In Mandera, a total of 6,044 pupils registered for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) out of which 2,262 were girls.
After the Covid-19 long break, some girls never reported back to school, consequently missing their national examinations.
Poverty pushes some families in the region to marry off their daughters at an early age. In some cases, elderly men marry young girls just to stay alive.
County Director of Education Adan Roble said that they are yet to establish how many girls could have missed the exams.
“We are yet to know how many girls missed the KCPE this year because most school heads are yet to submit that information,” said Roble.
In Mandera, girls as young as 12 years are married off, even to old men. Poverty pushes some families to marry them off, while others simply subscribe to the cultural set up.
By the age of six years, a girl will undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and at about 10, becomes the caretaker of the family’s livestock.
Girls will spend most of their time in the grazing fields instead of being in school.
But despite the vagaries of region, one girl Istahil Muktar Molu stands out.
Molu, is the top candidate in Mandera County who scored 385 marks out of the possible 500.
“I understand the situation most girls go through in Mandera because I am one of them. Boys are given priority but we have to prove that we are of the same ability. Girls are good agents of change and it starts with education. We have to prove that times have changed and all children are equal,” said Molu.
And now, Molu is challenging the girls in her county to seek education first.
The Joystart Academy former pupil in Mandera town from Baby Class to Class Eight, wants girls in Mandera never to give up on their academic thirst.
She wants to join Alliance Girls High School and aspires to become a neurosurgeon.
“I thank God I have parents who understand the importance of education and in our family we are treated equally. We have teachers in our school from other parts of the country and communities, who have encouraged us to see life differently,” Molu says.
She adds that her parents ensured she had all the required learning material including a private tutor for the period schools closed.
According to Molu, the Somali culture and tradition undermines the girl child, denying her many opportunities in life.
At Joystart Academy, Molu had 30 classmates including 14 other girls and 16 boys.
“It is all about knowing what you want and setting standards, you will be respected considering how you conduct yourself,” says Molu, adding that her good performance is attributed to staying focused.
“I have always challenged the boys in my class academically, and it is a healthy competition although one of them scored higher marks than me.”
Debra Adala, the proprietor of Joystart Academy says Molu is a well-mannered student and that the parents were supportive throughout her study.
The top girl notes that despite coming from a moderately well-off family, she has faced challenges in her academic journey.
“I have been a victim of the challenges Somali girls face but I remained focused on my studies and here I am celebrating my victory,” she says.
Mandera region is largely patriarchal with males being given priority over girls who remain victims of circumstances.
Her father, Kike Istahil is a primary school head teacher in Mandera and understands the importance of education.
“We have to give equal opportunity to our children,” he says.