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Fear of massive dropouts when schools reopen after Covid-19 shutdown

Thousands of learners failed to show up in class when schools partially reopened last month, raising fears of massive dropouts caused by the prolonged closure of learning institutions.

Government data pieced together by the Nation shows that at least 20,000 learners in Grade 4, Standard 8 and Form 4 did not report back to school, with officials unable to account for their whereabouts.

The numbers paint a grim picture of learners who might not go back to school when all classes are recalled on January 4, after being away for nine-and-half months.

Many of the learners are reported to have been forced out of school by teenage pregnancies, early marriages and child labour.

While some parents have kept away their children from school for fear of contracting Covid-19, others in flood-prone areas are unable to reach their learning institutions after their families were displaced.

The alarming findings come during a time when school-going teenagers are in the news for involvement in crime, drug abuse, sex orgies, wild parties and disappearing from their homes.

High dropout rate

Efforts by the Nation to get official statistics on learners who dropped out of school last month were futile as Basic Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang did not respond to our queries.

Stakeholders in the education sector are now concerned over the high dropout rate and performance of candidates in national exams slated for March and April.

The government has roped in chiefs, their assistants and members of Nyumba Kumi to help trace the absentee learners and take them back to school.

From the data compiled by the Nation, North Rift region has one of the highest drop-out rate, with 13,000 Grade 4, Standard Eight and Form 4 learners failing to resume studies

In addition to the factors above, some learners in the region were unable to resume classes after undergoing initiation rites, with girls who underwent the ‘cut’ being the most affected.

Nandi has 6,000 girls out of school attributed to teenage pregnancies, according to Health Executive Ruth Koech.

Education officials and administrators have warned parents that stern measures will be taken against those who offer their school-going children for early marriages.

Prosecute parents

“We will not hesitate to arrest and prosecute parents who fail to take back their children to school. Action will also be taken against individuals responsible for the pregnancies,” warned Geoffrey Omoding, the Nandi County commissioner.

In Narok, about 120 Standard 8 and Form 4 candidates have not reported to school. The county director of education, Phillip Wambua, said the majority of the students are girls who got pregnant, some of them being victims of early marriages.

More than 5,500 girls below 18 are believed to be pregnant in Narok County since schools closed in March due to Covid-19. Medical records from different hospitals show the girls attended pre-natal care in government hospitals in the last six months.

In Nyandarua, about 10 per cent of the learners have not reported back to school, and local administrators have been directed to trace them. At least 837 girls are pregnant while many others have already given birth.

“We have cases of early marriages and pregnancies but we shall follow up and ensure those students complete their education,” said county director of education Nelson Sifuna.

In Baringo South sub-county, an unknown number of boys from the minority Ilchamus community are missing from school after undergoing traditional circumcision.

“The low enrolment of boys this term will contribute to a dismal performance in this area and we only pray that they will come back to school,” said Jeremiah Nakure, a local head teacher.

Some of the parents interviewed said they kept their children at home for fear of contracting the coronavirus at school.

Uasin Gishu County Education boss Gitonga Mbaka told the Nation that they are in the process of mapping learners who are not in school.

In Nairobi, 2,817 Grade 4 learners in public schools had not reported in November, with boys being the majority at 1,472.

Standard 8 learners had a better turn up rate, but 1,529 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education Candidates (KCPE) failed to report back to school. Similarly, 775 Form 4 candidates in the city did not go back to school.

“The numbers must have improved by now given that many parents were sceptical when we opened,” an official told the Nation.

In Meru, there are efforts to trace 8,758 candidates who have not yet reported to school. While 3,440 KCPE candidates have not reported, 5,318 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) are still at large.

There are 29,061 and 24,342 KCPE and KCSE candidates in the county, respectively. Some areas have recorded up to 90 per cent turnout but only 26 per cent of KCSE candidates have reported to schools in Buuri sub-county.

Mobilised administrators

According to the data, of the 536 boys in Form Four in the area, 189 had reported while only 47 girls showed up out of the 364 expected.

County director of Education Milton Nzioka said after capturing the data on the number of children who had not reported, they had mobilised administrators to find out why they were not in school.

“We’ve been informed that some girls are pregnant while others got married, yet some boys decided to drop out and engage in small businesses. Our detailed data will capture all these reasons,” Mr Nzioka said.

In Murang’a, Grade 4, Standard 8 and Form 4 students had reported at an average of 94, 89 and 95 per cent, respectively. However, in neighbouring Nyeri, nearly 100 per cent of learners had returned to school.

Grade 4 learners

“We asked the head teachers and principals to follow up and discuss with the parents of those who had not returned,” the county director of education, Sabina Aroni, said.

And in Tharaka Nithi, the county director of education, Mrs Bridget Wambua, told the Nation that 10,279 Form 4 students, accounting for 93.9 per cent of the total enrolment are back in class.

She said 12,182 Standard 8 and 10,218 Grade 4 learners, translating to 95.9 per cent of the two classes, have also reported back.

Most of the learners who are yet to resume classes in Mombasa County are said to have relocated upcountry after their parents lost jobs in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kuppet Kisumu branch secretary Zablon Awange said girls have dropped out after getting pregnant and being married off while some boys have quit school to engage in fishing and bodaboda business.

Homa Bay County Education Network coordinator Julius Omuga said the number of learners who are out of school was higher than what education officials were citing.