Fort School, a local solution to Kenyan education inequalities
Introduction and key constraints
In 1963, after more than 40 years of British colonization, Kenya gained independence. Under its own rule, the Kenyan government was able to implement new policies and reform the education system. From 1964 to 1983, the 7-4-2-3 system was adopted: students attended primary school for 7 years, lower secondary for 4 years, upper secondary for 2 years, and finally university for 3 years but in 1984 this was replaced by the 8-4-4 system in 1984. This system placed more emphasis on vocational subjects to enable dropouts to find employment and become self-sufficient.
In the years that followed, Kenya faced multiple challenges, including years of ethnic conflict in the River Valley region, financial constraints due to government instability, terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda, and severe droughts that left millions starving. The events caused Kenya to find itself in a political, economic, and humanitarian crisis and, as a result, education suffered greatly.
As of 2022, 8.9 million Kenyans live in poverty, with 7.8 million living on less than US$1.9 a day. This is mainly due to the drought. Rainfall has been exceptionally poor for 3 consecutive seasons. It has resulted in those in impoverished circumstances living on next to nothing. As the cost of living continues to rise, totem pole worst achievers continue to be marginalised and those in the education system suffer. There are several key constraints affecting students access the education system:
- Food instability and other factors such as low wages and rising costs mean that additional costs such as uniforms and course materials are seen as an additional burden. Although primary education has been free since 2003, many parents still cannot afford the cost. Approximately 27% of primary school children drop out of primary school due to a lack of funding, resulting in half of Kenya’s school population not completing their secondary education.
- Gender inequality plays a significant role in educational inequality. During menstruation, many young girls stay at home because their parents cannot afford sanitary products. This can result in girls missing up to 39 days of the school year and unfortunately schools do not have the infrastructure to make up for this loss. In addition, as violence escalates in the ongoing conflict between Somalia and north-eastern Kenya, the risk of rape and/or physical harm grows, only increasing the likelihood of them dropping out.
- Child labour in Kenya is at its worst with 1.3 million children engaged. The largest contributing factor to this number is poverty. While parents struggle to provide basic needs, children are forced to contribute to improving the family’s standard of living. Boys herd livestock and become hawkers or farmers while girls become domestic workers or are sexually exploited. Children are forced to forfeit their right to education to survive.
Tackling the challenges through policies and investments
The Kenyan government and key stakeholders have taken significant steps to help the collapsing education system. In 2021, the government increased funding allocated to education to approximately 30% of the entire budget. A total of KSh 544 billion was promised to improve the education sector. This amount was intended to encourage more youth to train for teaching and fund the feeding programme and examinations. A budget of this size also means that existing learning facilities can be expanded and renovated to accommodate returning students. Other policies and innovative solutions are being implemented by local entrepreneurial initiatives such as Fort School.
Fort Schools is a social enterprise dedicated to the fourth goal of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life learning opportunities for all. It provides an affordable platform for students to gain access to educational content. Through pre-recorded videos, students learn, ask and answer questions posed by and for teachers. Rigorous research found that of the 14 million learners living in Kenya, 40% have access to the internet and/or a smartphone. Such a high number indicates that the reach is large, as demonstrated by virtual classes held during the March-April 2022 school holidays. Fort Schools hosted 500 virtual classes, attended by 18,396 people where 100 instructional videos were uploaded and viewed a total of 15,000 times.
The Fort School ensures that no child is left behind as those affected by illness, menstruation, instability, teenage pregnancy or lack of funding have access to top-quality national teachers and study materials.
Over the past 6 years, we have seen a growing trend of the number of candidates sitting for the national examinations particularly at primary levels, averaging 6% YoY growth. However, the number of highschools has not been growing at the same rate as the numbers of the candidates. With the government eyeing for a 100% transition from primary to high school, this translates to likelihood of congested classes in future or perhaps lesser transition percentages.
It is also interesting to note that the number of national schools in the country is less than 150 and with approximately one million candidates graduating from primary schools every year, it is basic logic that not everyone will get a chance to study in the national schools. This puts some sense of inequality among the learners since most national schools have access to the best resources and teachers in the country as compared to the other schools. Remember the learners will be subjected to the same national examination regardless of the kind of school or environment they studied in.
Lastly, a dozen other factors affect our learners in this country and thus affect their performance in the final examination which is the same countrywide. Just to name a few, data from the Ministry of Education shows that some girls are absent from school for 4 days a month during their menstruation periods, translating to 13 learning days in a term and 39 days in an academic year. Other factors that contribute to the absenteeism of some students like insecurity, sickness, lack of school fees, teen pregnancies among others may affect the performance of the affected students when it comes to national examinations.
This prompted us to engineer a solution that would help the learners who are affected by the above challenges catch up with the rest through learning virtually. Our solution, Fort School, is trying to ensure a little bit of equality and fairness is attained in education by helping students access top national teachers and learning materials virtually even when they never managed to join the national schools physically. Fort School also ensures that learners can keep learning even in dire circumstances that hinder them from accessing the school physically.
We conducted a pilot phase during the March to April holiday this year and the response was stupendous.
The Kenyan education system is a work in progress. The financial constraints of the majority of the population make it difficult for children and young people to lay a solid foundation for success. Poverty and all the challenges it brings severally limits the potential of its victims. The government and its acquaintances must address the problems that the population faces every day before the youth can believe that they are well equipped to take the necessary steps to live outside of their current situation.
Copywriter with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology