"The government will leave no one behind in the fight against illiteracy and ignorance."
This simple statement lies at the heart of an unfolding crisis in many public schools as the Ministry of Education struggles to implement the 100 percent transition from primary to secondary school policy.
The programme, introduced by then Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i in 2017, seeks to show the commitment by the government to the constitutional imperative on the right to education.
"Operation Tupeleke Watoto Shule’’ is not only viable, but also timely and thoughtful.
Leading scholar Laban Ayiro says the programme is part of a drive to ensure 12 years of learning for Kenyan children.
He adds that there is a strong desire and demand for education and the government has an obligation to meet it.
Yet this demand is selective and heavily biased.
It spawns a huge burden on public schools, which have a history of strong discipline and good performance, leaving some of the less well known institutions with few students.
While the challenge of inadequate infrastructure in schools is not unassailable, it can be a source of frustration for students and teachers, leading to anger and disillusionment.
Many Form Ones are first time boarding students, who may resent being crammed into dormitories and classrooms and having to stand in queues to use toilets.
Obviously, the consequences of this discomfort will show in the learning outcomes.
Prof Ayiro says that while the physical challenges call for urgent attention, the answer to quality education does not lie in bigger classrooms, dormitories, laboratories or dining halls.
He says the government should form a secretariat to develop a master plan for the success of the policy.
The government has increased allocations to schools by about 33 percent from last year.
It has set aside Sh32.7 billion for free secondary education this financial year, up from Sh28 billion.
It has raised the allocation for every student from Sh13,000 to Sh22,242, though principals say the amount is still inadequate since half of it is retained by the ministry headquarters in Jogoo House, Nairobi.
The government has also been attempting to plug the teacher shortage though at a rate that does not capture the magnitude of the shortfall, which stands at 57,000.
While this financial and human resource support is necessary, it falls far below what a policy of such import would entail.
Which is why Prof Ayiro is calling for a dedicated secretariat to guide its implementation for several years.
“The policy is too big to be run from Jogoo House,” he says.
If the goal of the policy is to ensure every child gets a mandatory 12 years of education, the government must ensure quality learning.
For if it is not, children will just go through the system like zombies without learning anything of value and emerging as a forlorn, benighted and discontented mass.
It means the billions of shillings will not only have gone to waste, but the country will also be left grappling with tens of millions of hapless, jobless young people susceptible to crime, terrorism and many other vices.
Mang'u High School Deputy Principal Lawrence Mungai says the surge in the student population demands that teachers put in more hours and exercise patience.
“We have had to adjust to the changing needs of the school. We need to be more vigilant and get to know students at an individual level as much as possible. It is challenging but obviously, it’s fun interacting with learners from diverse cultures,” Mr Mungai says.
The government must begin laying out a clear progression path for the students who will leave secondary school in four years.
Though the country has more than 70 universities, some are faced with serious challenges especially on faculty, financing and facilities.
All in all, the policy is good for the country. It just needs proper planning that goes beyond herding every Standard Eight pupil into Form One without any identifiable learning objectives.
But as Prof Ayiro says: “An educated mass is good for everyone.”