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Rethinking the use of Boarding Schools in Turkana

By Dr. Teria Ng’asike


Turkana leaders probably do not know that the idea of boarding schools was a colonial strategy for taming Africans. Europeans colonialists in their wisdom to control Africans promoted the use of boarding schools in African settlements to separate African children from their families.

Educating children away from their parents was a sure way that they received only European education in English language in addition to instilling in their mind sets values of European origin.

Boarding schools were like military camps where children were indoctrinated with European values while ensuring that African family values and culture were wiped away from the children.

Schools were used by the colonialist government to educate people who would be easier to rule and to work as their servants. Even though colonial schools were under African teachers, these teachers acted like tools for Europeans who were used to promote European culture in African schools.

Over 50 years of independence and Europeans no longer running African education affairs, Kenya’s Ministry of Education (MoE) has continued to run boarding schools especially in Arid and Semi Arid Lands (ASAL). This is not unusual since it is common practice that many independent African Governments continue to use colonial structures as a strategy of post colonial leaders for continuing to colonize their fellow Africans.

In Turkana, Boarding schools are at the mouth of every leader and education officials as the cure of education in this nomadic community. On the contrary, a visit to primary schools in Turkana paints a different picture of boarding schools being places of perpetuating child abuse in educational institutions. These so called boarding schools lack basic requirements for human survival and are far from promoting human dignity as they are a healthy threat to the wellbeing of children.

If you visit majority of primary schools operating as boarding schools, one would be shocked to find that these schools do not have dormitories, they lack proper sanitation and operate without facilities like beds, mattresses, blankets, eating utensils and cooking pots.

In many of the boarding schools food is cooked outside or in a makeshift shelter improvised as kitchen. In Turkana, boarding schools are places where children live in apathy as girls sleep in the classrooms without beds or mattresses.

The bathrooms for girls are improvised by teachers, especially when classrooms double as dormitories at night. Boarding schools are places where girls bath outside at night due to lack of bathrooms.

Girls in these boarding schools carry water on their heads and keep it until at night when it is safe to take a bath in the dark. Observing the structures of boarding schools in Turkana, I cannot stop wondering and questioning the motive behind the operation of such programs, when they do not meet the basic requirement of a human being to live in dignity.

For example, where a dormitory is built, it is usually a hall with boxes of pupils arranged on the side resting on stones. Pieces of mats and torn blankets scattered everywhere on the dusty empty space of the empty halls used as dormitories.

In some schools, classrooms double as dormitories for girls as boys sleep outside in the open air. When it rains, only a miracle can tell where the boys would sleep in such boarding schools. In some of these boarding schools, teachers do not stay in the school compounds including the head teacher compromising the safety and care of the children especially at night.

In Turkana, as long as the feeding program food is given to the primary school, this will be enough criteria to establish a boarding school. Boarding facilities critical to the healthy growth of the children in the school is only but a luxury.

Unknown to many, boarding schools operating in Turkana are unauthorized establishments of the local education officials and the head teachers. Education officials convert the school feeding program which is intended to cater for lunches for children into full time boarding meals to attract funding from the MoE and from parents.

The results are that these boarding schools are not sustainable and offer little in terms of adding value to the children’s education in Turkana. They are institutions of corruption, of oppression and of child abuse. They are agents of colonialism and represent the perpetuation of social injustices in education in impoverished communities.

I challenge education leaders to take stock of the operation of boarding schools initiated in Turkana. As far as I am concerned, the logic driving boarding schools is hard to comprehend. For example, majority of boarding schools appear to operate in urban centres and not in rural areas where hunger is endemic and children hardly get any food from home.

Schools in rural nomadic areas have no children due to lack of food and yet the push for boarding schools is not in rural areas but in urban places like Lokichar, Lodwar, Kakuma, Lokitaung etc. In fact schools in urban areas get huge supplies of feeding program as food distribution favours these schools.

On the contrary, in rural areas food does not reach schools as roads to schools are poor and means of transport continue to be a challenge. The beneficiaries of boarding schools in urban areas appear to be children from outside the County whose parents are able to pay boarding fee and who live outside or within towns.

The local children struggle hard to pay boarding fees and thus adding to the cost of education to families who are already facing hardships. In urban centres, boarding schools have been used to add to the cost of public education to make it affordable only to those parents who have the ability to pay.

The results are that poor local parents have their children moving to poor schools located in the periphery of the urban centres where food is scarce. Another example is the poor state of the boarding infrastructure of Nomadic Arid Zone School in Kakuma. Why has this school been run down if we care about boarding schools? The children of the nomads have never benefited from this school since its inception.

Another sorry state is the operations of rural schools like Kalobeyei, Kaeris, Lolupe, Kalapata , Loitanit etc. Why are these schools operating with poor boarding facilities if truly we are serious about the role of boarding schools as critical in enhancing education access in nomadic areas. The food distributed to rural schools in nomadic areas has continued to be inadequate and cannot in any way comparable to the food supplied to urban schools like Lodwar primary, Nakwamekwi, Lorugum, Lokichar, Kanamkemer etc Why are urban schools receiving huge supplies of food for boarding and yet they are in towns serving families that are settled and which the majority are working as public servants. Schools in established urban centres do not need to operate as boarding schools unless education administrators have other motives for converting them into boarding schools. Indeed, boarding schools do not need to operate anywhere in Turkana and at any community in Kenya.

Provision of education in Turkana County should be a consultative effort that is community driven. Visiting families in Turkana, I established that families are aware of the quality of schools and can tell the best school from the worst.

The worst schools according to Turkana families are schools which have poor facilities for girls and schools that girls suffer sexual abuse from teachers, civil servants, rich business men, policemen etc.

Indeed boarding schools make it difficult for parents to monitor the discipline and safety of the girl child. Boarding schools are not necessary if schools operate close to the parents. Turkana County require community schools which operate at the villages where children walk to school, learn, have lunch and then return home to work with their parents. In urban centres where families are settled boarding schools are unnecessary.

Education officials are not keen at sustainable education initiatives especially in nomadic areas where families require assistance from those given the responsibility to offer leadership. Yet these professionals operate like brainless robots.

In conclusion, I must congratulate the teachers, teaching in Turkana County. They are true heroes who can make children succeed even in the most difficult circumstances of learning. They problem solve implementation of education policies and creatively do everything at their reach to help the children learn even in the most stressful environment.

For example, improvising dormitories, kitchens and bathrooms for girls and helping children to use the one toilet and the one tap available in the school. They also act as watchmen for girls at night. They live in the villages with the families and do not mind living in makeshift houses without electricity.

Teachers in Turkana suffer the same challenges their children suffer in schools. Places where some of the schools operate are neglected nomadic areas without amenities like shopping centres, health facilities, Internet etc. The teachers are forced to share with the children the food from the school-feeding programme. I value their creativity and hard work. These teachers are the true heroes of Turkana children.

Dr. Teria Ng’asike is expert in pastoralist education affairs, early childhood education and a lecturer at Kenyatta University


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