Parental engagement: the magic bullet that countered school dropouts.

By: Alex Kimiri, Africa Educational Trust

A learner displaying a synopsis of a book she read. 

Covid-19 has affected children’s learning across the globe and the solutions that work in the richer parts of the world just haven’t worked in places like Kenya’s Laikipia North. When schools started to close across the globe, the Kenyan government also encouraged the remote learning strategies that may have worked in New York, London and Madrid but that were not so successful in the Global South.

UNICEF findings on the digital divide indicate that at least a third of the world’s school-going children were unable to access remote learning during 2020’s school closures with much worse inequality in sub-Saharan Africa. In Kenya, UNICEF concluded that at least 50% of all learners could not be reached by virtual learning.  

Our experience has shown that the digital divide was even broader in pastoralist communities.

Lucy Maina of Grassroots Innovation for Change (GRIC) conducted a rapid assessment on the impact of COVID-19 in Kenya’s Laikipia North with a key consideration of how learning was organised and supported by communities during the pandemic.

“We found that 97% of learners in Laikipia North had no access to the e-learning programme rolled out by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development compared to an average of about 60% of learners in the informal settlements of Nairobi” she said.

The survey further revealed that 60% of learners in Laikipia North were not given enough time to engage in learning and importantly singled out the inadequacy of parental engagement as a key to academic success for their children.

Building on this evidence, the Africa Educational Trust (AET) designed an intervention to increase access to e-learning while strengthening the integral role of parents and communities in learning.  

A volunteer teacher and a parent listening to a student recite a  pictorial story book at a Manyatta Learning center

AET designed a blended learning approach that integrated offline, e-learning platforms and feeding programmes. Supported by volunteer youths and teachers, it saw more than 2,000 learners in Laikipia North consistently engaged in learning for about five months while schools were closed.

Aware that parents could help their children learn despite low literacy levels, AET mobilized parents through chiefs, nyumba kumi (household level community policing structures) members and community elders to support home learning through creating time and space for story books reading and participation in the KICD e-learning. They were further mobilized to ensure that learners submit written summaries to volunteer teachers for review and individualized learning support

AET identified that many children might not return to school after the closures. We brought together 40 nyumba kumi leaders, group ranches leadership, chiefs and Boards of Management to share ideas on how schools would plan for reopening. We were particularly concerned that newly initiated warriors and newly pregnant girls would not return and put strategies in place to address this.

When Setu Kipish a grade 4 student at Ngabolo primary school in Laikipia North, failed to report to school the Board of Management reached out to her family and arranged for her to board. Without this intervention she would never have returned” SaidMr. Isack Sarioyo, Ngabolo BOM chair

Community leaders facilitated by AET, followed up with families of children who had not returned to school. They brought back girls that were married off and convinced parents to let the pregnant girls resume school: as a result, eleven pregnant girls came back to school. The community leaders and parents also initiated a school-home communication that would strengthen identification of learners out of school and those at risk of dropping out. Through this strategy, eight boys who were skipping school re-joined.

As a result of AET facilitated community and parental efforts, more than 90% of children in Laikipia North reported back to school in the second week.

“The enrollment has increased gradually over the first five days of school reopening. On the first day, at least nine grade 8 learners had reported, and by the end of the week, the remaining 12 learners had reported back to school which makes the entire grade 8 population. Mr. Njeru, headteacher, Kurum primary school.

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