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Gumbaru offers second chance to the old

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[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n a sunny January evening of 1982, Claris Mwasingo, then 15 years old, came home from school and found her father in a pensive mood. He curtly informed her she would not be going to school the following day. All his money would go towards paying fees for her elder brother. No amount of appeal by the devastated girl would have him change his mind. Ms Mwasingo dropped out of Mwakichuchu Secondary School. She was in Form Two.

Thirty five years later, Ms Mwasingo is set to sit for her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) in 2018 and fulfil a long-delayed dream that was denied by her father, thanks to the adult education programme. “I had to do this for myself. I might not get employed but I will have achieved something I didn’t in my younger days,” saysMs Mwasingo, now a mother of four.

ALSO SEE: Kenyans value education more than food and family

At the age of 49, Ms Mwasingo’s story of resilience is being touted as a model of what the future holds for adult education, know as Gumbaru, not just in her Taita-Taveta County home area but in Kenya as a whole. She is one of the 2, 444 learners currently enrolled under the programme in the region. She also works as an Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) teacher at AIC centre in Talio, Sagalla.

Her first born son is a Board of Management (BOM) teacher in a local school while her two sons are set to sit for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam this year. Her daughter is already married.

Second chance

County Adult and Continuing Education Officer Franklin Karanja says adult education is offering a second chance to those forced by poverty and cultural beliefs to drop out of school in their younger days. He notes that enrolment was rising, a trend he attributed to enhanced awareness campaigns and a deliberate fight against the stigma associated with adult education.

While lauding adult learners who have gone back to school, he appealed to men to enroll for adult classes. He also said more progress will be realised if they receive political and financial support. “We have low funding, shortage of staff and lack of vital facilities and it is a tough challenge but the determination of our learners to defy odds and succeed keeps us going,” he said.

Such abundance of optimism is common among many officials, who are determined to change the sorry state of adult education in the county.

Awareness campaign

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) annual Economic Survey Report 2015 ranked Taita Taveta last in Kenya in terms of the number of adult learners, which stood at 1,109. Of this, only 191 were male.

The report sent a chill in the education sector with questions being raised regarding the future of adult and continuing education in the region. In contrast, Nairobi County, which was ranked first, had a total adult education learners’ population of 14, 182. It had 6,351 male and 7,831 female.

The report not only worked to galvanise the officials into launching an aggressive awareness campaign to shore up the numbers but also to help counter a rigid wall of negative attitude towards adult education. Appeals for cooperation amongst various stakeholders were sent out and county government was urged to throw its weight behind the initiative.

Statistics obtained for 2017 enrolment show some remarkable progress. The total learner population has more than doubled to 2, 444 from the low of 1,109. However, the number of men learners remains worryingly low as compared to that of women. Total number of women enrolled in the program is 1,765 while male learners are at 689.

Education experts in the region opine that more women resume learning at old age than men due to cultural factors and a misplaced sense of machismo.

Taita-Taveta Senator Jones Mwaruma, an educationist, said most adult learners are women as they primarily shoulder the burden of fending for their families. He adds that most men are locked in a web of excess drinking of alcohol while abdicating their duties as heads of families.

He blamed this trend on proliferation of cheap brews. The only adult education centre with the highest number of male adult learners is Manyani Maximum Prison where 45 inmates are already enrolled.

“There are thousands of men who need adult education but they are too zoned-out in drinking joints to care. This has left women as the sole providers for the families and they are forced to find all ways in which they can better their lives,” Mwaruma said.

Ms Mwasingo is such one example. She said she parted ways with her husband over 10 years ago and has single-handedly educated her children through sheer hard work and perseverance. She states that she needed to provide a better life for her children than she was given by her own parents and in the process, she felt she was also in need of education.

Karanja says that should the various challenges facing the sector be addressed, a large chunk of problems would be solved. He says that issues like resources, staffing and availability of classrooms would ensure learners attained consistency in attendance.

Related: How to get high-paying job without high education

There is also the negative perception that adults attending classes are no different from ‘young children’. Timothy Nyambu, a farmer at Gimba, dropped out in Class Three but is not interested in learning. He is certain his neighbours will laugh behind his back and make unsavoury comments about him. His children are, however, in school but he can’t recall what class they are in.

“I don’t need it. I am just good the way I am,” he quips.

Mike Mwakazi, a teacher at Mwangea Adult Education Centre, notes that such sentiments are deeply ingrained in most men in the area. Most fear the ridicule and scorn that would follow them if they join their grandchildren in school. He opines that fight against such misplaced stigma should now be the next frontier.

Benevolence

Currently, the success of adult education programme relies on benevolence of secondary school head teachers who allocate one or two classrooms where available. At Mwangea Secondary School, some adult classes are only conducted for three weeks during the school vacation to avoid inconveniences that come with borrowed classrooms.

However, the biggest boost for this sector might come from the assurance by Senator Mwaruma that he will rally behind it.

Schedule Four of the 2010 Constitution provides that Early Child Development and Education (ECDE) sector and youth polytechnics are devolved functions. This means that other sectors including primary, secondary and tertiary education are still functions of the National government. Adult education is also managed by the National government.

As a result, counties have given more focus to the two areas while offering little or no support to primary, secondary and adult education resulting in dismal performance, poor enrollment or absence of proper infrastructure.

Senator Mwaruma said all leaders in the county will work closely together to improve the education sector as a whole.

“Whether it’s county or national government function, all efforts should be geared towards helping the learners who are residents of this county. It doesn’t matter who does what, provided the learners are assisted to prosper,” he said.

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