Young mothers in Kenya face various social and economic pressures which drive them away from finishing secondary education. As primary caregivers, many mothers must stay at home to care for their newborns, and this socially-reinforced role causes these mothers to drop out of school, at least temporarily. However, as Ronda Zelezny-Green explains, the period away from schooling is often permanent, even when the mother is physically able to attend school again.
This permanence is due to strong social stigmas against pregnant and young mothers, as well as a general unawareness of one’s civil rights. ‘Although there is no policy in place that restricts a girl’s ability to rejoin her peers in school, many girls drop out or are sent home when the pregnancy is discovered, are turned away when they try to return to school after giving birth, or are refused the chance to try and return because of the stigma the pregnancy and subsequent birth places on the girl and her family.’
Mobile learning, however, presents a recent option for these marginalized, young mothers still interested in education. Mobile learning opportunities, through programs like Eneza, allow women a great degree of flexibility in their studies, permitting them to complete studies at times most convenient for their schedules. These devices also women to learn at home, away from the harmful physical and verbal harassment directed toward them at school. Furthermore, given that these programs do not require expensive smart phones, they present a cheap alternative to laptop and computer use, and provide a viable path to self-empowerment. Currently, the subjects available are math, HIV/AIDS education, life skills, linguistics, and general science. These subjects allow women to educate themselves for general well-being as well as future employment.
A Kenyan mother cares for her son under a mosquito net.
One valuable counter-argument which the article acknowledges, and with which I strongly agree, is that these mobile programs are often costly, in terms of both the software, the operating costs, and the phone itself. The author explains that many mothers go without food or basic necessities in order to own and maintain a phone. This presents a serious concern, given that mobile learning is intended to empower, not endanger women. If one’s health and safety are affected, perhaps this development project must consider ways to lessen the expense incurred by cell phone usage, possibly through a subsidy or grant of some sort. After all, holistic development as dictated by HDI mandates growth in education and income, as well as health. If women are sacrificing both personal and family health for education, holistic development is compromised.
Overall, however, I think that this initiative is a positive response to a pressing social problem, and am excited to see it progress.
Read the article here.