Make return of all students to school priority
By Yvonne Arunga, Country Director Save the Children Kenya and Madagascar
A year to the day after Covid-19 landed in Kenya, the pandemic has not only robbed millions of children of education, safety and health but also childhood and a chance to build a future.
Many children have not returned to school due to the disruption by the coronavirus and other factors worsened by the pandemic. The pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities in accessing education, especially among those groups that are vulnerable due to economic challenges, geographical insecurity and displacement.
Many girls may never return to school due to teenage pregnancies and practices like early marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) that increased during the prolonged school closure. Children of both genders that dropped out of school to supplement family incomes during these trying times may also never resume their education.
Education plays a significant role in the achievement of development at personal and societal levels. Inclusive quality education can transform lives and communities, address equity and social issues, promote innovation, reduce socioeconomic inequalities and strengthen institutions.
With free primary and subsidised secondary education, Kenya has made great progress in increasing access to education and the percentages of boys and girls enrolling in school is almost at par. Still, we have some way to go on issues related to quality and access to education in hard-to-reach areas.
The government should ensure no child is left behind by reducing barriers to learning for marginalised groups. Children need to feel safe to learn. We must rapidly scale up safe back-to-school campaigns and provide the support children and families urgently need to return and stay in school.
The government and its education partners need to address the problem of poverty and build resilience for learning. The children most likely to drop out of school are those from economically challenged families pushing the “Education for All” global goal beyond the reach of more such children.
Ironically, education presents the best chance for these children to break the poverty cycle.
We need an analysis of the barriers to learning and track how many children dropped out of the education system due to the pandemic. That will enable the government and civil society organisations to harmonise efforts to undo the pandemic education losses and ensure more equitable provision of learning opportunities.
Also important is the need to listen to children and encourage their participation in understanding and addressing the causes of unrest in schools.
As we take stock of the year that we lost due to the pandemic and look forward to the future, we need to ensure that children get back to school safely and are protected. It is possible to build back stronger. We owe it to our children to get this right.
This article was first published on the Daily Nation