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August 7, 09

NEWS / Increasing Numbers of Kenyan Girls Benefit from Educational Boost


U.S.-led efforts help girls stay in school, earn better grades
By Kathryn McConnell
Staff Writer

Washington — Increasing numbers of girls in Kenya are going to school, staying there longer and earning better grades due to the combined efforts of the U.S.-based nonprofit group Academy of Educational Development, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the government of Kenya and private donors.

The goal is to raise awareness about the importance of providing girls and boys equal access to education in Kenya so they will be able to earn a living. Educated girls are less likely to be teen mothers and are more likely to protect themselves against HIV and have healthier babies, according to May Rihani, AED senior vice president and director of its global learning group.

In Kenya, AED works with schools, community residents, parents and the ministries of education and of health to advance girls’ education, Rihani said.

It works with children who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS and provides scholarships to help disadvantaged girls and boys enter secondary school, she said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Kenya August 4–6 during the first leg of a seven-nation visit to sub-Saharan Africa. Her agenda includes topics such as girls’ education, combating gender-based violence, trade, agricultural development, energy and good governance.

AED, which has worked in education in Kenya since 1980, provides professional development training for teachers and encourages women to become teachers, particularly in rural areas where they can be role models for girls. In 2005, the last year for which data are available, only 38 percent of secondary school teachers were women, Rihani said.

With funding from the General Electric Company, AED is working with 10 primary schools in the Kisumu region of southwest Kenya to create and strengthen parent-teacher associations, encourage women to take leadership roles in the associations, and motivate community residents to become involved with their schools.

AED also encourages parents to communicate with the school administrations so they are kept apprised of what their children are learning, said Andrea Bertone, director of AED’s projects in Africa.

The parent-teacher associations in Kisumu, birthplace of President Obama’s father, are discovering ways to encourage girls to stay in school, such as by creating school gardens where boys and girls learn to work together. The school associations then decide how to use proceeds from sales of garden produce, often choosing to purchase school uniforms and supplies. AED’s aim is to build enthusiasm among parents so they will continue to be involved with schools after AED’s involvement in the region ends, Bertone said.

An AED project in Kisumu links 550 girls with mentors who serve as trusted role models. Mentors, who include teachers and respected women in the community, help the girls develop the confidence to participate in class so they can do well and to develop the skills they need to make good life choices. With mentors, girls and boys learn to talk about such issues as gender-based violence, reproductive health, how to avoid contracting HIV, good nutrition and hygiene.

In Kisumu and throughout Kenya, AED also implements the USAID-funded U.S. Ambassador’s Girls’ Scholarship Program. The program covers school fees at the secondary level, addresses cultural barriers to schooling and promotes community awareness of the importance of girls’ education to society, Rihani said.

The program has as a priority helping the most disadvantaged children in the community, particularly orphans, and those from large families that can’t afford to send all their children to school, she said.

USAID implements the scholarship program in a total of 38 countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa, USAID’s Sharon Mangin Nwankwo said. In Kenya, USAID more than doubled its spending on girls’ education between 2006 and 2009 to $11 million, she added.

The Kenyan government has been very supportive of AED’s education efforts. It has eliminated school tuition fees at the primary level and boosted its spending on education, Rihani said.

Mangin Nwankwo said the government is giving special attention to “marginalized groups” in predominantly Muslim areas as well as to other groups like the seasonally migrating pastoralist communities in arid areas. Such groups generally do not have high rates of school enrollment for girls, who tend to marry early. Government financial assistance is limited because its resources are stretched thin by Kenya’s population growth, she said.

USAID tries to help groups displaced by ethnic conflict or seasonal drought by setting up mobile education centers and training teachers from migrating communities so there are no time gaps in the education of these children.

http://www.america.gov/st/develop-english/2009/August/20090804100615akllennoccm0.4305689.html?CP.rss=true

Tags: secretary of state,
 




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