Pupils and teachers of Ngodhe SDA Primary School on Lake Victoria’s Ngodhe Island use their simple boat to cross to the mainland where some of them live.
The vessel was acquired with money from the Suba North’s National Government Constituency Development Fund.
Suba North MP Millie Odhiambo Mabona, who posted a photo of the boat on her Facebook timeline last Friday, says the water vessel serves a similar purpose as that of a school bus in the well-heeled Kenyan urban private schools.
She intends to make a follow-up to check if the boat was fitted with safety jackets, although operators of similar vessels commonly provide passengers with improvised jerricans for emergencies.
The management of Ngodhe SDA Primary School and that of the Suba North CDF committee deserve credit for coming up with a simple solution to a big transport problem that has kept many children from the local community out of school and compromised the quality of education received by those who enrol.
Part of the reason the government still has challenges containing dropouts and improving transition to secondary school 16 years after the introduction of the free primary education (FPE) programme is that the education policy makers and bureaucrats at Nairobi’s Jogoo House hardly think outside the classroom.
Much of the government funding currently goes to employing teachers and providing textbooks.
But as the Ngodhe case shows, failing to address the unique problems of different schools has the potential to significantly undermine the FPE programme, for all its good intentions.
My reporting assignments for The Standard between 2003 and 2005, the first three years of the programme, opened my eyes to the current challenges.
We once visited a primary school in Kajiado North Constituency where Barclays Bank had funded the building of some decent toilets.
The pupils and teachers were clearly excited about the prospects of improved sanitation in their school. But during the speeches it emerged the school’s gravest challenge probably lay elsewhere.
Parents were concerned about how their children got to the school from home, with the ever lurking threat of being attacked by wild animals.
Some of the pupils walked over 10 kilometres to school, and there had been several reports of wild animals attacking pupils.
When the then area MP and Education minister George Saitoti rose to speak, he ignored the wildlife problem altogether, choosing to hype up the perceived wonders of the FPE programme.
The Education boss was clearly reluctant to come down from his Jogoo House ivory tower to understand the challenges at the grassroots.
Another George is now set to move into the office once occupied by the late Prof Saitoti. Will Prof Magoha think outside the classroom and address the unique challenges of public education?
[email protected]; @Otienotieno