How cash transfers help girls continue their education in Kenya

In response to COVID-19, the Government of Kenya, much like other governments around the world, initiated lockdowns of businesses and schools and implemented curfews to help curb transmission. Despite these measures, in just a few weeks, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Kenya almost doubled, bringing the total at the time of writing to over 6,000.

Places like Turkana County will be particularly hard hit by the impacts of COVID-19 and related lockdowns. The county is one of the poorest in Kenya, with the lowest education outcomes. Among its population of more than 900,000 people, the county also hosts 190,000 refugees with 148,000 people living in Kakuma Refugee Camp and another 36,000 living in the nearby Kalobeyei Settlement.

Officials in Turkana County had been preparing for an outbreak, well in advance of its first (and so far only recorded) case, recognizing the devastating consequences and double disadvantage for refugees if an outbreak were to occur due to overcrowding, lack of health facilities, and limited resources to respond. Already, refugees have been disproportionately impacted by the crisis. Typically relying on daily wages or work in the informal sector, they are now faced with widespread job losses.

When economic pressures increase, and there are long periods of disruption in education, girls are at higher risk of not returning to school, in part, as a result of increased sexual and gender-based violence, including early and forced marriage. To reduce the economic pressure on families and encourage girls and young women to continue studying from home, we are expanding our cash transfer program in Kenya. This is in addition to the work we are doing to leverage our radio programming to share information on the importance of girls’ education in the COVID-19 context.

Why cash transfers?

Cash transfers are direct payments made to people in critical need and are a widely-used approach in the aid and development sectors. As with any development intervention, cash transfers may come with unintended consequences that need to be carefully monitored and mitigated. For example, any influx of cash in the household may upset power relations within the household and increase the risks of sexual and gender-based violence. However, they have overall shown to be effective and can be 25-30% more efficient than food aid because they give people a chance to spend their resources on what they need most.

Conditional cash transfers are also a commonly-used approach. They are based on the premise that the person or family receiving them will fulfill a requirement, usually related to education or health, such as enrolment in school or vaccinating children. The main objective of these types of transfer is to alleviate poverty, by providing people with an extra amount of income, while also incentivizing positive behaviours for longer-term results. Cash transfers build up human capital and are considered to be helpful in breaking a family’s poverty cycle from one generation to the next.

As Turkana continues to prepare for an outbreak of the virus,  school closures are expected to last until at least September 2020. Expanding our cash transfers is one way we are helping to ensure these important preventative efforts are not at the expense of improving access to and the quality of education, particularly for young girls.

How WUSC uses cash transfers in its education programming

With funding from UK AID, WUSC has been working on increasing girls’ access to education in Kenya since 2013 in the Kakuma and Dadaab Refugee Camps and their host communities. Building on this initial work and its successes, this year we expanded our programming with funding from Global Affairs Canada to Kalobeyei Settlement and its host community. Through this initiative, WUSC will also be providing additional support to help girls and young women successfully transition to work (either formally or self-employed) after they have completed their education.

We have been implementing conditional cash transfers as part of our girls’ education programming since 2018. We use conditional cash transfers in tandem with other complementary approaches to improving access to and quality of education for girls, such as remedial education, radio programming, community mobilization, psycho-social counselling, and life skills training.

Our past experience has shown that conditional cash transfers can be effective in a refugee context, although there are higher barriers to entry including poor financial services and infrastructure, and issues with legal registration of bank accounts. With these barriers in mind, we moved away from handing out direct goods to conditional cash transfers to reduce transaction costs and give families the autonomy to choose to allocate their money as they see fit.

Recipients of our transfers, 90% of whom are women, receive this money on the condition that they (in the case of overaged students) or their daughters attend school regularly. They are also eligible to receive “top-up” amounts for strong attendance. Families report that cash transfers have eased their financial pressures and made it easier for them to send their daughters to school despite the opportunity costs.

Adapting cash transfers to a COVID-19 context

As families around the world have discovered over the past several months, priorities and resources can evolve rapidly during times of crisis. In these contexts, cash transfers become an invaluable tool to ensuring families can quickly adapt to meet their immediate needs. Evidence from the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone shows that in addition to providing families with a source of income, cash transfers were also able to offer girls protection from the increased risk of physical and sexual violence during the pandemic.

To help ensure no girl is left behind during this current crisis, we have been working to expand the scope of our cash transfers in the Kalobeyei Settlement, reaching as many girls and young women as possible within our targeted age ranges, and increasing the transfer amount where possible. While we typically conduct a detailed, community-centered process to select the most vulnerable beneficiaries across a “Marginalization Index” (which assesses factors that affect girls’ vulnerability such as disability, poverty, and child-headed households), given the constraints of COVID-19, this process has been suspended temporarily, and parents have been informed that cash transfers will be distributed more widely until the end of 2020 to support as many families as possible.

We are working with our partners to continue to identify families at risk, and are using SMS and WhatsApp communication to ensure that recipients understand the purpose and timeframe of the conditional cash transfers. Transfers are being made monthly by bank transfers or mobile money, and WUSC staff will share hotline numbers that families can call with questions and concerns. Our current plan is to resume our standard conditional cash transfer system in 2021, conducting more detailed surveys to ensure that our limited resources are reaching those girls and young women most at risk of dropping out who face multiple disadvantages.

If the effects of COVID-19 on Kenya’s school system continue into 2021, WUSC will work with our partners to adapt our processes, ensuring that we are always prioritizing what matters most: the safety, education, and health of the vulnerable girls and young women that we serve in refugee and host communities.

