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Gender Parity Still Elusive in Education

The Daily Nation, 26 February 2001

Despite major efforts to narrow the gender gaps in education, wide disparities are continuing at the secondary and tertiary levels.

According to the 1999 Census, only 2.84 million eligible girls were enrolled in primary schools compared with 2.97 million boys.

At the secondary school level, there were 403,064 girls or 46.8 per cent of the total 861,200 students enrolled. There were 458,136 boys in secondary school. "The figures portray gender parity at primary school level and significant disparity at secondary school level," says the Census report.

Although the report does not show the number of school drop-outs nationwide at each level, it provides an indication of regional participation in education since independence.

It shows that more girls than boys are out of school despite efforts to reduce the gender gap.

A common trend is that girls' participation and transition as well as performance rates lag behind those of boys, and, so does performance.

Nationally, it was established that about 8.21 million people are in the school system, while 10.60 million have graduated from various levels of the education cycle.

It is estimated that 4.24 million (about 18 per cent) eligible children have never been enrolled in school. Again, more than half of this population who have never attended school are girls - about 62 per cent.

This realisation provides a strong argument for free and compulsory primary education. The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), for example, wants this effected next year.

The acting secretary-general, Mr Francis Ng'ang'a, recently said: "We don't want promises and targets that are never met. If the Government is serious, it should declare a free and compulsory basic education immediately!"

The Government is planning a national forum for education to deliberate on various issues, among them, making primary education free and compulsory.

Minister Kalonzo Musyoka recently said the Government was pursuing several strategies to provide free education.

Although the census results show 2.8 million children aged between five and nine years are enrolled in school, those in schools between ages 20 and 24 (the common age of being at universities and colleges) is only 258,000.

The figure diminishes further to 42,000 between age 25 and 29 years.

The gender parity is more pronounced among those students who have completed university education.

Only 60,612 of the 188,175 citizens who have attained university education are women.

At the primary and secondary school levels, North Eastern Province had the least number of pupils in school - 77,293 pupils - while Rift Valley led with 1.95 million pupils in schools.

Nyanza was second (1.5 million) followed by Eastern (1.4 million), Central (1.1 million) and Coast (0.6 million). Nairobi Province had 0.4 million pupils enrolled in school.

Nairobi, which is reeling under graduate unemployment, has the highest number of people who have university education - 72,190 followed by Rift Valley with 30,633 and Central, 25,911 and Nyanza, 19,533 in that order.

Eastern Province has 15,935, Coast, 12,693 and Western 10,570. North Eastern has the least number of people with university qualifications - only 710.

Some 2.2 million citizens have a university qualification, according to the results.

Nationally, 10 million people had left schools at all levels of education, half of them females.

A notable fact is that there are many who did not disclose their education status.

A United Nations Children's Fund report, The State of the World's Children, released last December showed that 68 per cent of those enrolled in Standard One reach Standard Four, a trend that went on for the previous three years.

Transition rates for secondary schools in 1998 stood at 43.1 while that of boys was at 46.4.

At university, gender difference has been more pronounced since only 0.7 per cent of girls who enrol in Standard One reach university compared to 1.6 per cent of boys.

Last November, a conference on girls education reviewed existing obstacles to girl education and highlighted successful interventions in reducing the gender gap.

Organised by the Forum for African Women Educationalists (Fawe) and the Ministry of Education, the regional meeting in Nairobi was told that education for girls suffered more than that of boys as a result of such obstacles like.

The debt burden, HIV/Aids related deaths, lack of accurate projections and reliable indicators for monitoring progress and achievement of education programmes.

Though Kenya had adopted a re-entry policy for schoolgirls who give birth, Dr Nyambura Mpesha of Kenyatta University, said this had not been implemented.

It was suggested that curriculum developers adopt a participatory approach in Aids lessons to ensure behavioural change in the wake of the realisation that girl education suffered most in the hands of HIV/Aids pandemic.

Copyright 2001 The Daily Nation. Distributed by allAfrica.com. For information about the content or for permission to redistribute, publish or use for broadcast, contact the publisher.