Punishing parents over truancy won’t work

Thursday January 10 2013


It is estimated that despite the free education programme for primary schools, about seven million children are not receiving formal schooling.

Thus, compelling all parents to take their children to school is, in part, the ethos behind the push to have the President sign into law the Education Bill, 2012.

That all children should receive compulsory education from nursery school to Form Four (with no exams, if the proposals for the 8-4-4 curriculum go through) seems worthwhile.

However, the “all children” clause fails to focus on the learning challenges facing some children (cognitive, psychomotor, affective, interpersonal); misses out on gender dynamics, and on cultural definitions of some children (whether they are illegitimate, fostered, orphaned, or step-children).

The clause also does not consider the living arrangements of the child (whether with extended family) or whether they are in juvenile homes, or whether homeless.

For all these children, are all their parents or guardians staring at imprisonment?

What does the impending threat of imprisonment, a Sh100,000 fine or both mean?

How is the situation the child is living in addressed without the child becoming a double or triple victim of circumstances that have already forced him or her out of school?

Who is really being punished, the child or the parent?

The issue of all children and all parents in family settings of varied complexities peppered by a changing cultural environment is one that needs further research and robust debate.

What is the relevance of punishment as educational policy to a parent who is living in poverty? Court action is often a long-winded process that achieves little.

Since poverty and inequality are relatively high in Kenya, there are high chances that some children will continue to miss out on education.

So you cannot easily advocate schooling for all children. In some of the rural marginalised communities, it is common for children to walk in and out of pre-school.

The challenges for these children include lack of learning resources, gender inequity, ill-health, lack of familiarity with the language of instruction, lack of trained teachers, insecurity, lack of food and water, or inertia brought about by poverty.

In other words, what is the incentive for a child to turn up in pre-school and consistently remain there if there are so many challenges?

Some will do it simply to pass time only to proceed to class one when they are old enough.

This brings to the fore other questions: what does it mean for a child – female or male – to miss pre-school?

I know of a young Kenyan of 25 years who missed out on pre-school and went on to succeed in primary and tertiary education.

At the pre-school level, she was taught at home. Home-schooling is becoming an option for many parents.

As a country, we must analyse current data on pre-school attendance, including retention rates, transition to primary school, age and gender, amongst other variables.

This will enable a better understanding of what is taking place in various regions of Kenya.

Dr Lukalo is a resident scholar, School for Advanced Research on the Human Experience, Santa Fe, USA.