These frantic and highly militarized exams have revealed the rot and impunity masked by this education system that overemphasizes good grades over holistic development of the child. The media and other stake holders have put us through a circus with their plastic bafflement and blame games over the rising number of early pregnancies. Around 9 candidates delivered during KCPE, bearing in mind these are the cases featured by the media. In a recent report released this year by the National Aids Control Council, about 20 percent of the Kenyan young people indulge in sexual activities before their 15th birthday due to coercion by their peers. To break it down 1 out 5 young people who are barely 15 are engaging in sexual activity.
We can bicker about and blame the media for not sensitizing the young teens about sex. Parents can stand in one corner and point a finger at the teachers, for failing to teach their children about the grittiness of indulging in sexual behavior. And teachers can turn their heads to the other side and call out parents for distant-parenting. But who is really to blame? Some would say this is a highly prurient generation but me thinks, this generation is critical and vulnerable. They have been exposed to sex too early in life, too much sexual material lying around with everyone else playing pretend.
The issue of early pregnancy among teens stem from some deeper tandems of the society. Poverty is the close sibling to early pregnancies. Most of the cases reported come from the remote parts of this country, struggling with culture and poverty. It is not really the teachers who failed at their job, or parents who disintegrated from their primary roles as caregivers. If you look at it from where you are, you will lose the whole point. Walk in the villages and see how bad things are. Visit some of these remote areas, and see for yourself the things families must do to eek a living.
This September, I was part of a team of volunteers from Bungoma Youth Bunge Forum. We were entitled to run a program called Tusome. The program was basically knit together to help the kids in rural areas read. Some of us are lucky to have gone to the schools that we did. We were able to read and understand complex literature early. Even today, you will meet kindergarten kids conversing and reading fluently. But go to the rural areas. These kids can barely read at Standard 5. And you know language is the basis of setting all the exams, it is the backbone of the curriculum. Unless you understand the language, getting a descent grade will be an uphill task.
The Tusome program was an initiative, to in cultivate the reading culture early in a pupil’s life. We prepared reading exhibitions that entailed giving pupils reading materials in line with their curriculum to read out loud. The teachers were overwhelmingly supportive. The pupils were excited and through the occasional competitions to find the best readers in Grade 1,2 and 3, their interest pitched up. We would also involve the parents and community, to sensitize them on the importance of their kids being able to read. The results were tremendous, by the time the program was running its course most kids could be able to read in both English and Kiswahili.
However, during the community outreach the teachers always complained that parents in most schools were difficult. Most kids would miss at least two days of school. For the schools that wanted their kids back to school in the afternoon, reported negative attendance. Some of the kids would be reported pregnant. Headteachers would follow up the incidences with their parents only to find out, most of the cases- it was a relative who had impregnated them. In some of the areas, kids are forced early into sex trade to help fend for the family.
Sex education is not good enough for kids from these remote areas. I attended the World Fertility Day Celebrations in Bungoma that started with a walk, flagged off by the County First Lady. The major stakeholders were in attendance. Kids from various schools were ferried by buses to the venue. They had a lot to say about contraceptives. I realized, the sex conversation began long ago among the teens. Denying them access to contraceptives will not lighten the load. An all rounded education about sex, contraceptives and sexual transmitted diseases would do us less harm.
However, there is still need for economic empowerment in the communities. So that they can keep their kids in school. Some of these teens get pregnant for bodabodas who lure them with money and others are duped into having sex by members of the community who have no financial capacity to fend for the family. Furthermore, some of these kids live in conditions that expose them to risks of sexual encounter. There are families harboring illicit brew dens in their homes. Have you read The Bistro yet?
For someone who can barely afford three meals a day, a few coins are enough to let their guard down.
This blame game is old and tired. We must wake up to the reality that this is really happening. That whereas we are tirelessly working to better the education system, reality still stands that the better the quality of education, the harder to access by the underprivileged communities. While we are improving the quality of education, we should also improve the quality of life for these communities. Otherwise, one is the counter-effect of another.