Give priority to the poor in education reforms

Friday February 17 2017

Fred Matiang'i, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Science and Technology, at Sarit Centre in Nairobi on September 22, 2016. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Fred Matiang'i, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Science and Technology, at Sarit Centre in Nairobi on September 22, 2016. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By GABRIEL DOLAN
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When faced with the shambolic, insensitive and arrogant manner with which the Executive has handled the doctors’ strike, one can quickly dismiss outright this administration’s ability or willingness to respond to its citizens’ most basic of needs. The list of broken promises, fraudulent contracts and wasteful programmes far exceed any inventory of achievements that Jubilee can demonstrate to persuade the public to give them five more years in office.

Yet, whatever your party of choice, most Kenyans will acknowledge the herculean efforts of Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to confront cartels in the examinations council and to restore integrity, respect and credibility to the education sector. The task facing him was colossal but that makes his achievements all the more admirable. One school that I am familiar with had a mean score of 11.6 in Chemistry in the 2015 examinations, but only managed 3.7 in 2016 despite having the same teacher. The same school’s overall mean score dropped from 9.2 in 2015 to 4.9 last year.

RESTORING INTEGRITY

There is no need to elaborate. By restoring integrity to national examinations, the CS has forced teachers to henceforth prepare their students with diligence rather than coach them for a semester on a leaked examination paper. The other big game changer is that the poor are the major beneficiaries of credible examinations. Parents had been paying up to Sh15,000 in ‘Teachers Motivation’ fees in high-cost schools, but most of that went to buy exam papers or influence results between the end of correction and their formal release. Poor schools could not afford to cheat so their students ended up suffering.

Now the playing ground is a bit more level, but a lot more is required. Dr Matiang’i needs to take punitive action against head teachers who are levying students beyond the stipulated Sh53,553 for boarding schools. Extra levies just push bright but poor kids out of the classroom to be usually replaced by rich pupils.

The huge inequality in all aspects of education must be confronted if education is to become the principal weapon in eradicating poverty. Currently, low enrolment, poor performance and low teacher-pupil ratios are all found in areas of high poverty. The poor are severely disadvantaged and that trend is likely to continue for the next generation if the Ministry of Education does not take affirmative action to discriminate in favour of the poorest counties that often are associated with conflict as well as negligence.

REMARKABLE PROGRESS

There has been remarkable progress in the education sector in the past decade with secondary schools increasing by 50 per cent in the past five years. However, something is not quite right if parents are spending on average of 15 per cent of their family income on education and that figure rises considerably to 45 per cent among the poorest segment of society. Currently, 23 per cent of the Budget is spent on education. That is commendable considering that UNESCO recommends that the amount be 20 per cent. 

Rather than advocating for an increase in expenditure, there is need to evaluate the current expenditure and realign how it might be of more benefit to the poor. That, we hope, will be the next move by Dr Matiang’i.

Twitter: @GabrielDolan1