In Kenya, educating nomadic pastoralist children with low-cost schools

By Daisy Serem

TURKANA, Kenya, 20 February 2013 – Eight-year-old Peter Ekutan and his brother, 7-year-old Emanuel Lowar, had never been to school. They tended their father’s goats in a remote village in Turkana County, northwestern Kenya, unaware that other children were in class getting an education.

UNICEF correspondent Daisy Serem reports on an innovative approach to educating Kenya's nomadic pastoralist children.

Education for all

Recently, UNICEF has partnered with Turkana Education for All (TEFA) and the Government of Kenya on an initiative to reach marginalized and nomadic pastoralist communities with low-cost schools. The Rapid School Readiness Initiative identifies school-age children in hard-to-reach areas who do not have access to any form of education.

Once the children have been identified, education officers from the Government’s Ministry of Education conduct mobilization activities to sensitize communities on the benefits of educating their children. As many of the children have never been to school, they initially go through a forty-day school readiness programme to prepare them for formal education.

Reaching the unreached

This initiative is how Peter and Emanuel had a chance to go to school and are now among the brightest students in their classes.

“I am happy in school because I like studying,” says shy Emanuel.

For many other children in Turkana, education remains a distant dream. Because of the high levels of poverty, harsh terrain and rough weather conditions, schools are dispersed sparsely. Statistics from the Ministry of Education from 2009 indicated that 81 per cent of children in Turkana who should have been undergoing early childhood development education (ECDE) were not enrolled in school.

“This initiative is important because we are able to reach the unreached areas of Turkana,” says UNICEF Education Officer Joyce Emanikor. “Most of the formal schools are centred around communities that have settled. But, with the mobile communities and those distant from urban centres, this was the only way to access them.”

The initiative has seen six ECDE makeshift centres in Turkana South and East grow into schools. Communities in these regions have stepped in to support their children’s education by providing building material for construction of more weather-friendly classrooms. The ripple effect from the initiative has also drawn in other partners to ensure that the children will not have to travel long distances in order to further their education.

Investment is priceless

At Lokwadat Primary School in Turkana South, 432 children now have an opportunity to go to school. For now, they study outdoors, exposed to the scorching sun, whipping wind, swirling dust – and even rain. But the enthusiastic and attentive students hardly notice their harsh learning environment as they listen to head teacher Eliud Ekeru.

Mr. Ekeru is optimistic that conditions will improve. “The fact that we are outside in a field without a classroom is better than when there was nothing at all,” he says. “The most important thing was to identify the children, but now we must provide them a better environment for learning.”

For Peter and Emanuel, school means a brighter future than they had ever envisioned. Their father, Elim Nyiro, feels that, although he has lost two herd boys, an investment in their education is priceless. Most of his livestock have died because of drought, and he is now convinced that sending his children to school can provide a more sustainable future.

Peter would like to be a teacher someday, while his brother is studying hard to be a doctor.

“I expect them to study so that they can live a better life. Their education can lift our family out of poverty,” says Mr. Nyiro.