.

The school was started in 2011 and has only three classrooms — nursery, class one and two — with pupils aged 7-11 years. Head teacher Samuel Kanyoonje says the school was constructed out of parents' desire to educate their children and the community. The nearest school is more than 6km away.

“The community helps in providing the necessities and the teachers are paid by the parents," Kanyoonje says. "Sometimes we can take two or so months without pay because most parents are pastoralists who depend on livestock, and when it is dry and there is no market and parents do not have money.”

Despite the delayed salaries, the teachers have stayed put and remain dedicated with the hope the school will transform the community. Kanyoonje earns Sh4,000 as the head teacher, while each of the two teachers earns Sh3,000 a month. Recently a parent donated land for expansion, and the school is now seeking help from well-wishers. 

Pupils in Olmkonge primary school in Kajiado county during an English lesson.

The head teacher says learning outdoors is difficult as pupils have to endure sun rays that penetrate through the leaves. One class makes use of a mabati structure, while the rest learn under a tree. Often times, they have to end classes early during rainy seasons.

That the school is located next to the Kajiado-Mashuru road poses another problem, as pupils are often distracted by motorbikes, vehicles and people passing by. “It is worse on Wednesdays, as this is a market day, and there is so much noise, the pupils cannot concentrate," Kanyoonje says. He says the school uses exams from private schools' associations bought by parents from the market.

Pupils have to carry firewood and water to school every morning for preparing their lunch. The meal, donated by New Life Mission Church, is mainly boiled maize with beans, and parents volunteer to cook for the pupils.

Jennifer Saisa, the class one teacher, says some children walk 7-10km to attend school. “Most of the pupils are always absent due to the long distance. The highest absenteeism is recorded during the rainy season, as sometimes only four of 11 pupils attend class,” the teacher says, adding that the pupils risk being attacked by wild animals, such as hyenas.

Saisa, who is yet to complete her early childhood education, says despite these problems, she gets her drive from the parents. “Most parents are not educated but they are keen to educate their children so they can have a better life than them. This has inspired me in helping these children,” she says.

10 year old Tanchu Koipitat empties water from his one litre can. Pupils from Olmkonge primary school are required to bring water and firewood everyday which is used to prepare their lunch time meal. 

Tanchu Koipitat, 10, is a pupil who comes from Endonyio Wuas village. He walks six kilometres every morning to attend school. Koipitat says he is afraid to come to school when it is raining. “It has rained on me several times and each time, it destroys my exercise books,” says Tanchu, whose dream is to become a doctor.

Civil society groups in Garissa, Marsabit and Kajiado counties have come together to lobby for better education for pastoral communities and protection of children's rights.

Timothy Ekesa, executive director of the Kenya Alliance for the Advancement of Children, says unity is the key to success. "Children from these areas suffer old cultural practices, such as early child marriages, female genital mutilation and child labour, which hinder their right to quality education and health care,” he says.

The alliance seeks to provide children with the right to survive, develop and participate in decision-making. It also helps them enjoy special protection against any form of discrimination, neglect, cruelty and exploitation. Ekesa says the challenges faced by children in these pastoral communities is context-based and determined by their society and environment. For instance, due to the dependency on livestock, in some parts of Marsabit, parents have been known to take the 'weak' children to school, while the strong ones are sent to look after livestock.

Jennifer Saisa, teaches some of the class one pupils in Olmkonge primary school in Kajiado county. 

Abdi Omari Farah, a children's advocate, says it is shocking in this age for children to still be learning under a tree, when access to quality education is one of children's rights. "It is unfortunate that long after the government introduced free primary education, pastoralist communities remain without schools and parents have to dig deep in their pockets to educate their children," says Omari, who is also the coordinator of the Kenya Pastoralist Network for Children.

Parents fear for the safety of their children, who wake up very early every day to walk long distances to school. Farah questions the quality of education a child can acquire by learning under a tree without stationery. “We need a paradigm shift in handling issues of free primary education. Education should be devolved so that counties can handle their own education issues because they understand their context better,” he says.

In 2008, the Education ministry and Unicef developed a policy for nomadic education with the aim of enabling pastoralist communities to achieve quality education. However, a study on quality education for pastoralist communities in public primary schools in Kajiado shows that, despite interventions like free primary education and the school-feeding programme, children from nomadic communities continue to face many problems. These include travelling long distances to school to access and complete basic education. The study adds that low population densities and relatively harsh and isolated environments in Kajiado means that there are few and distant schools, and that qualified teachers are difficult to source.

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