Education as the way forward: Part 2 – on to the practicalities

Now let’s move on to the current state of affairs related to education.  It’s eye opening.  By way of background, I’d like to share with you a table correlating the Kenya education classifications of grade and school type to what we know in the US:    

School Type (Kenya) Ages Grade Level Taxonomy US Equivalent
Early Childhood Development (ECD) 3 – 5 years old   Kindergarten
Primary School 6 – 13 years old Classes 1 – 8 Elementary and Middle/Junior High School
Secondary School 14 – 17 years old Form 1 – 4 High School

Next, for context, here’s some basic demographics of Turkana (from notes I took during discussions w. local officials):  Population makeup:  60% Pastoralist; 20% Agro-pastoralist; 12% fishermen; 8% employed.  6 Districts (Turkana Central, Turkana North, Turkana South, Turkana West, Turkana East, Loima);  Population:  850k people.   (We spent our time in the western half of Turkana, and visited Lodwar (Turkana Central), Loima (Loima),  Kalapata (Turkana East), and Lokori (Turkana South)).

Adult Literacy:  70 of 100 adults cannot read nor write in ANY language; 85%+ are illiterate. 

Kenya experiences major droughts every decade and minor ones every three to four years.  In the northern portion of the country, they are experiencing the worst drought in 60 years due to La Nina weather patterns persisting over the past 2 years. 

What we experienced:  We experienced a lot!  First, we had the opportunity to meet with local government officials in the Loima and Turkana East districts in the towns we visited.  Imagine sitting and taking notes of the conversation, and hearing the following statistics (the math is astounding): 

Roughly 33% of children actually attend school (compare this to the national Kenya average of 70-80% enrollment.)   Of the 33% that attend school, only 10-15% complete primary school (through Class eight) and sit for the exams to enter secondary school (ref: the photo I share below).   That means approximately 5% of the total population of children have the credentials to move to secondary school.   Once in secondary school, of that 5%, only 4% of those children, yes 4% actually make it all the way through Form 4 (our 12th grade equivalent) and sit for the exams to qualify for post-secondary education.   

So mathematically, in a primary school of 300 children, 0.6 child every year will have completed their primary and secondary education and qualified for college or university!  The only way from here is up J.

The primary school dropout rate increases significantly after Class 5 (after the age of 10).  As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, early marriage is prevalent, so the dropout rate for girls is high.  In addition, boys begin dropping out to tend to the family herds (reminder:  60% of the population is purely pastoral), however boys tend to stay in school longer than girls.    

Number of children that sit for the KCPE exam, by year

This picture illustrates the issue:  I took this photo in the principal’s office at Kalapata Primary School.  This year, the school has 324 total students in Classes 1-8.  The chart details by year, since 1993, how many boys and girls completed the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education, a certificate awarded to students after completing the approved eight-year course in primary education and provides the credentials for secondary school.  The 2nd column is for the number of boys (B), and the third column is the number of girls (G).  (I added the red boxes for visual orientation.)  While the numbers aren’t great for either population of child, the girls clearly are not staying in school. 

So, what’s going on here?  You can think of four root causes:

  1. Long distances between school facilities: 10 – 20km (see Nancy’s story below*)
  2. Cultural attitudes towards girls, specifically early marriage
  3. Insecurity – food and physical (either from livestock raiding/rustling from neighboring areas, or drought-related to crop production)
  4. Traditional nomadic lifestyle (related to frequent droughts and being pastoral, must move herds to find suitable grazing)

*One girl we met, Nancy, walks 16km to primary school, one way!  It’s the closest one to her. She leaves her home at 4am to arrive at school by 7am.  Absolutely amazing.  I was so struck by her strong will to become educated and achieve a better life that it would compel her to walk that far most days. I was also struck that, in a culture where girls are valued for the dowry they will bring when married and formal education is not accepted as a social value, Nancy’s parents would actually support her to go to school.  Her story gives me hope. 

The facilities we saw:  We visited three primary schools and viewed another from about 1km away (the road didn’t easily go where this school was).   There is a fairly wide variance in the quality of facilities.  Generally speaking, the Early Childhood Development (ECD) facilities are utilitarian at best.

Early Childhood Development facility

Here you can see an ECD facility, which is essentially a concrete foundation, and a roof.  There are no toys or early childhood learning tools.  It’s a place to bring your small children while you’re out working.  I’m not sure actually how they spend their time there – we didn’t visit it while in session.

Kalapata Primary School

In terms of the primary schools, generally, the facilities provided for Class 1-4 are widely variable.  This set of classrooms at Kalapata Primary School was fine – fully enclosed, cinder block construction with desks. And the classrooms were packed.


A classroom for Class 3

At another primary school, we saw a very different kind of classroom.  As you can see, the structure has open walls so the children are subject to the weather conditions as they try to learn (extreme heat, wind, rains during the rainy season).  Notice the rocks for seats, and the blackboard leaning up against a wall.  Not the best of learning environments.

Day school: classrooms for Classes 1 – 4

And then, we saw this day school for Classes 1-4.  The ‘road’ didn’t go down there and we arrived in the afternoon, so we didn’t visit.  One of the teachers saw us by the side of the road looking at the school and he came over to talk.  What we learned was that the children attend in the school in the morning for four hours, the cooler part of the day.  (Notice there’s no windows in this day school – just openings for doors).  There is no water at this school.  The children have to walk another 2km to a dry riverbed and dig down in the riverbed to find water.  It’s dirty, but it’s water.   

