Thousands of Kenyan students have still not started the new school year since the 27 December poll results plunged parts of the country into chaos, raising concerns about the effect massive displacement and continued instability could have on education.
"Many of the teachers in the region are from ethnic communities that have left the Rift Valley in their thousands," Bishop Jackson ole Sapit, who covers eight districts in Kenya's western Rift Valley Province, told IRIN. "Many of those who left told us they would seek transfers to areas where they felt safer, which is likely to cause us great problems in the long term.
"Last week, I sent my nephew to the secondary school he attends, but only 10 out of 700 students had reported, so he was sent home again," he added.
Parents of children in camps in Narok North district said they were too scared to send their children to local schools in case they were attacked by rival communities or unruly youths. One camp, in the compound of the district commissioner, has more than 1,800 residents - who said none of the displaced children was in school.
"Our children are not in school yet - if we felt they would be safe then we would send them, but the place is still tense," said one displaced mother-of-two.
According to district officials in Narok North, however, these fears are misplaced and parents would be better off sending their children to school.
"We feel that the threat is perceived rather than real, but we are still taking it seriously and are doing our best to step up security so people feel safe," Andre Rukaria, Narok North district commissioner, told IRIN. "We have put additional administration police camps around town and additional patrol bases."
Narok North had been generally peaceful until opposition demonstrations in the town turned violent on the weekend starting 18 January - eight people were killed in the clashes and the number of displaced has risen drastically.
The district's deputy education officer, William Kaelo, said although his office had not yet started recording the number of displaced teachers and therefore had little idea of the scale of the shortage, several schools around town had failed to open due to low numbers of students reporting or fear of continued insecurity. Two local nursery schools have also been turned into additional accommodation for the displaced, thus preventing them from opening.
"In town, where most of the violence has happened, at least five public schools - with a total enrolment of close to 4,000 students - have not yet opened, and private schools have stayed closed altogether," he said. "This means that it is not just the displaced that are affected - many other children in the district cannot go to school."
In the Rift Valley district of Molo, sources estimate as many as 50 schools have yet to open for the school year.
According to Elias Noor, an education officer with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), schools offer protection for children in emergency settings. "When children are in school they have a sense of normalcy and bring this sense to their families," he said. "They are under the protection of trained professionals ... schools can also be used to foster harmony through peace education."
Rapid response necessary
The Kenyan Ministry of Education, with UNICEF and other local partners, such as the Kenya Red Cross Society, has prepared a “response and recovery” plan to enable schools to start, even in the camps.
"As part of this plan, we have conducted rapid assessments and have started providing school kits, recreation kits and tents where necessary, so that children can start school within the camps," Noor said.
Photo: Keishamaza Rukirare/IRIN
|Children in camps who are not in school are helping out with household chores and looking after siblings|
"Recovery may mean measures such as extra tuition later on to enable students to catch up on work they missed, but our immediate priority in this case is provision of educational materials, protection and food for school children," he added. "We have yet to reach many areas and there are logistical difficulties ... we cannot force the system."
Temporary schools have been set up in camps in Nakuru and Eldoret, but in areas where UNICEF and the ministry have not yet arrived, camp officials are coming up with innovative ways to keep the children occupied.
At Mulot Camp in Narok South district, displaced teachers have set up makeshift classrooms under trees and in district administration buildings; the camp's school has been named - somewhat irreverently - Refugee Primary School.
"We are trying, but we have children from different classes grouped together and we have no chalk, black-boards, books or pens so it's very hard," said Samuel Tureiga, a teacher at the camp in Mulot, with 550 residents, a third children. "We're trying to keep the children busy so they can have some stability."
There are no displaced secondary school teachers at Mulot, so the high school students among the displaced are left to perform household chores and help care for their younger siblings.
Tureiga said he would be willing to be transferred to a school in the district, but only if he could be near a police post. "I cannot go back to a school in a rural area, where my security is not guaranteed," he added.
The teachers said they had also noticed signs of trauma among older children, some of whom were very withdrawn and uncooperative; no counsellors have been to the camp yet.
UNICEF is still carrying out assessments in the region, and is working with provincial authorities to get a clearer picture of how the violence has affected children and ensure that education in the region returns to normal as soon as the political situation eases. The violence has displaced an estimated 250,000 Kenyans, most of them in the Rift Valley.