The Star (Nairobi)

23 August 2014

Kenyans Pay High Price for Lack of Education

According to the Wikipedia, the word education in its general sense is defined as a form of learning in which the knowledge, skills and habits of a group of people, are transferred from one generation to the next through training, teaching or research.

Any experience that has a formative effect on the way people think, feel or act, may be considered educational. I wonder whether this is the basis by which governments base the literacy level of their people.

If indeed the Kenyan government use this definition, then our literacy level does not include data from the very rural areas. Otherwise our literacy level could be pathetically lower than often indicated.

I say this because during the short three-months period that I have been involved in demographic and health data collection for the Kenya national bureau of statistics, I have encountered a sorry state of illiteracy, especially from the nomadic pastoral community in Kenya.

The data collection is still going on all over the 47 counties. I was only surveying one - Kajiado county. That I did not go on till October, means that I am not going to visit all the sections or clusters that had been earmarked for interview.

Yet the parts we visited during the three months I was involved, revealed a disturbing picture of a people who seriously need to open up to reality.

The Wikipedia continues in its definition of education: 'Education takes place under the guidance of others'. By this definition, others could mean either certified teachers, or those who have knowledge within the community, and are trusted enough to be listened to.

Under the current Kenyan constitution, the right to education for all is envisaged. What I do not understand is whether there is absolutely no person in those communities living in the deep plains of Kajiado county who is learned or enjoys some form of education that they can share with the community.

Suffice it to say that most of the informed individuals from the community, which include the elected county officials and the MPs, live in the urban centres and only appear to the communities when seeking re-elections.

I will pick two instances, though there are many others, to demonstrate the pains of living in total ignorance. In accordance with normal procedure during our visits to the villages to conduct our interviews, we first of all contact ward representatives, who contact the area chief, who then contacts the subchief and down to the village elder.

In essence therefore, it is the village elder who works directly with us, showing us the individual persons in the village that will be interviewed. In all cases, the communication was done by phone up to the village elder. We hardly ever met the others in line of authority, but the village elders.

Most of the times, the village elders were very cooperative and helped us identify the eligible interviewees. In some places, the village elders preferred to give us guides to take us around, fearing the wrath of the villagers should they react negatively to our presence.

At one village, which I will not mention, the first house we visited had the husband and wife present. After the interviewers identified themselves as government appointed data collectors, outlined the line of questions and the intended benefit from the truthful answers they would give, the husband flatly refused to be interviewed by a woman wearing a pair of trousers.

And going by the paternalistic lifestyle of the nomadic communities in the area, the wife had to go by the wishes of the husband and also refused to be interviewed.

The couple in the next house we visited were not cooperative as well. After having the ladies change to dresses, the man next door said that any mention of health means we are going to talk about female genital mutilation, which they practise openly and do not want any interference from the government.

The next day we decided to go to another village far from the area we had visited the day before. We were not lucky. Word had already spread like wild fire that there was a group from the government in the area that was asking questions that were not in line with local customs.

The same night, a junior wife who was educated up to primary level, and had consented to the interview, was unlucky when the husband came back from the pastures.

She was beaten senseless with the husband insisting that the government agents were teaching their wives family planning and discouraging forced marriages, which are not what the community believes in.

Incidentally, most of them had mobile phones and motorbikes. Where are the leaders? Where are the teachers? Shall we have to wait till the next generation to take development to such areas?

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