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April 18th, 2016

Distributing school uniforms to children in Kenya

In the last century, children in western Kenya did not have access to universal primary education. The government introduced free education in 2003, but there were other barriers to overcoming absenteeism. The Dutch charity, ICS, introduced a Child Sponsorship Programme (CSP) to help fund children’s education,and raise levels of attendance, particularly among girls as well as all children from lower-income families.

The initiative

ICS, a Dutch NGO, operates a Child Sponsorship Programme (CSP) in western Kenya. [2] Part of its function is that children sponsored by donors receive money for school uniforms and other expenses related to their education. It was developed in 2001 and its main educational objective was to increase school attendance levels. After school fees were paid for by the government, buying uniforms became a relatively higher priority for the programme.

The challenge

Children in developing countries such as Kenya face numerous difficulties in acquiring a basic primary school education. According to the World Bank, school fees and other expenses are among the major obstacles to universal primary education.

In the years before 2003, parents were required to pay school fees for their children's primary school education. In January 2003, a “new government policy provided not only fees but also basic textbooks and notebooks. This led to dramatic increases in school participation”. [1] However, wearing a school uniform was still a mandatory requirement for school attendance.

There has been much debate between head teachers, politicians and parents about the policy. It is not universally enforced, but pupils are often told off by teachers and feel a sense of shame if they fail to wear a uniform. This has had a negative effect on attendance rates.

The public impact

It was found that “giving a school uniform (along with other aspects of programme participation) reduces school absenteeism by more than a third, and the effect is even larger for poorer children (those without uniforms to begin with)”. [3] It also served to encourage a higher participation in education by girls. In percentage terms, the overall reduction in absenteeism was estimated to be 44 percent, a very significant impact.

Stakeholder engagement

The major stakeholder was ICS. Other stakeholders include the field officers, schools, teachers and students in the target areas, and the donors from the Netherlands and elsewhere. All these actors acted in a coordinated way to make the CSP a success.

In order to improve the programme's prospects of success, ICS made efforts to ensure that sponsored children were present at school on the day of enrolment. It corresponded with the schools to encourage attendance and provided community engagement: for example, two ICS nurses visited each sponsored school several times a year and provided basic first aid to children and adults alike.

Political commitment

The Kenyan government removed significant obstacles to school attendance in 2003 by providing free primary school education and some equipment, such as textbooks. However, there was no explicit support or significant political involvement in the ICS’s CSP initiative.

Clarity of objectives

The objectives of the CSP were relatively broad, but the focus on raising school attendance and providing school uniforms as a means of achieving this were narrow. This objective was stated in the CSP planning document along with the associated aim of increasing educational attainment.

Strength of evidence

ICS-Africa has been operating in western Kenya since 1996. In 2001, it conducted a CSP pilot initiative in 12 villages in the Busia district. These villages were considered to be typical of those in rural areas throughout western Kenya. The results of the test run were used in extending the CSP the following year.


CSP was financially feasible because it was funded by a sufficient number of willing private donors and run by a well-established Dutch charity. From human resource point of view, ICS ensured that the CSP could be implemented at school level by deploying field representatives who understood the context in which the sponsorship was being distributed.

A field representative from ICS went to the twelve schools to enrol the children who had been selected for sponsorship. To be enrolled in the programme, a child had to be present for a photograph to be taken and a small information card to be filled in, which would then be sent to the originating sponsor. This helped to establish a positive relationship between the donors and ICS and a sense that the programme was being conducted in a serious and reliable way.


The programme was designed by ICS, which had years of experience in Africa and several years’ experience in Kenya. They engaged field officers to implement and monitor the CSP and also arranged for nurses to provide medical care. They also visited the schools to monitor the progress in building new classrooms, where ICS had funded school improvements of this kind.


At the outset it was decided that the level of effectiveness of the CSP would be measured by parameters such as the level of absenteeism and pupils' scores in school tests. The results were as follows:

  • Distributing school uniforms results in a 44% reduction in student absenteeism.
  • For children who did not already own a uniform, distributing a uniform reduced absenteeism by 62%.
  • The program had a significant impact on the test scores of student. The impact was relatively greater for poorer students and particularly girls.

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