Re-opening in the time of COVID-19 in Kenya.

By Ann Gachoya, Truphena Kirongo, Fredrick Kiiru, George Odwe, Chi-Chi Undie.

In December 2020, Kenya’s Ministry of Education started preparing to to fully re-open schools after nearly a year. The MoE focused specifically on building the capacity of education officials in COVID-19 prevention, control, and management to ensure the health and safety of learners and staff upon returning to school. This exercise focused not only on the health issues presented by COVID-19, but also on social issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. One such issue involves early marriage and teenage pregnancy, for which a noticeable spike had been observed in the country, and which experienced heightened media attention in 2020.

Government plans for school resumption coincided with the release of the National Guidelines for School Re-Entry in Early Learning and Basic Education by the MoE on December 1, 2020. The guidelines show the Government of Kenya’s commitment to providing inclusive education to all learners for sustainable development, including those that are often stigmatized for having dropped out due to circumstances such as ‘early pregnancies, drug and substance abuse, HIV and AIDS, Gender-Based Violence, inhibitive cultural practices, child labour, special needs and disabilities.’ As evidence of this commitment, the MoE embraced a comprehensive, cascade approach to ensure that education officials’ capacity was strengthened, not only for school-based COVID-19 prevention and management, but also for fostering the re-entry of children who had dropped out of school for various reasons.

With technical and financial support from the Population Council, the MoE organized a virtual capacity-building workshop (on December 16, 2020) to empower education officials and school managers on  covid-19 management. Workshop participants included field-level education officers, who in turn sensitized all other field officials and sub-county officers. Sub-county officers subsequently sensitized head teachers, Board of Management chairpersons of all public primary and secondary schools, and  covid-19 institutional response committee members. An estimated total of 500 education officials and 30,000 school managers were reached via this cascade process.

Given the unique plight of girls who dropped out of school due to pregnancy, the MoE is currently gearing up for a Back-to-School Campaign, which will complement the efforts of the earlier sensitization sessions. Referred to as ‘The 4Ts Initiative’ (‘Track, Trace, Talk, and reTurn’), the programme borrows from a similarly-named Homa Bay County Department of Education endeavour, and involves the tracking down and tracing of parenting girls by the MoE, the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, and other stakeholders; talking to such girls and their families about the school re-entry policy guidelines to inform them of parenting girls’ right to return to school; and ensuring parenting girls who want to, actually do return to school.  

That said, the re-opened discussion about school re-entry for parenting girls in Kenya is one that needs to be had regionally, as both Kenya and its neighbours are grappling with high rates of unintended pregnancy among adolescent girls, coupled with interruptions to or abandonment of  their education. In East African countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, most girls (anywhere from 95% to 98%) aged 15-19 who have ever been pregnant are out of school.

Finally, the key lessons learned from Kenya’s efforts will be useful for addressing the regional issue of school re-entry for parenting girls’ as a means of promoting sustainable development.

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