Sustaining university education in Turkana County

The people of Turkana County have suffered many historical injustices key among them being the systematic marginalization of its people.
To kill a people economically and politically, the colonialists knew that the best formula was to deny them access to education. Thus Turkana County was left in the dark for decades. Alas, it is only on July 29 2011 that Mount Kenya University (MKU) became the first institution of higher learning to open a fully operational campus in Turkana County at Lodwar town.

The establishment of the University ended a long quest for higher education among the locals who for many years had to travel far and wide for higher education.

Marginalization of the Turkana people in education was systematically planned by the colonial administration who blocked missionaries from entering Turkana.

This colonial isolation ensured that by early 1960s, there were only two primary schools in Turkana. Within this period, the Catholic Church required permission from the colonial Government to do work in the then Turkana district.

The arrival of the Catholic Church, triggered education development in Turkana and to date 80 per cent of the infrastructure for education in Turkana was developed by the late Bishop Mahon.

Education therefore began to trickle into Turkana through the Church. Majority of the secondary schools, operating either as national schools (Turkana Girls and Lodwar High School) or by any other names were built by the Catholic Church with a few schools sponsored by African Inland Church (AIC), Reformed Church of East Africa (RCEA), Salvation Army, Pentecostal Assembly of God (PAG), Kenya Assembly of (KAG) and others.

In 1980s, Norwegian Development Agency (NORAD) arrived in Turkana and took up education development in the county, building classrooms, teacher training, logistics for quality assurance, teaching and learning materials, construction of offices for education officials and scholarships in fields of health, environment, livestock, agriculture and education. The agency paid fees for all children studying in secondary schools, tertiary institutions and Universities.
However, in 1990, political differences between Koigi wa Mwere and former President Daniel Arap Moi led to the closure of the Norwegian Embassy in Kenya. As a result NORAD was ordered to leave Turkana within 24 hours. This affected hundreds of beneficiaries and education activities abruptly stopped.

The County then reverted to its traditional education providers – the church and NGOs. The introduction of free primary education and availability of development funds through CDF further continued to enhance children’s’ access to education in the County.

However, education matters in the County have revolved around the provision of basic education. The provision of Tertiary and University education at the county level has never been a concern for leaders and Government except for the medical training centre. Providers of education at the national level have argued that tertiary and university education are unsustainable in Turkana.

However, since MKU began its operations in Lodwar, the institution has become a pride of the County. Within the short period, the University has operated and with the support of the local leaders, the institution has graduated skilled personnel among the locals now serving the County Government.

The general response among professionals returning to take higher education is excellent as the University takes its position as the training hub for Turkana locals and the neighbouring international communities.

But despite its critical role in the provision for higher education in the region, MKU is not free from challenges. To operate a private University in low income and high risk economically marginalized communities where public Universities have declined to take up the challenge, is a huge business risk.

In Turkana County, for example, 80 per cent of the people have no formal education and therefore are not likely to value modern education. Education reports indicate that only three in every 100 people in Turkana have secondary education.

Turkana County leads in Kenya with poor people living 67.5 per cent a drift of the poverty line. This translates to 94 people in every 100 in Turkana living below the poverty line. There are about 380 primary schools, 35 secondary schools and one medical training centre in Turkana. Opportunities for secondary education are limited as majority of primary school children depend on bursaries to access higher education.

With persisting poverty trends, low literacy levels and dependency on bursaries, the role of MKU in the County is more philanthropic than business. Currently, a large number of students studying in the University in Lodwar are adults, who are able to pay their tuition.

Majority of youth living with their poor parents in the villages have a long way to access University education even locally. Dependency on bursaries by the locals appears to drive the funding for education in the County. This is unsustainable. The most reliable way of funding education should be through family income, which is not possible in Turkana. Despite these odds, MKU has decided to operate in Lodwar with a vision driven by a passion to access higher education to the poor regardless of its goals for business. Besides the provision for higher education, MKU wishes to create a mass movement for education awareness that will impact on every school-going child to realize the importance of aiming for excellence in examination performance.
Dr. John Ng’asike is a Senior Lecturer at Mount Kenya University, Lodwar Campus



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