There are very few boarding primary schools in this area, the distance between schools is so great and the nomadic lifestyle for the parents is so prevalent.  If you have to move the herd to find suitable pasture, you’ll take your children with you if there’s no other place for them to stay.   Little wonder only 1/3 of the children attend school and fewer stay in school over the long-term.

School teacher and his house

Which brings me to the topic of teacher housing.  Turkana East, Central and South are harsh, dry, difficult places to live.  If you want to have qualified teachers teaching, they must have some draw, some incentive to come.  A reasonably nice house is a significant incentive.  This is the teacher who came out to talk with us as we were looking at the day school.  This is his house.  I’m not certain this kind of housing will attract the number of qualified teachers needed in this area.

The path forward:  As a reminder, let’s not lose the fact that what I’m sharing is the ‘before’ view (I had to remind myself of this several times during the trip J).  It reminds me of what I experienced in 2009 when visiting the Marich Pass Area Development Program (ADP) in Pokot, seeing the drought conditions at that time and discovering 35 girls living in a rescue center because they had fled their homes not wanting to be married by the age of 12 or 13, nor to undergo FGM.  If you’re not familiar with that part of the story, here is a link to a 3 ½ minute video I shot recently describing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ with the building of St. Elizabeth’s Secondary School for Girls and the completion of the Muruny Water Project.  Take a look: 

The outcome in Marich Pass ADP has significantly influenced World Vision to scale the best practices learned and launch the Kenya Vulnerable Girls Education Project, which is why I took this trip.  The Kenya Vulnerable Girls Education Project has multiple components with it:  primary and secondary school construction, boarding facilities and classroom upgrades are absolutely part of the project and there is provision for teacher housing.  (Boarding facilities will allow the girls to stay in school as their parents move for the sake of their herds.)  Mentoring and vocational training is also incorporated into the project design.  Just as importantly, there is a STRONG and deep community advocacy and education component, in part working with the tribe elders and chiefs to support and guide their communities to send their girls to school and allow them to complete their education.  The project is tied with the Kenyan government anti Early Marriage and Anti Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) initiatives.  And lastly, the fantastic thing about working with World Vision is that they will also bring integrated interventions like water and sanitation initiatives and health education, training on food security and short-term famine relief food assistance and much more.  They think about transformation and sustainability over the short and the long-term (and they partner with other NGO’s for expertise and scale of resources).

Seeing Nancy and other girls like her, and knowing there are parents who right now support education for their girls if there’s a way, gives me such confidence that with more quality schools and more qualified teachers we can make an impact on the lives of several thousand girls and uplift an entire community. The only question is how quickly can we raise the money to fund the project phases and over what period of time.  This is why I’m taking a year off from Microsoft – to do all I can to help raise the necessary awareness and funds sooner so that the education project can scale to more girls sooner.  For those of you who have given already, my deepest heart-felt thank you.  You are part of something special and wonderful.   For those of you who have the means to give financially, please consider giving to this project.  I’ve provided giving instructions in a blog post titled “How to Give” on this site.  For those of you who would like to give of your time and/or your talent and have ideas about fundraising events or would like to raise awareness with others of this work please send me a note at   I will be more than happy to make myself available to help you anyway I can, as well as share with you and your group personally the mission of the work, the outcomes, pictures, videos and stories.  Perhaps you would like to host a fundraising event (e.g. dinner, auction, athletic event participation, webcast to your friends…).  There are several groups that have formed around the US where people are coming together and planning fundraising events (Seattle, No. California, Dallas/Houston, Phoenix) and events are starting.  Let’s talk!  And, as always your prayers for and blessings on this work are so gratefully received and highly valued!  Thank you, everyone – it takes many to make a transformational change in the lives of girls and children. 

(Next post:  Part 3 Education as the way forward:  A fantastic story of hope and transformation)

About margoday

Making a difference in people’s lives at home and internationally is central to who I am. I have been deeply involved in funding the building secondary schools for vulnerable girls in Kenya and took a one-year personal leave of absence from Microsoft to focus my energies on raising funds and awareness for the Kenya Child Protection and Education Project, partnering with World Vision. This project is positively affecting 17,000 children in four areas in the North Rift Valley of Kenya by providing access to quality education, building schools, deepening community advocacy for the education of the girl child, and transforming community attitudes toward early marriage and harmful cultural practices. I've held posts as the former national co-chair for the World Vision National Leadership Council for Child Protection, Board of Advisors President for the Renton/Skyway Boys & Girls Club and past founding board member of Professionally, I am vice president of U.S. Education for Microsoft Corp. I lead a team responsible for the U.S. Education strategy and sales to K–12 and higher education customers across the U.S. Through partnerships, programs and technology, Microsoft plays a significant role in helping institutions and educators transform learning that makes a real impact on educational outcomes and helps students realize their full potential. I have more than 31 years of experience in high-technology software sales, marketing, business development, and partner and channel management, and at Microsoft for the past 14 years holding previous roles of Vice President, West Region SMS&P and Vice President, US Partners. I was honored with the 2014 Circle of Excellence, Platinum Club Founders award , 2006 Microsoft Most Inspirational Woman award, and in 2012 was nominated for the Anita Borg Women of Vision Social Impact Award. I live in the Seattle area and enjoy backpacking, boating, cycling, scuba diving, skiing, golf, adventure travel and, when it’s rainy outside, attending concerts and theater as well as enjoying a great glass of wine.
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