COVID-19 and education in Kenya: How young women want leaders to support girls’ education

06 May 2022 by Mary Kwena, WUSC

On March 15, 2020, the Government of Kenya closed schools nationwide in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, millions of children’s education has been severely disrupted, leaving significant gaps in learning. For girls, being out of school for such a long period of time also increased their vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence, early marriage and unintended pregnancies.

In northern Kenya, opportunities to access education are limited and the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that fewer girls are in schools. To improve access to and the quality of education, particularly for girls, in northern Kenya’s Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps and surrounding communities, WUSC is working with Windle Trust Kenya to implement the Kenya Equity in Education Project (KEEP), by the UK aid through the Girls’ Education Challenge. Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that fewer girls are in school, we have adapted to offer increased cash transfers, radio lessons and online support groups so that girls can have access to learning in the communities.

We talk to Falastin, Liem and Mary to learn more about the obstacles they have faced in accessing education, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ways in which these obstacles were addressed through the project, and their hopes for the future. They also shared their messages to leaders in Kenya and globally on ensuring access to education for all girls.

What were some of the challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, one common challenge faced by Falastin, Liem, and Mary was a lack of electronic devices to access e-learning platforms. With the closure of schools, they were also not able to meet with their teachers and other students to ask questions about their lessons. Mary shared that another challenge related to the pandemic was that she was spending more time doing household chores, instead of focusing on her studies.

“Due to gender roles in my community, a lot of household chores were left to me as the only girl in the house, leaving inadequate time for personal studies in comparison with my male siblings.” Mary, 18 years old

How were these challenges addressed through the KEEP project?

Falastin explained that she was provided with cash transfers, which allowed her to buy basic items, including masks and textbooks. Radio lessons were introduced for students in the community. Teachers and students also formed a WhatsApp group where they could share lessons on different subjects. In addition, mentorship and counselling sessions were made available. Counsellors are raising awareness on the importance of girls’ education and are supporting girls to navigate through social issues in school and in their community.

What are your hopes for the future and your message for leaders?
Falastin wants to become a peace negotiator. She is interested in learning about international law and how countries can deal with conflicts. She also wants leaders to remove barriers to girls’ education and provide them with opportunities to continue their education.

“Boosting and creating opportunities such as scholarships will help girls. So will creating more institutions or opportunities for vocational training to develop basic skills to break the cycle of poverty.” Falastin, 17 years old.

Liem hopes to study law and become a lawyer. She also wants to become a Member of Parliament to help develop policies to ensure girls’ access to education in her community.

“I have to make sure that all girls are accessing equal education without any restrictions.” Liem, 23 years old.

Mary hopes to improve the lives of her family members. She wishes to change her community’s perception of girls’ education, and that people around the world embrace gender equality. This is her important message for the president on education.

Mr. President, I would like you to offer more scholarships to students joining secondary schools and universities because of the high poverty level in my community, which prevents most students from accessing education. With more scholarships in the country, many students will be able to reach and achieve their dreams.” Mary, 18 years old.

Education is a fundamental human right. Yet, for many refugee girls and young women it can be difficult to get access to learning. We can change this. Together, we can transform education so that all girls like Falastin, Liem and Mary can continue their learning and help build a better future.