EDUCATION OR SURVIVAL? THE DIFFICULT CHOICE CHILDREN ARE FORCED TO MAKE BECAUSE OF THE DROUGHT CRISIS
Salim taking care of livestock in Garissa. Photo credit | Peddy Oniang’o, Save the Children
By Marion Kwambai
As learners plan to go back to school when learning resumes end of January, many children in Northern Kenya have a different fate. The drought in the area has had adverse effects on not only livelihoods, but on children’s education.
12-year-old Salim* from Garissa County is among the children whose education has been affected by the ongoing drought. He tells us that he used to go to Lago Primary School, but was forced to drop out to take care of some of the family’s goats. His father, he tells us, has been away for nine months now, looking for water and pasture for his cows and camels which he left with. Salim and his three sisters were left behind with their mother.
“I am not the only one who was forced to drop out of school. All my friends and neighbours’ children are also home, taking care of livestock. School is not a priority for us right now. If I go to school, then who will take care of the goats my father left? If they die, how will we fend for ourselves?” questions Salim.
In Lago Primary School, learning goes on as usual but with only 100 pupils in attendance. We are told that many of the children dropped out when the drought hit. Four consecutive failed rainy seasons have pushed millions of families to the brink of starvation, increasing the number of children suffering from malnutrition and forcing people to flee their homes in search of more resources.
The severe and worsening drought has affected school retention as pupils are forced to choose between getting an education and helping their parents in their search for food, water and pasture. According to a recent survey done by Save the Children in June 2022 on impact of the drought in 17 counties, significant decrease in enrolment is seen in all the counties with an average of 52% affected schools across all levels (Early Childhood Education (ECE), primary and secondary). Save the Children’s Education Technical Specialist Lucy Tengeye says the most affected population of children are those aged between 7 to 10 years.
“We see a lot of younger children dropping off but when they get to grade 6, parents realize these children will sit for their national exams soon in grade 8, so they make an effort of taking them back to school. This creates a gap in their education and they cannot catch up with children who have continuously been in school,” says Lucy.She adds that a lot of protection issues also emerge during such emergencies as many children become vulnerable to early marriage, trafficking, prostitution and forced migration.
“Their livestock is dead, food supplies are gone, and their land is parched or inaccessible because of conflict. Facing the threat of chronic hunger and in the verge of famine, parents choose to sacrifice their children’s education,” explains Lucy. “Sadly, even after such emergencies, many children, most especially girls, are less likely to return to school because many of them are married, have become young mothers or have experienced gender-based violence.”
According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET), the ongoing drought, which has now persisted into a fifth consecutive rainy season, is expected to drive Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes through at least mid-2023 across Kenya’s northern and eastern arid and semi-arid lands. Cumulative rainfall has been less than 55 percent of the 40-year average since October 1st, leading to severely diminished food and income. FEWSNET further reports that emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes will likely persist in the worst-affected areas where there remains a high level of need and high prevalence of acute malnutrition despite food assistance deliveries.
Lack of food has had a negative impact on the lives of communities, and this has trickled down to the learners, especially in primary schools. Pupils attend class with the hope that they will get food in school, as they do not have any at home. Save the Children is therefore calling on the government to make every effort to ensure the maximized and efficient running of school feeding programmes and to ensure adequate supply of safe water to schools during the drought, for purposes of drinking, sanitation and personal hygiene in order to enhance a conducive school environment that will encourage children to stay in school.