Students from Maseno School in Kisumu – CNN, 2015
“No man, woman or child can hope to achieve [living a balanced life] in sickness, illiteracy or squalor. You are all engaged in the most vital business there is – the well-being of the people of the world – and I too, as the leader of my Community, have become deeply involved in the provision of basic health and education, which I believe are crucial stepping stones towards mankind’s self-realisation and growth.” - Excerpt of a speech made by His Highness the Aga Khan on October 6, 1982, in Nairobi, Kenya.
One of the East Africa Institute’s (EAI) core focus areas is research in the intersection between youth, education and health care. Looking at Kenya generally, it is evident that while many youth are experiencing similar struggles, there are heightened adverse consequences for those in the coastal region. In Mombasa, for example, there is a greater disparity between youth who are educated and those who are not, and a further discrepancy between youth who are able to find job opportunities in Mombasa versus Nairobi. With this discrepancy, youth in Mombasa struggle to find a niche to thrive and thus lose their identity within the labour force. It is important that there are enough resources to cater to the growing population size of Kenya’s coastal region, providing a platform for youth to create and innovate, bettering the nation as a whole.
In a more positive light with regards to the relationship between Kenyan youth and education, EAI’s Youth Survey revealed positive results. It indicated 78 percent of the 1854 respondents having attained post-primary education and 39 percent obtaining a post-secondary education. The survey also suggests that Kenyan youth have high aspirations for career paths such as business, engineering, law and medicine while a small portion interested in pursuing agriculture activities. Although the Kenyan youth are obtaining post-secondary education, the youth unemployment rate is still high at 55 percent. 50 percent of those with a post-secondary education find themselves unable to find employment. Kenyan youth are reportedly the most educated in East Africa, yet the high unemployment rate is a disincentive for students to continue higher education. Therefore, there is a crucial need for the government to improve access to employment. In doing so, it will generate opportunities for youth to further themselves and society in important sectors such as medicine, technology and agriculture.
As the 66th most unequal country, Kenya’s historic, political, economic and social contexts have resulted in systemic barriers. However, over the past 40 years, Kenya’s health care and education systems have been improved, resulting in economic growth and improved social conditions. According to the UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI), Kenya falls within the “medium human development” category, placing 142 out of 189 countries considered. Kenya’s HDI, calculated on a scale of 0-1, for 1990 was 0.468, compared to 0.590 for 2017. This is indicative of incremental improvement, which can be seen in three key areas: health and lifespan, education and standard of living. Trends show a steady increase over the last 15 years – life expectancy at birth has increased from 57.5 to 67.3, and with the introduction of Free Primary Education in 2003 expected years of schooling have increased from 9.1 to 12.1 and mean years of schooling have increased from 3.7 to 6.5.
In considering health in Kenya, key health indicators between 2009 and 2014 show improvement in various sectors. Infant mortality rates and maternal mortality rates have decreased. The contraceptive prevalence rate has risen from 46 percent to 52 percent, immunization coverage improved from 71 percent to 75 percent, and HIV prevalence has dropped from 35.3 percent to 26 percent with incidence dropping from 6.3 percent to 6 percent. Treatment of HIV patients has increased to approximately 63 percent of those diagnosed. In recent years, Kenya has invested in their health care system and subsequently Kenyans have reported a 62 percent satisfaction rate with their current health care system.
The Aga Khan Development Network continues to emphasize the importance of education and health care. There has been a paradigm shift, and the importance of creating strong social infrastructure is influencing the Kenyan culture, government, and youth. Research shows progress in the health and education system, but there is further potential for growth and development within the nation. This includes tackling the existing disparities within Kenya’s counties that perpetuate unequal access to health services and education due to factors such as cost and proximity.
As youth in Kenya achieve higher levels of academic attainment, there is increased opportunity for innovative ideas to address issues of unemployment, health and equality. This, however, must be met by strengthening infrastructure that can help establish more job opportunities as well as solve the ever-present socio-politico-economic barriers.
Imara Dhalla is an EAI Research Assistant, conducting research on health, youth and identity in coastal areas of Kenya.