Illiteracy levels in Mandera County stand at 70 percent according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).
But in a bid to turn around the trend, the county government has sought to lay a strong foundation for future generations by establishing early childhood development education (ECDE) centres.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) argues that illiteracy stifles opportunities for innovation and dampens the economic potential of millions of people.
Poverty levels in this far-flung Mandera county stands at 80 percent with illiteracy fingered as the major contributor.
Literacy is defined as the ability, confidence and willingness to engage with language to acquire, contrast and communicate in all aspects of daily living.
Mr Abdi Hassan Baji, the county ECDE director, attributes the high levels of illiteracy and poverty to poor education standards in Mandera.
He says early childhood development education has been lagging behind in Mandera compared to the rest of the country since, for long, most schools did not have nursery schools.
“Before 2013, there were only two nursery schools in the entire county with an estimated population of more than one million people. Parents used to bring their grownup children to school and insisted on having them in same class with the young ones,” he said.
He said the people of Mandera have been the main partners in the development of ECDE centres.
“The community took responsibility for the provision of physical facilities like building of classrooms, payment of teachers’ salaries and provision of teaching or learning resource,” he said.
Mr Baji said that previously, ECDE was not valued in Mandera. The community used to undermine and ignore nursery schooling.
“They thought ECDE was just for passing time in preparation for Standard One and majority of the children started school from Class One. This was mainly due to ignorance on the part of the parents and the community,” he said.
He said the county government department of ECDE has managed to change this perception through community mobilisation.
“The community now understands that access to ECDE is important in a child’s development and lays the foundation for primary school education,” he said.
At least 520 trained ECDE teachers have been hired by the Mandera County government in the 268 centres with a population of 23,500 children.
The defunct Mandera Town Council had employed only two teachers.
To keep children in school and encourage more to join, a feeding programme was introduced last year.
“We are so determined to change our education standards and the best way is having a strong foundation. Children are coming to ECDE centres to learn as we feed them too,” he says.
County education CEC Izzidun Abdullahi says more qualified teachers will be employed to carter for the growing population at the centres.
“We are set to employ more teachers for our centres because we are interested in improving education levels in our county,” he said.
At least 175 standard and modern ECDE classrooms have been built in Mandera.
Bulampya ECDE Centre with a population of 300 pupils is among the few with proper learning materials that excite learners.
FOOD FOR LEARNERS
Ms Jane Kariuki, a teacher at the centre says the number rises especially when there is food for learners.
“We have to deal with high numbers whenever food is provided at the centre. Most of these children are interested in formal education and the progress is good,” she said.
Mr Alio Kaman, a parent, says that devolution has enlightened him on the importance of education.
“Educated people are now getting better jobs in the county government. I just don’t want my children to face challenges in future,” he said.
Mr Kaman has four of his children at Bulampya ECDE Centre.
Daua Integrated Primary School has an ECDE centre with a population of 150 pupils with an extra class for children with special needs.
“We are keen on ensuring all our children, irrespective of their physical status, are in school and that is why we have started centres for children with special needs for the first time in Mandera,” said Mr Abduullahi.
Another class for those with hearing impairments has since been started at Mandera Township Primary School.
The Nation Media Group (NMG) has since partnered with the Mandera County government in a bid to improve literacy in the region.
During a corporate visit last year, NMG CEO Stephen Gitagama pledged the company’s commitment in helping the county government to improve literacy levels through the Daily Nation education programme.
The company donated text books to several schools during the visit