Few would wrestle with the fact that private players in the education sector have an indispensable role in the country’s growth. Indeed, there is unanimity that private schools, colleges and universities have afforded thousands of opportunities without which many students would be locked out of the education system.
Besides enhancing inclusivity of education, private institutions play a pivotal role of pushing up the standards. Why? As such institutions angle to attract students, they strive to offer quality and market-driven programmes. Public institutions have been compelled to up their game to compete favourably with the innovative private institutions.
The beneficiaries of all these are first, the students, then industries that get a well-trained workforce and thirdly, the country, whose development will be hastened by sound education.
Like British statesman Winston Churchill once said, healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have. I dare add that education too is an integral aspect of such health.
It should be clear to all that private institutions are never meant to supplant public entities, in fact, the two play complementary, rather than competing roles.
Kenya will certainly continue to witness proliferation of private schools, colleges and universities to meet the ever expanding demand for education.
Yes, for private players, education is business. However they should not be motivated by blind pursuit for profit but how the service they offer will shape the lives of their customers — the students. The question they must always ask is whether their programmes give students value for money.
Students go to school to satisfy their desire for knowledge and prepare themselves adequately to take opportunities that will improve their lives, families and society at large.
A good education will give students a firm foundation for a successful career and productive life. A poor system, on the other hand, will set the students up for failure and a life of misery.
It is worth noting that this class of investors is no ordinary business people. To set up institutions of learning requires huge financial outlay, yet returns on investment take a while to accrue.
It, therefore, takes resilience, boldness, and willingness to take immense risks and make huge sacrifices to invest in this field.
Because of these challenges, these entrepreneurs are invariably driven more by passion to make a positive contribution to the society, rather than personal gain.
It behoves the government to provide a conducive environment and level the playing ground. For instance, students from private primary schools should be able to have an equal chance of accessing quality secondary schools as those from public schools.
We have had long-drawn debates on whether pupils from public primary schools should have an upper hand in accessing opportunities at public high schools, particularly national schools.
One of the arguments advanced by those in favour of preferential treatment is that some public primary schools are ill-equipped, compared to their private counterparts, tilting national examinations in favour of the latter.
Those in the opposing camp say this move punishes not only parents who have spent heavily to see their children get the best education, but that it discriminates against pupils who have burnt the midnight oil to post top results in national examinations.
The solution is to addresses systemic weaknesses across all players.
For instance, we need to ensure that all schools across the country meet certain minimum standards so that the national examination is a fair test for all pupils whether in private or public schools.
The government has the capacity to equip all public schools to ensure that they give pupils an equal chance as those from private schools to pass the exams.
This should also apply to colleges and universities. The government has to give all students equal treatment such as in accessing financial aid in form of credit.
Students in private universities should be able to get funding from government agencies such as the Higher Education Loans Board without any hindrance.
All that the board needs to do is to conduct thorough background checks and carry out watertight vetting to ensure that only deserving cases get financial assistance.
Once regulatory bodies have given a private institution a clean bill of health, then the students in that establishment should be able to get similar treatment to those in public institutions. Overall, we all mean well for this great country.
Dr Gicharu is the founder and chairman, Mount Kenya University [email protected]