With the provision of expanded conditional cash transfers, we know that despite the challenges that COVID-19 presents, girls will be better able to continue formal learning once schools reopen, and will still be able to benefit from the other complementary approaches that we provide. This will increase their access to better education opportunities, as well as the benefits from participating in the workforce when they are ready.

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What Works for Girls’ Education

Evidence and Lessons Learned from our Programming in Kenya

A recent study by UNHCR on education for refugees reports that fewer than one in four refugee adolescents are currently enrolled in secondary school. Though hard to imagine, the situation is even worse in low-income countries, where the majority of refugees live and where fewer than one in ten refugee adolescents are enrolled.

Refugee girls are even more likely to be left behind. For every ten refugee boys in primary school, there are only eight refugee girls. At the secondary level, for every ten refugee boys there are fewer than seven refugee girls.

The report concludes with several important calls to action for the global community. Two that resonated with us in the context of our programming in Kenya are:

  1. A holistic approach to supporting education systems in refugee hosting countries.
  2. Wholehearted support for teachers, including suitable pay, the right materials in sufficient quantities, and expert assistance.

Over the past five years, both of these principles have guided our efforts to advance girls’ access to quality education in refugee camps and contexts in Kenya.

The Barriers to Refugee Girls’ Education in Kenya

In refugee camps and surrounding host communities in Kenya, harmful attitudes, social norms, and gender stereotypes have resulted in the devaluing of girls’ education. Many parents do not believe that there will be a return on the investment of sending a girl to school.

Yet the benefits of girls’ education are undeniable. When a young girl is educated, she is more likely to wait for marriage and have fewer children, improving health and economic outcomes for her family. Her community and country also benefit as each additional year of schooling can increase her future earning by 10 to 20%.

WUSC’s Holistic Response for Girls’ Education

Girls living in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps have education indicators that are significantly lower than the national average. This is also true for girls who live in the surrounding host communities in the Garissa and Turkana counties. For example, while the national average of girls’ secondary school enrolment is 48% in Kenya, it is only about 20% in the camps.

WUSC has been working in these regions to address both the supply- and demand-side challenges to girls’ education. We seek to improve the accessibility and quality of education available to girls while increasing the overall demand for quality education among the communities.

We have been addressing these challenges through three primary areas of intervention:

Results from the First Five Years

As we wrapped up our first phase of this initiative earlier this year, an external evaluation shows promising trends. By taking a holistic approach in our work, we have improved access to quality education for over 16,000 girls. We have also indirectly supported an additional 30,000 boys to gain the education they deserve.

On average, we witnessed a 65% increase in mean literacy scores since this initiative first began. Students who were in grade six at the beginning of this work received the greatest duration of support. They also showed the most consistent improvement.

Girls’ enrolment reportedly increased from 75.9% to 91%, according to results of household surveys. However, it is important to recognize that enrolment figures in low-income countries are difficult to track. This is especially true in refugee contexts where schools are incredibly resource-strapped and where families move frequently, even within the camps.

While we are encouraged by these results, much more work remains to be done. Sustainability in refugee contexts is much more difficult to maintain. Funding for public services come from a patchwork of sources as communities and governments seek more sustainable solutions to displacement. This means resources are often very unpredictable year by year.

In the coming years, we will be working more closely with local partners to promote local ownership, including the Government of Kenya’s Teacher Advisory Centres. We will also continue to amplify our message of the importance of girls’ education through our community engagement initiatives. As we look ahead to the next phase of this work, sustainability will be an important guiding principle across our efforts.

This work has been funded by UK Aid’s Girls’ Education Challenge Fund. It was implemented by WUSC in partnership with Windle International Kenya. Phase I of this initiative began in 2013 and ended in March 2017. Phase II will operate from April 2017 to March 2022.

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Remedial Education Program: An Innovation to Improve Girls’ Academic Performance in Refugee Contexts

Refugee girls face overwhelming barriers to accessing quality education. Beyond realities that affect many young women, such as early and forced marriage, early pregnancy, an unfair burden of domestic chores, and family financial constraints, refugee girls face further, unique challenges.

With limited mobility and very few options for employment, refugee girls have limited incentives to attend school. Facing double discrimination due to their gender and refugee status, even those who do make it to school, are at risk of both underperforming and dropping out. In addition, education facilities available to refugee youth are designed as temporary solutions and do not meet long-term education needs, particularly given the lack of qualified teachers.

WUSC has been implementing remedial education programming in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps and surrounding host communities in northern Kenya since 2011, in partnership with Windle International Kenya. This approach has proven effective in addressing critical systemic gaps, improving girls’ academic performance, and positively influencing parental and community attitudes towards girls’ education. With its innovative girls-only focus, the program has had the added benefit of creating a positive learning environment and allowing girls to build self-confidence.

Evidence shows that girls value the remedial education program because it allows them additional time outside of regular school to continue their studies. Often tasked with household and family responsibilities, it is not always possible for girls to study at home. Increased attendance and demand for remedial classes in both Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps has shown that parents and guardians are increasingly willing to allow girls to attend additional classes on weekends.

Remedial Education Program: An Innovation to Improve Girls’ Academic Performance in Refugee Contexts provides a detailed overview of the innovative remedial education program. The case study gives information on the implementation context and the remedial program model, and explores challenges faced and lessons learned to date. It also presents a personal impact story about a student who has benefitted from the program.

This case study is a collaboration between WUSC and Promising Practices in Refugee Education. Promising Practices in Refugee Education is a joint initiative of Save the Children, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, and Pearson. Launched in March 2017, the initiative set out to identify, document and promote innovative ways to effectively reach refugee children and young people with quality educational opportunities. This case study is one of more than twenty promising practices that were selected as part of the initiative.

Click here to read the case study

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