Teachers point out pitfalls in free schools plan

Friday November 10 2017

Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i in

Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i in this picture taken on October 12, 2017. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By OUMA WANZALA
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Secondary school principals have to brace for tough times ahead as the government rolls out free secondary education in January next year.

The programme is aimed at ensuring that all Standard Eight candidates join Form One.

The schools must be ready with adequate classrooms, desks, chairs, laboratories and teachers to provide quality education to more than 1 million candidates who sat this year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination.

QUALITY

Despite the looming challenges, Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i on Friday remained bullish that the government was committed to ensuring quality and relevant education.

“We are developing every learner’s potential at all levels through a competence-based education and training approach, so as to ensure that there is provision of skilled human resources required to drive sustainable development goals in Kenya,” Dr Matiang’i said at the Kenya Institute of Management’s 16th graduation ceremony at Safaricom Kasarani Stadium.

The Form One students will be joining others in upper classes. Together, they present a big challenge to school administrators, who have to abide by the government directive while trying to make the best use of the limited resources available.

According to the government’s plan, 903,200 pupils will join public secondary schools and 100,322 private ones.

This year, 790,680 out of the 942,021 candidates who sat last year’s KCPE exam joined secondary schools, recording a transition rate of 83.93 per cent. Included in this figure were 72,744 candidates who joined private schools.

HIGH ENROLMENT

To absorb these students, the government this year released Sh6 billion to 2,574 selected schools out of 8,526, including county and national ones, to build additional facilities such as classrooms and laboratories to expand capacity for the expected high enrolment.

If these funds were distributed equally to these schools, each one received about Sh2.3 million, which experts say is hardly enough to put in place the required facilities.

A number of principals who spoke to the Saturday Nation but requested not to be named for fear of reprisal were apprehensive about the implementation of the programme.

They said their major concern is the shortage of teachers, classrooms, desks and other essential infrastructure.

“We need modern laboratories and classrooms to accommodate more students and offer quality education. Most day schools hire their own teachers and with these developments, the majority of parents will be reluctant to contribute anything,” said a headteacher.

Statistics from the Education ministry indicate that secondary schools in the country have a shortage of 47,576 teachers. The shortage will get worse when the free day secondary school programme begins in January.

ROLLOUT

A report on school unrest in the country by career administrator Claire Omolo that was released this year revealed that most classrooms in schools were congested, with some having as many as 65 students, instead of the recommended 45.

Teachers’ unions and education experts are also concerned about the speedy rollout of the programme.

Kenya National Union of Teachers secretary-general Wilson Sossion said key stakeholders in the education sector had not been consulted on the issue.

“We have not been consulted on the guidelines. The ministry has not informed us about the solution to the shortage of teachers, among other important issues that will ensure the success of the programme,” said Mr Sossion.

He said the cost of education, a heavy burden for parents, would be reduced if the issue of indirect charges, including the payment of teachers hired by boards of management, are addressed.

“We are worried that the hurried implementation of this political policy will lead to flooding of secondary schools with students and create a nightmare to boards of management and teachers,” said Mr Sossion.

MOTIVATED

He said the Sh25 billion budget for the programme could have been approved and disbursed earlier in the year to enable schools to address their shortcomings.

Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers secretary- general Akelo Misori said the current political environment was not conducive for the rollout of the programme.

“We have to develop required infrastructure and recruit more teachers before we can start the programme,” said Mr Misori.

Moi University lecturer Okumu Bigambo said the plan is politically motivated and asked the government to plan effectively, instead of hurrying it.

“Schools need books for these students, more classrooms and teachers,” Prof Bigambo said.

Education expert John Mugo said many secondary schools set up through Constituency Development Fund cash are grappling with inadequate facilities, few teachers and students.

“Some schools have just one or two teachers. There are schools with less than 100 students,” said Dr Mugo.

National Parents Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo welcomed the development but admitted that the issue of teachers needed urgent attention.

“As parents, we support this plan as every child will have an opportunity to join secondary school,” said Mr Maiyo.

Kenya Private School Heads Association chief executive officer Peter Ndoro said their institutions are ready to receive the extra students.