Has the Boy Child in Kenya been Excluded in the Gender Equality Agenda? A Perspective from the Education Sector
Emerging perceptions and public debate in Kenya tend to suggest that the boy child has been left behind in the gender equality agenda. This motion further gained momentum following the release of the 2017 Kenya Certificate of Primary Examination (KCPE) results where girls seemed to take top positions. Individuals, groups and activists rushed to media to warn that we might have concentrated so much on the girl child that her brother, the boy child, has been neglected.
Sessional Paper 1 of 2005 defines equity in education and training as “embracing issues such as equal opportunities for all, access, retention and completion.” The equality agenda recognizes that empowering one gender must never be synonymous with stifling the other. Therefore, to achieve this agenda, there is need for inclusiveness in all aspects targeting children. Exclusion of boy child from the equality agenda could impose challenges which may hinder him from opportunities for progress especially in education.
The Constitution of Kenya 2010 and other local statutes provide for protection of children’s rights. Article 53 of the Constitution provides for rights of children to free and compulsory basic education, nutrition, shelter and healthcare, protection from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices and all forms of violence. The Basic Education Act No. 14 of 2013 spells out the right of a child to free and compulsory basic education. Kenya is also a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 1989) which recognizes equal rights for children regardless of gender, and tasks parents and guardians with provision of the best environment for them to grow.
To push for the goal of reducing gender disparities in participation in schools, the Ministry of Education launched the Gender Policy in Education in 2007, which was further reviewed in 2015 to align it with the Constitution of Kenya 2010, the Second Medium Term Plan, Sessional Paper No. 14 of 2012, the Basic Education Act of 2013, and the National Education Sector Plan 2013-2018. This policy adopts an extensive perspective of equality to include boys and girls, and men and women, rather than focusing only on girls and women. It highlights key gender concerns in education, such as disparities in enrolment, retention, and transition rates, unconducive teaching and learning environment for girls and boys, negative socio-cultural practices and attitudes which inhibit access to schooling; stereotyping in learning materials and in actual class teaching, and drop out of girls due to pregnancy and early marriages. The policy recognizes gender equality as central to the achievement of EFA and proposes strategies to address gender concerns in education.
The government has also undertaken measures that enhance education for both boys and girls such as establishment of a gender in education unit to aid in coordination of gender equality issues in the sector, institutionalization of child friendly schools through the development of a school safety manual, and in-service training of teachers and school managers on child-centered and gender responsive teaching and counselling.
Education indicators such as Gender Parity Index (GPI); Net Enrolment Rate (NER) at primary, secondary and tertiary levels; transition and completion rates; and performance reveal a significant positive progress since the onset of the above-mentioned interventions on attaining gender equality in education.
The GPI, which measures the relative access to education of males and females, usually calculated as the quotient of the number of females by the number of males enrolled in each stage of education (ECDE, primary, secondary) has improved. This is an implication that the number of girls enrolling at ECDE, primary and secondary schools has been increasing more than boys. However, regional analysis reveals that gender disparities in enrolment still exist in favor of boys especially in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs).
The NER for boys, however, remains higher than that of girls at all levels of basic education. A similar pattern is observed at county level where the NER for boys exceeds that of girls in at least 35 counties. Among counties whose NER for girls significantly exceed that of boys include Samburu, Bungoma, Migori and Nyamira as at 2014.
Enrolment at tertiary level also exhibits a similar trend of increasing numbers, with male students exceeding their female counterparts. At university level, enrolment of male students increased by 42.6% between 2012/13 and 2013/14 compared to 25% for female during the same period. Enrolment of male students at university is mainly in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) while female’s is skewed towards humanities, social sciences, services and health related courses.
In terms of candidature in national examinations, there has been improvement for both boys and girls. The proportion of male candidates, nevertheless, remains higher than girls’ over the years.
Performance-wise, boys have been outperforming girls in most of the years. For instance, males perform better in Mathematics and Sciences at KCPE while females do better in languages and social studies. Males have consistently performed better than females in national examinations except for KCSE 2016 where 2269 more females scored C plus and above.
Similarly, statistics on completion rate show an improvement and are in favor of the boy child. For instance, in 2000, the primary school completion rate for boys and girls was 60.2% and 55.3%, respectively, compared to 80.3% and 78.8% in 2013.
In East Africa region, Kenya is doing better than most countries towards achieving the gender equality in education agenda. It, however, lags Rwanda which ranks among the top countries in the global gender gap index in education. For instance, in 2016, the NER for boys in pre-primary, primary and secondary education in Rwanda exceeded that of girls by only 0.82%, 0.70% and 3.40%, respectively.
In summary, the discussed education indicators have shown that even though gender parity in girl child education in Kenya has narrowed, the boy child is still doing better. There is, however, need to identify key issues that, if not addressed, may drive his exclusion in the equality agenda. This is because, just like his counterpart, the boy child is vulnerable. He faces challenges such as child labour, drug and substances abuse, poor role modelling, poverty and inherent issues, frequent school riots and strikes, general lack of interest in school, and cultural factors.
There is need for both the county and national governments to initiate programmes that not only empower the girl child but also make the boy child feel part and parcel of the equality agenda. Such could include creating awareness on the vulnerabilities of the boy child, identifying harmful social and cultural practices and initiating campaigns against them, strengthening legal and policy instruments to fight sexual harassment, gender violence and child abuse, and calling upon families to be role models.
Author: Juliana Mbithi, Young Professional, KIPPRA
Photo: Kenya News Agency