In my family, the end of the year is when we begin to settle into our routine. The excitement of the new school year has faded. Days become shorter and the wind, a little colder.
But 10,000 kilometers away in Kenya, December represents something different. For one million youth and their families, this is the time of year when the results of the national primary education exams are announced. Lasting three days, the results of these exams determine whether a student will be eligible to enroll in secondary school in the new year.
Students must score a minimum of 200 out of a possible 500 marks to continue their education. In 2016, 23% of students who sat the primary exam did not achieve a passing grade.
In a country like Kenya, where 42% of the population struggles to make ends meet, education can help lift entire families out of poverty. This is especially true for the thousands of students who live in Kenya’s refugee camps.
Education can equip refugee youth with the knowledge and skills that will help them build a brighter future. These skills will support them whether they are integrated into local communities in Kenya, repatriated to their country of origin, or resettled to a third country, such as Canada.
Yet the reality is that only 13% of adolescents in the Dadaab Refugee Camp are enrolled in secondary school. The national primary education exams are a key turning point in the lives of many young refugees. Without proper support, these exams can end the educational journey of many children.
Your support has helped us improve access to quality education for more than 40,000 refugee girls and boys in Kenya. Ten years ago, less than half of all students writing the national primary exam in Dadaab passed. Today, 86% of students pass, higher than the national average. Will you continue to ensure education remains available for young refugees by donating to WUSC today?
Shankaran Muhamed Jire was among the nearly 5,000 students in Dadaab to write the primary exams last month. She hopes that next year, she will be able to continue her studies at the secondary level.
Born in the camp, Shankaran has lived her entire life as a refugee. She and her four sisters live in Ifo, the oldest refugee settlement in Dadaab. Today it is overcrowded and the future of its residents hangs in the air, as threats from the Kenyan government to close Dadaab ebb and flow.
Shankaran has overcome many barriers to stay in school. Although primary education is free in the camp, her family struggles to afford the textbooks, supplies, and uniforms she and her sisters need. Early and forced marriage is also a common threat facing girls in Kenya. Shankaran’s eldest sister was married as a teenager and now has two children of her own.
For those students who make it to class, space is another pressing problem. The classroom to pupil ratio in the camps is 1:87, more than double the national average. And it is not uncommon for five students to share one textbook.
This year was particularly challenging. In May, flash flooding forced the closure of most schools in the Ifo region. Waters destroyed many textbooks and school supplies. The schools themselves were transformed into temporary shelters for families who had lost their homes to the flooding.
The odds are stacked against Shankaran.
Still, each day she managed to make the trek to Hormud Primary School. At 16 years old, Shankaran is much older than the average grade-eight student. This is often the case for refugees, who face many disruptions in their education. Despite suffering setbacks, Shankaran has not given up hope.
Shankaran is a bright pupil. Her teachers were confident she would pass the national exam. They said she may even have the potential to become a “top student,” scoring over 400 marks.
In 2016, fewer than 1% of students earned a mark of 400 or higher on the national exams. Those who do are eligible to attend prestigious national secondary schools. For young refugees, this means the opportunity to continue their education outside of the camps at schools that offer higher quality instruction. This opportunity can be transformative for refugee girls, many of whom have never left the camp.
That’s where WUSC’s remedial classes come in. We provide targeted learning support to refugee girls in two categories: those who are at highest risk of dropping out and those who are demonstrating the greatest potential, like Shankaran. When you give to WUSC, you help us provide these life-changing programs to youth around the world.
The provision of remedial education fits into the wider work being done by WUSC to improve girls’ education in Kenya. WUSC implements a range of robust interventions to address the barriers to education that girls are facing at school and in the community. These interventions include community engagement activities, teacher training, life skills programs, scholarships, and school infrastructure improvements.
WUSC’s remedial classes are unique in that they provide girls with a space to focus on their studies outside of regular school hours. This is something that they often do not have the opportunity to do at home, tasked instead with household chores and caring for younger siblings.
Over the past several years, we have provided nearly 10,000 young refugees with the opportunity to participate in these remedial classes. Some of our graduates even received full scholarships to attend national secondary schools.
But there are many more deserving girls than we have the resources to support. This holiday season, will you continue your support of WUSC to ensure more young people, like Shankaran, are able to access life-changing education, employment, and empowerment opportunities?
Education doesn’t just provide students with knowledge and skills. It also provides hope and opens doors to more durable solutions for refugee youth and their families.
Together, we can support refugees and other disadvantaged young people to build better futures for themselves and their countries. Please give generously.
Wishing you and yours a safe and happy holiday season.
Chris Eaton, Executive Director, WUSC
P.S. With the right opportunities, youth can create a better future for themselves and their families. This holiday season, you can give the gift of education, employment, and empowerment to youth around the world. Donate today.