Low-fee private schools point to government gap

Monday December 12 2016

By MUTHONI THANG'WA
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Kenyans seem happy with the work that Mr Fred Matiang'i, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, is doing as far as the examination setting, administration, marking and release of results is concerned.

This is after numerous jokes regarding his two-month holiday plan, which, it would seem, made most parents feel burdened by their own children.

It is cause for grave concern when parents seem under the impression that the responsibility for raising and nurturing their children, including discipline, feeding and day-to-day self awareness is to be relegated, first to the already overburdened and mostly underpaid workers of Kenya's education system, and then to the untrained, ill-equipped, hired house help.

The Cabinet Secretary has been nationally celebrated for doing his job. That just goes to show the level of expectation among Kenyans on the people that they have given jobs. Wouldn't life be ever so much better if Kenya had more Matiang'is to celebrate?

Now that the CS has somewhat helped us reorganise our priorities by making us rediscover and manage our own children, there is a hue and cry for him to look at the quality of education, especially among the 60 per cent of Kenyans living in informal settlements, especially in Kenya's large cities.

Although Nairobi is frequently flagged as the problem area, it is likely that the challenges in education amongst the poor are replicated in all informal settlements nationally.

Several international NGOs, including Cradle and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child have raised concern over the commercialisation of basic education in Kenya and the lack of government strategy to invest in the education sector. So has the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut).

This commercialisation has led to further marginalisation, especially of children from poor urban families, creating large disparities in access to quality education, and by extension, opportunities later on in life.

NOT PROPERLY SUPERVISED

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on education stipulates that it is the responsibility of national governments to ensure that all children, both boys and girls, complete a full course of quality primary and secondary education that is free and equitable.

This mandate is proving to be very challenging in many countries and Kenya is no exception.

Some of the pressing issues, according to the Global Initiative for Economic Social and Cultural Rights, are that private schools are growing very fast, threatening to replace the public sector in provision of these services.

According to statistics, the number of private schools has grown in a span of less than 20 years from a paltry number of 385 in 1998,representing a 2 per cent contribution to 8917 representing 30 per cent in 2013.

In the same period the government run schools have only grown from 16,971 to 21,205 an increase of 25 per cent.

The growth in private schools is most rampant in low-income areas, both in urban centres and remote corners of Kenya.

In urban slums in Nairobi, Kisumu and Eldoret, 50 per cent of children attended these low-fee private schools in 2013, according to the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC). This range from those run as private enterprises, to those run by NGOs and other for private commercial 'low cost' schools.

These schools predominantly exploit the need for parents to provide better education in the face of over-strained government facilities, and the fact that the government does not seem able to improve on this situation anytime soon.

These so-called private educational entities are not properly supervised by government. It is not clear sometimes whether they are formal or informal schools. Moreover, the Basic Education Act of 2013 does not have provisions for alternatives to formal schooling.

In the ideal setting, all Kenyan children should have the option to attend a well-run public school with good quality education, charging little or no fees at all, and able to admit all Kenyan children including those from the poorest families.

The Education Cabinet Secretary, while at it, should enforce regulation to ensure that Free Primary Education remains free and available to all Kenyan children, especially the most vulnerable.

Twitter: @muthonithangwa