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Close shady schools to prevent another tragedy

Tuesday September 24 2019

EDITORIAL
By EDITORIAL
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The death of at least seven children in a private school in Nairobi was yet another tragic reminder of the chaos in all sectors of the economy.

It exposed the rot not only in the education sector but also in construction, public health and national security.

Controls have been demolished and lawlessness has become the order of the day.

Specifically, Education ministry has lost control over schools. A situation obtains where low-end private and informal schools have mushroomed and operate without supervision and quality checks.

Anyone can set up a structure and enrol learners without the requisite requirements.

Also, the tragedy exposes the rot at City Hall and the construction industry regulators, who approve or allow establishment of such institutions that are essentially deathtraps.

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WORRYING STATE

Precious Talent Academy was a disaster right from the beginning.

An institution that caters for 800 learners that is located in dingy corridors of a residential area; a storeyed make-shift mabati structures housing some 800 learners is a tragedy in waiting.

How such a set-up was approved for learning; how such an establishment existed for years without the authorities noticing or anyone raising a question is baffling.

All that could go wrong, did. The storeyed structure was a rickety outfit made of mabati and cheap stuff that defy all engineering logic.

Testimonies from surviving learners show that the structure was always a health and safety risk any time.

Further, learners at the school, like in all other parts of the city, were in class as early as 6am with little supervision while the rules stipulate that they should report after 7am.

But that is a subject of another discussion because it also has its derivatives that defy simplistic observations.

SHORTAGE

Yet the whole tragedy is sobering reality to the fact that the city and many other urban centres are in deep education crisis.

Nairobi is suffering serious shortage of schools. This is best captured in a task force report then-Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero commissioned in 2014, which revealed that the city authorities had not put up any new school since the 1980s despite phenomenal population growth.

There are just 205 public primary schools with a combined enrolment of about 200,000 in a city of four million people and with a school-going population of about 700,000.

Contrastingly, there are more than 900 private and informal schools with a population of about 300,000.

Overall, however, just about 60 per cent of the eligible children are in schools.

This is a serious indictment on both the county and national government.

QUALITY COMPROMISED

Despite the declaration of universal basic education, which means putting all children in school, thousands are languishing out there for lack of learning institutions.

This shortage has created a high demand for places and the existing vacuum opened the floodgates for private entrepreneurs to set up schools.

Among these are low-end establishments especially within the informal settlements, and which, for all practical purposes, are hazardous and present serious challenges to education in terms of quality and outcomes.

Managers and teachers are ill-trained and for most of them, it’s business, pure and simple.

Nobody ever supervises them and if that happens, the whole exercise is spurious and dubious, which is why none has even been closed.

No operator has been arrested for running unregistered or shady learning outfit.

DRASTIC SOLUTIONS

Paradoxically, they are thriving and popular within their localities; they are near the dwellings of the majority of the residents and although fee-charging, are considered relatively affordable.

Precious Talent Academy is not an isolated case; it epitomises the worst and the ugly in the education sector where fortune seekers have landed with all sorts of institutions.

Quick and drastic measures are required to stop the craze and create order in education provision.

We have to go back to the basics. First, Education ministry must reclaim its authority, take charge of the sector and, in this respect, carry out an audit of all learning institutions to establish their condition and in particular, the low-end and informal primary schools as well as early childhood centres. All that do not measure up have to be closed.

Second, policies and regulations exist about the specifications for schools and classroom, the size, ventilation, equipment and population. Inspection must be intensified and rules enforced.

PROSECUTE

Third and importantly, all individuals and agencies that approved the school and hundreds others like it must be seized and punished.

It is common knowledge that such dubious outfits thrive because of the backing of those in authority, who connive with the proprietors to allow the disorder.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has pledged that the government will conduct investigations to determine the cause of the tragedy and take commensurate action. That is not enough.

We have heard such promises before. We demand quick action on the proprietors, those who sanctioned the school, and ultimately a crackdown on all shady schools and even colleges across the country.

In addition, the government and counties must expand public schools to provide quality education.

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