Education officials are trying to piece together what could have happened to 12,424 candidates who missed the 2020 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations.
However, on Saturday Basic Education PS Julius Jwan said that the majority of the candidates who missed the exams were from pastoral communities and teenage girls who either got pregnant or were married off.
Despite the government’s mobilization efforts to ensure that all registered candidates sat the papers examination officials even delivered papers to hospitals and police cells thousands still missed out.
The Frontier Post has established that most candidates who did not report back to school were from the North Rift and pastoral counties – Turkana, Baringo, Garissa, Marsabit, Narok, Samburu, and Tana River.
A significant number of others are from poor areas in cities like Nairobi and Mombasa. In Nairobi County, 28 candidates missed the examinations.
A UN agency the United Nations International Children Education Fund (UNICEF) had earlier warned that a long stay of learners at home exposes them to pregnancies, child labour, drug abuse and early marriages among other effects like child trafficking and sexually transmitted diseases.
The school dropout rate for children in primary schools in Kenya was estimated at 21 per cent before the Covid-19 outbreak, meaning the prolonged closure was to blame for the high dropout rate.
Other learners were also adversely affected by food insecurity, especially those from arid and semi-arid counties, where they depended on free meals at school under the feeding programme.
In Kapedo, boys are reported to have been lured into banditry and efforts to get them back to school have proved futile.
More than 5,000 learners in Samburu County are reported to have dropped out of school.
The Principal Secretary said some boys got involved in drug abuse while many others turned into ‘boda boda’ business. A few others went into small jobs to earn a living for their families.
“When I led a team to Tana River County to mobilize learners to return to school, we realized that some of these pupils had relocated to other regions and teachers could not reach their parents on mobile phones as they did not have their contacts,” explained Jwan.
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha, while releasing the 2020 KCPE results, said the number of absentee candidates more than doubled compared to the 2019 figure – 5,530.
And now Educationists and government officials attribute the sharp rise in the number to the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw education institutions closed for over seven months last year as the country grappled with the health crisis.
Magoha led Ministry is yet to account for the candidates and thousands of other learners who did not return to school in the partial opening in October 2020 and the full reopening in January.
However, Magoha dismissed concerns over the high dropout rate, saying the number of those who missed the exams was “insignificant”, compared to the 1.18 million who sat the exams.
“We are determined to ensure that no candidate misses a place in secondary school. In the meantime, I urge all parents and guardians to take good care of their children so that all of them are able to take up their Form One spaces in the schools that they will be admitted to,” said Magoha while releasing the results.
Teenage pregnancy, early marriages, deaths, sickness and displacement by raids and natural disaster have been attributed to the dropout figures.
Interviews with teachers and education officials show that about 80 per cent of the learners refused to return to school while others relocated and could not be traced by school heads.
Due to the months-long unsupervised stay at home, teenage pregnancies increased while others were reported to have been involved in drug abuse and other criminal activities.
A report by the Africa Institute for Development Policy showed that 151,433 girls aged below 19 conceived between January and May 2020.
In Nairobi, 11,795 teenage pregnancies were reported.
Other counties that had high numbers of teenage mothers were Kakamega (6,686) and Machakos (3,966). Another 62 teen pregnancies were reported in Kakuma Refugee Camp by June 2020, while 7,600 minors were reported pregnant in Baringo County and 15,542 in Narok County.
After schools fully reopened in January, there was a reported wave of juvenile delinquency that teachers and other stakeholders blamed on lack of attention on the learners.
Property worth millions of shillings was lost as rioting students burnt down school buildings and other facilities countrywide.
That more than 12,000 candidates from a single class missed exams and cannot be accounted for points to a larger number of learners who fell by the wayside in the entire education system during the extended closure.
A few others might drop out as they are set to, again, be out of school for four months. Experts say this is a blow to the 100 per cent transition policy that the government has pushed since 2018.
He said despite the break occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic, the ministries of Education and Interior worked together through chiefs and ensured the majority of the candidates resumed classes.