200,000 Kenyan children have been sentenced to ignorance

Friday January 17 2014

Hanna is a lovely 7 year-old girl. She surprised me with an unusual question. She asked: “Luis, what’s the difference between a catfish and a lawyer?”

She continued, “one is a bottom dwelling, garbage eating animal…while the other is just a fish.”

Hanna has a great sense of humour. Good humour is that illogical and unexpected conclusion that fascinates the intellect for it skips the natural threat of logic and catches the brain unawares. The same happens in well written music when an unexpected note leaps over the usual and expected rhythmic pattern, with perfect harmony.

Humour, music, and law are all interrelated. They all naturally aim at the betterment of the person and of society. They all should have that special charm which makes people happier. If they are misconceived then they deeply annoy and disappoint. They are even destructive.

In the same way a bad joke can destroy friendship and parties, bad music acutely annoys the unwilling listener, bad laws take society backwards, breaking the harmony it was supposed to foster.

Good humour, good music and good laws are essential. In this country, we have the humour and the music. The Kenya National Youth Orchestra (KNYO) is just a small example of how talented our younger generation is. These kids play heavenly music and always leave a sense of awe and wonder in the crowd. They can perform fantastic pieces from Kenya, Russia, Austria, France, Czech Republic, Italy…any place.



It is interesting to observe them carefully. They are the personification of a better united country. They are from all races, ethnic lines, social backgrounds…from Muthaiga and Korogocho, from Buruburu and Lavington, from Kisumu, Nyeri, Mombasa, from north and south.

In their strings and trumpets we find a sense of dedication and laborious preparation, in their harmony team work is materialized, and in their obedience to the orchestra director, we find a deep sense of the kind of social harmony that the rule of law can achieve for Kenya.

This harmony can easily be broken by a recent worrying piece of news. Two hundred thousand Kenyan children will miss places in secondary schools. This is deeply distressing.

READ: 200,000 KCPE candidates to miss Form 1 places

Certainly if they were 200 or 2,000 or even perhaps 20,000 we could think of a plan B. But 200,000 are just 180,000 too many. Only the Government can deal with such numbers.

The problem is here. It seems we didn’t see it coming…but it was obvious. A simple mathematical formula would have helped the experts predict this drama. It is simple, just write the number of children sitting KCPE, minus the places available in secondary schools, the result will equal 200,000.

We couldn’t predict this debacle. It seems our brains are damaged: In the right side there is nothing left…and in the left side there is nothing right.


Unless we learn to think ahead next year we will face the same drama. Newspapers will announce again in January that around 200,000 children are out of school. Parliament will debate it again. Complains will fly high and the blame game will be in the air again and again. It will seem new for we suffer from selective amnesia. It will happen again in 2016…year after year.

We need permanent, lasting and fair solutions. We hope the Ministry of Education can move quickly and act decisively.

For example, one suggestion: Speed up the accreditation, registration and licensing of persons or institutions offering technical training as specified by the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Act of 2013. This can open many avenues to children left out of the mainstream schooling system.

Another quick fix may be to recognize the right of parents to home-schooling. After all what the Government needs to do is to regulate the outcome. This is done through the national exam. In emergency situations it is always a priority to regulate the outcome instead of regulating the process itself.

Foster alternative fields of interest like music, arts and sports academies. Life and knowledge are not found only in books. Just an example, when a young boy or girl learns to play a musical instrument he or she is no longer poor. The language of music raises one above ethnic and social differences. It opens doors. This social experiment was already carried out in other countries with amazing results. The brain behind it was the great Jose A. Abreu.

Humour predisposes the intellect to accept knowledge, music beautifies it and law keeps it sane and straight.

We are not lacking humour in Kenya, we have the music potential, but our law drafting skills need to improve, so that when crises strike we have the legal tools to respond and let innovation roll.

Kenyans have the humour and the rhythm in their blood. We don’t have the law…not yet.

Dr Luis Franceschi is the Dean of Strathmore Law School.Twitter: @lgfranceschi