By George Odwe and Chi-Chi Undie, Population Council.
Faith Sipanjo Ikokia, a 15-year-old parenting girl who successfully returned to school following 4Ts intervention in Narok County.
Photo credit: Joyce Kudate, CSO Narok County.
A new policy to recruit out-of-school girls’ has been rolled out in two counties in Kenya. This will allow girls who were married off or got pregnant during the covid-19 pandemic to continue with their education.
There was a rise in teenage pregnancies in Kenya during the pandemic. In a span of three months during the lockdown period, over 150,000 teenage girls were reported pregnant. The operationalisation of the school re-entry policy, however, has managed to ensure that many of these girls return to school.
The covid-19 pandemic disrupted the learning of many children across the globe, denying them access to social protection and many other benefits associated with schooling. As a result, many experienced child marriage, early pregnancy, gender-based violence, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), sexual exploitation and child labour. This hindered their ability to return to school after almost a year-long closure in Kenya.
In an effort to promote school re-entry for pregnant/parenting girls, Kenya’s Ministry of Education (MoE) implemented a back-to-school campaign, with technical support from the Population Council. They called it the ‘Track, Trace, Talk, and reTurn’ (4Ts) initiative. The initiative was implemented in Homa Bay and Narok Counties from May to August 2021 and involved the operationalization of the school re-entry policy guidelines by working to track down and trace out-of-school girls’ at the primary school level.
“I was lucky not to be married off when I got pregnant and I owe it to the 4Ts programme for averting this. I plan to work hard in school for a better future for my child and I,” said Faith Sipanjo, a 15 year old parenting girl from Narok.
The MoE, and Curriculum Support Officers (CSOs) were fundamental to the success of the policy. They visited the families of the girls’ affected and informed them of their right to return to school. Monitoring data shows that 4Ts largely contributed to the return to school of marginalised girls’, most of whom were parenting during the implementation phase.
CSOs obtained a list of ‘missing’ girls from headteachers, traced them in their communities with the help of local administration, and talked to them about how to re-enter school.
The intervention provided a structured way of implementing the guidelines for the benefit of pregnant/parenting learners: “We have been implementing school-re-entry for pregnant girls, however, this exercise has been haphazard. The 4Ts ensured that we collaborated with CSOs and the MoE to enable our girls to report back to school without any hindrances,” says a headteacher from Narok County.
Harmful cultural practices, such as child marriage and pregnancy-related taboos, are major barriers to school re-entry for girls. Most married girls contacted were not planning to return to school in these two counties.
A CSO official from Homa Bay County explained these challenges: “We had a problem with one of the girls who was pregnant. She was not allowed to live under the same roof as her father in her condition and was forced to drop out of school to go put up with a relative until she delivered.”
A number of lessons were learnt that are crucial for enhancing school re-entry for pregnant/parenting girls in rural Kenya and other similar settings. Partnerships between parents, teachers, CSOs and MoE officials contributed to an effective policy awareness campaign. Consistent messaging through the CSOs, using information, education and communications materials enabled communities to understand the need for inclusive education and why they should support these teen mothers rather than marginalise them. Most parents were willing to support school re-entry for girls following the intervention.
The success of the 4Ts can be attributed to several factors such as: involvement of national, county, and local education officials in a coordinated effort, using existing MoE structures and parental engagement. Long-term solutions to addressing the negative impacts of covid-19 on access to education for marginalized girls will benefit from harnessing nationally-led initiatives.
Partners in the education sector are keen to see how the policy has been effectively implemented in the two counties to ensure that the rest of the country benefits from these lessons. For Faith, at least, things are looking up. She is glad to be back in school and looks forward to acing her exams.
P.S Names of quoted officials removed for confidentiality reasons.