Mwikali, a UK-based nanny who remits money to Kenya to support her daughter's education. Photo credit: Courtesy.

New research from the digital money transfer service, WorldRemit, shows thousands of Kenyan children are in school, have access to books and educational supplies, and are more likely to study than work due to international remittances.

Kenya is the largest remittance-receiving country in East Africa, where annual remittances now exceed US$ 2.1 billion. WorldRemit research reveals that this rise in remittances has wide-ranging benefits to children’s education in the country, amounting to US$300 million (approximately Sh30 billion) extra support for education.

The findings were calculated using data from UNESCO, the World Bank, and Kenya’s latest national household survey. Approximately 220 million children are not in school in low- and middle-income countries. Of these, 1.5 million live in Kenya — almost 10 per cent of the population of school-age children.

According the data remittances more than halve the chance of Kenyan children being out of school of which a estimated 14% are used to support education.

In addition, remittance-receiving households spend more on education — equivalent to the cost of a year of school supplies. The findings further show that secondary school children in Kenyan remittance-receiving households spend less time working on non-school activities, freeing up more time for school studies.

WorldRemit also calculates that globally, if traditional, cash-based money transfers were replaced by lower-cost digital alternatives, there could be an additional $825 million would be unlocked for families to spend on children’s education. Savings from “going digital” could pay for the equivalent of 20 million school uniforms, 30 million school books and 16 million sets of school supplies for children in low- and middle-income countries.

Sharon Kinyanjui, Head of East & Central Africa at WorldRemit, said: “As millions of children in Kenya start a new school year, our research is a timely reminder that the contributions of the diaspora are vital to the education of 9,000 children across the country. Switching to digital remittances would help maximise that even further. With global remittances predicted to rise in 2019, even more children are set to benefit.”

WorldRemit is one of the leading digital money transfer companies for the Kenyan diaspora. Customer surveys reveal that education is one of the top priorities for Kenyans living abroad, with many saying they support the schooling of children back home.

Its customers complete 1.3 million transfers every month from over 50 countries to over 145 destinations. More than half of its transfers come to Africa.

For instance, Mwikali who left Kenya for the UK in 2005 and found work as a nanny, relies on remittances to educate her daughter. She wants her daughter, 18, to go university.

“I want my daughter to go to university and study whatever subject she wants. I don’t want to decide for her, but I hope she does so that one day she can get a good job.”

Mwikali left Kenya in 2005, when she was offered a job as a nanny in the UK. It was a difficult decision for her as no one in her family had ever left home. She was leaving her entire family, including her daughter, Winnie, who was only six at the time.

“My husband and I decided that me moving to the UK for work was the best thing for the family. In my village if your crops fail then you need to rely on family living abroad to send money back home. I saw other children in my village were suffering as they didn’t have the money to go to school and I didn’t want that for my daughter.”

For the past 13 years, Mwikali has been sending money back home to pay for her daughter’s school fees. Winnie is now 18 and is in secondary school and her favourite subject is English. Mwikali is confident that if she had not gone to school herself, with the support of her grandparents who paid for her fees when her father died, then she wouldn’t have been able to learn English and got the job she has now.

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Mwikali used to send money back home via MoneyGram or Western Union. “I would withdraw cash and walk 20 minutes to the nearest post office to send money home to my daughter’s father to pay for her fees. Sometimes it would take three days to reach them. Now I can send money home directly into Winnie’s M-Pesa account, so she can go to school.”

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