This article has been published in Enabling Education Review 6
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Title: Providing boarding settings to ensure completion of basic education in Kenya
Author: Brine, R
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2017

Providing boarding settings to ensure completion of basic education in Kenya

Russell Brine

The St. John Bosco Rehabilitation Centre (the Centre) is a community-based organisation working with children and their families living in the slums around Kitale, Kenya. Set up in 1992, the programme operated as a drop-in centre in the compound of the local cathedral. At the time, a number of the children did not stay at school after having been supported to return. The reasons for dropping out again varied, but included being unable to afford school fees and the long journey to school. These were key motivations to develop an alternative programme for them.

In 1998, classrooms and residential facilities were constructed. The children now stay at the Centre during the week and spend weekends and school breaks with a parent or guardian. The challenge was to provide enough formal structure for the children so that they stay in school, while at the same time keeping them in frequent contact with their home communities.

Private education in Kenya
As the population, and consequently enrolment in primary schools, in Kenya has increased, class sizes have grown and parents have become less confident about sending their children to state-run schools. Many of these schools are overcrowded and under-resourced. Private schools, with smaller class sizes, are perceived to provide better education. They have become popular, even with parents from low-income backgrounds who struggle to send their children to low fee-paying schools rather than local public schools. A significant number of these private schools demand that children board, even when they live close by. Consequently, many children in Kenya attend boarding schools.

Secondary school places are allocated according to the grades children achieve in their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations. The majority of children are expected to board if they want to attend good secondary schools (whether private or state-funded). There are local day schools for those unable to pay boarding fees. These, like local public primary schools, can be oversubscribed and under-resourced, and often offer a smaller range of subjects than the larger boarding schools.

The Centre provides for children whose parents cannot pay fees, or the associated costs of attending the ‘free’ public schools, such as uniforms, resources and exam fees. The out-of-school and working children from these families are at risk of migrating to the streets or in some cases being taken to children’s homes (of which there are a significant number in the area), where all their needs could be met. The Centre’s model fits in with parents’ expectations of boarding private education, while still enabling the children to maintain regular contact with their families.

© Su Corcoran

The Centre’s residential model
Children who are out-of-school, on the streets, or at risk of migration to the streets are identified during outreach work by social workers. The children need to be able to name a parent or guardian who can take care of them during weekends and holidays – this could be a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or even adult older siblings.

Relationships with family are important for ensuring that children stay connected with their community as they grow up. The Centre therefore aims to ensure family cohesion by providing only part-time residential care for the children. Returning home for the weekends ensures they interact regularly with parents and guardians. The families are responsible for looking after their children on Saturdays and Sundays and for the transport required to get the children back to the Centre for school on Monday.

When a street-connected child comes to stay at the Centre they initially attend non-formal education classes delivered by qualified teachers. Once they have overcome any addictions they acquired on the street, (re-)developed relationships with their families and gained the confidence to go (back) to a mainstream classroom, they begin to attend a public primary school across the road from the Centre.

Graduating to other schools
We aim to ensure that the children are able to graduate from primary education and transition onto the next stage of their education journey, and that they are reintegrated full time to their home communities by the time they complete primary school. How and when a child leaves the Centre depends mainly on their educational level and/or academic ability and the situation at home.

All secondary level education is fee-based in Kenya. A limited number of social assistance awards, to cover the costs of fees, uniforms and books, are available from local education offices, but these are merit-based and limited in number. Therefore, organisations like ours have to make decisions about children’s next steps based on their academic performance.

If they do well at KCPE level, the children go on to secondary school and later to university. Those who do not achieve a minimum grade move onto a polytechnic offering formalised vocational training, such as bricklaying, auto mechanics, welding, electrical installation, tailoring, cooking or hairdressing. These are traditionally gender-based professions, but there are opportunities for young people to choose the course that they would like to follow.

Where possible we prefer the children to stay in local public primary schools to complete their KCPE and, for those that are able, to move to a school closer to home where they stay full time. However, as places in universities for professions such as medicine are highly competitive, those able to obtain the highest Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) scores are found alternative pathways. Sponsors are sought for those who perform well at the public primary school and they may be moved to an excellent boarding primary school nearby in preparation for their KCPE examinations. This is not ideal in terms of inclusion, but provides these children with optimum opportunities within the current system. The Centre also has links with a local hospital. Internships provide work experience for young people hoping to become nurses and clinical officers; a number of them have moved on to medical training.

Those who remain at the local primary school are provided with additional support. After-school sessions run at the Centre develop study skills and work on problems the children may have with their school work. Those who have graduated from vocational training at the polytechnic are found work with people in the community who run construction companies, tailoring centres, auto garages, restaurants or salons, or move into self-employment. All of the vocational school graduates are provided with the tools necessary for their trades.

Russell Brine is a Maryknoll Lay Missioner. He served as Project Manager of the St John Bosco Rehabilitation Centre from 2005 to 2016. He is now assigned to the Deaf Development Programme in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Contact Russell via