The walking classrooms of Marsabit County: In pursuit of literacy

Published November 19, 2014 by Silas Mutsune

Mobile Non-Formal Education class for older and married students Mobile Non-Formal Education class for older and married students

Despite gains made by the Kenyan government in recent years, for many children living in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands education remains a far-fetched dream. In counties such as Marsabit, which are predominantly inhabited by pastoralists who seasonally migrate in search of pasture, accessing the formal schooling system is particularly challenging. As a result, the County exhibits the poorest education indicators in Kenya, with literacy levels as low as 20%.

In January 2014, with support from the Partnership to Strengthen Education and Practice in Secondary Education (PSIPSE), Adeso launched the Mobile Non-Formal Education (MNFE) project in Marsabit County to boost literacy levels of children aged 13 to 18. The project is unique in that if offers non-formal education centers along pastoral migratory routes to follow nomadic children in remote grazing areas who are far from formal settled schools. Already, the project has seen almost three hundred young men and women going to school, where they previously had no opportunity to do so.

When the project was first introduced to local communities, it was received with joy and enthusiasm. Most adults in the communities felt their prayers for an education for their children had finally been answered. The youth were equally excited and came in large numbers to enroll.

The learners were assessed to ascertain their literacy level, after which they were separated into three different grades and taught simultaneously in one class. Multi-grade learning is not easy, nor is the challenge of working with the pastoralist children’s schedules – they cannot neglect their family livestock during the day, so teaching is carried out seven days a week at different times, depending on the availability of the learners. Some classes start very early before the youth take their animals for grazing, or in the evening when they are back from the fields. Others are conducted during the day, especially for married young women who may have children already, and stay in the villages. 

Mzee Abgutho, whose daughter has been attending classes for a few weeks, is already seeing a difference as she is now able to converse in Kiswahili.

“I hope she continues attending these classes regularly so that she becomes educated and can get employed at the county government,” he explained.

The mobile non-formal schools, each staffed by a trained primary school teacher from the local community, ensure that children learn how to read and write, and acquire additional livelihood-related skills in order to promote self-sufficiency. The schools provide flexible hours, allowing pastoral children to fulfill their household responsibilities and still find time to learn.

Eventually, the aim is to transition the students into the formal education system – or into trade schools or entrepreneurialism, when graduates can access micro-grants to start their own small-scale businesses.

The Non-Formal Educational (NFE) Curriculum is broad in nature and provides learners with the opportunity to acquire knowledge, skills and the attitude necessary for personal and national development. The program also allows students to enter, leave, and re-enter the program as their family needs require. It is flexible, equivalent to, and can be linked with the formal education system. As community members hear about the program and its early successes, more young women are now willing to join.

Community members appreciate the fact that the project has been tailored to suit their challenging lifestyles and busy schedule. Parents are very receptive of the program, and see it as an opportunity for their young girls to become more self-dependent and contribute to the household’s income.

Along with the community members, donors around the world are also motivated by this ambitious attempt to reach an under-served and marginalized community with practical education, delivered in a way that respects their traditions and livelihoods.

Recently, Adeso received additional support from the Boeing Corporation to extend the program’s impacts. We deeply appreciate the donors making this work possible.

To take part in this life-changing work, support Adeso’s Mobile Non-Formal Education program on GlobalGiving here – and bring a brighter future to a pastoralist girl or boy. -