Any parent who fails to take a child to school risks going to jail for a maximum of one year or pay a Sh100,000 penalty, according to a new Education Bill approved by the Cabinet on Thursday.
The Bill approved at a Cabinet meeting chaired by President Kibaki makes learning compulsory from pre-school to Form Four, which together constitutes basic education.
Previously, pre-school was not compulsory and basic education only covered primary level.
“A person who contravenes this section shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding Sh100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or both,” the revised Education Bill (2012) states.
In a brief to newsrooms on Thursday evening, the Cabinet noted that “it shall be the responsibility of every parent or guardian to admit or cause to be admitted his or her child, as the case may be, to a basic education institution.”
The Bill also outlaws child labour and proposes stiffer penalties for those who mistreat children.
A Ministry of Education report released a fortnight ago showed that more than 800,000 children of school-going age were out of school because of child labour.
The Education Bill (2012) was published by Education minister Mutula Kilonzo, and had been prepared after a series of consultations.
First, the ministry set up a taskforce under former Moi University Vice-Chancellor Douglas Odhiambo, which prepared a report that was discussed at a national stakeholders’ conference in Nairobi in March and later reviewed at another consultative meeting in Naivasha last month.
The new Bill will replace the existing Education Act 211 of 1970, which was later revised in 1980.
Thursday’s Cabinet meeting also adopted six other Bills: Kenya National Examinations Council Bill; Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development Bill; Technical and Vocational Education and Training Bill; Universities Bill; Kenya Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Bill; and Kenya Qualification Framework Bill.
The proposed Policy Framework for Education and Training was also approved.
Teachers and parents welcomed the proposals.
Kenya National Union of Teachers chairman Wilson Sossion said the proposals were in tandem with the demands of the Constitution that had made education a human right.
“It is now the responsibility of the government to ensure that there are enough teachers, schools and other learning facilities to deliver on the high standards that the law is setting,” Mr Sossion said.
Two parents’ associations said the move signalled a change in the way parents viewed education of the children.
“The fine shows that the government is serious in the implementation of the Bill of Rights,” Mr Nathan Baraza, chairman of the Parents and Teachers Association said.
National Association of Parents chairman Musau Ndunda, however, said the government had to put in place a mechanism to ensure that the law was enforced effectively.
The Kenya National Examinations Council Bill, (2012) proposes a five-year jail term for those who cheat in exams.