According to the latest data from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics, 750 million adults – two-thirds of whom are women – still lack basic reading and writing skills. The global adult literacy rate was 86% in 2016, while the youth literacy rate was 91%.
In Kenya, data from the Kenya Commission of Revenue Allocation ranks Narok 42 out of the 47 counties in Kenya with regard to women literacy levels. The county’s average literacy level is 56.3%, and only 0.4% of the population has attained university level education and 8.9% a secondary education. Those who can read and write are 41.4% of the population, which is lower than the national level of 66.4%.
One of the factors affecting education in Narok is culture. For a long time the community did not encourage their children to go to school. Boys are left to look after livestock at a very tender age while girls are circumcised and married off at an early age, some as young as 12. The predominantly pastoralist Maasai community have for a long time valued livestock and land and attached little importance to education. The nomadic way of life they lead makes it difficult for learners to complete educational programmes. This has resulted in a high primary school dropout rate. Another factor contributing to school dropout is teenage pregnancy, standing at 40% in the county, surpassing the national average of 18%. Additionally, it has been challenging encouraging elderly people to join adult learning classes. The stigma associated with adult education is exemplified in the use of words such as ‘ngumbaru’. The illiterate adult population view education as a disruption to their nomadic way of life. The problem is further compounded by a current deficit of having at least one teacher for every location in Narok county. At least 200 more teachers are required to fill this gap.
From 2017, Action Africa Help International (AAH-I) is supporting the Narok county government to reduce illiteracy rates. Under the Mara Community Livelihood Improvement project funded by Bread for the World, we are supporting women in the Mara to access formal education and skills to enable them attain necessary skills to conduct small businesses, to participate in community projects and to support their households with ease. These alternative basic, adult and continuing education classes are conducted using the REFLECT methodology. REFLECT is a training technique that provides a space for a group of people to meet and discuss issues relevant to them. Participants choose the topics themselves, according to their own priorities and are supported by a facilitator. It uses a range of participatory methods.
In June and July 2017, AAH-I’s Kenya programme trained 11 adult literacy REFLECT methodology facilitators in Naikara ward. The facilitators underwent induction to improve their skills in curriculum delivery and the overall REFLECT methodology, to ensure professional delivery of functional adult literacy content. Participants are divided into literacy ‘circles’. The current enrollment stands at 200 women in 8 literacy circles spread over Naikara ward.
Our approach is linked to the global approach to literacy, which has a shift from the traditional reading, writing and arithmetic to include literacies such as interpretation and application, use of computers, innovation and other digital technologies for lifelong learning.
These efforts by AAH-I are geared towards meeting the targets set in sustainable development goals 4 and 5, quality education for all and promoting gender equality and empowering women, respectively.