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Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
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Education for all: a pipe dream

Kenya joined the rest of the world in celebrating the Education For All (EFA) week towards the end of April with nothing much to show for it. For hard-core poverty and the concept of cost sharing introduced in schools by the government has rendered EFA an elusive pipe dream for most Kenyan children.
Zachary Ochieng

Education for All (EFA) is an initiative that was introduced at an international conference on education held in Dakar, Senegal, in April 2000. The conference’s main objective was to encourage countries to work towards making education accessible to all by 2015. The Dakar framework reaffirmed the vision of the World Declaration on Education made in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990.

The declaration stated that "all children, young people, and adults have the fundamental right to benefit from an education that will meet their basic learning needs in the best and fullest sense of the term, an education that includes learning to know, to do, to live together and to be. It is an education geared to tapping each individual’s talents and potential and developing learners’ personalities, so that they can improve their lives and transform their societies."

But 12 years after the World Declaration and two years after the Dakar Conference, Kenya is yet to make her children realize their dreams of achieving quality education. Although the government has prepared a policy document stating that it would offer universal primary education by 2005 and make education available to everyone by 2015, these ideas are far fetched, critics say. For one, to achieve universal primary education in just three years is no mean feat, especially if current statistics and developments in the education sector are anything to go by. "It is not possible to achieve universal primary education as the government is not funding education fully," observes John Ndiege, a head teacher at a primary school in Homa Bay, western Kenya.

The policy document, titled Education for All (EFA) Action Plan, is being prepared in collaboration with all stakeholders at the provincial and district levels. Each district and province is expected to come up with a plan, which will be incorporated into the national one. But so far, consultations have only taken place in two of Kenya’s eight provinces - Nyanza and Central. "The national EFA plan will provide clear guidelines and timelines for achieving our key targets, including universal primary education," says Minister of Education Henry Kosgey.

But when all is said and done, statistics being churned out by the Ministry of Education, other agencies, and publications reveal that Kenya is still far from achieving universal primary education, let alone education for all.

According to the Ministry of Education, 31.8 per cent of Kenyan children - or three million children - are not in school. This is attributed to the fact that 60 per cent of Kenyans live below the poverty line, with no wherewithal to pay school fees. And according to "The Status of the World’s Children 2001," only 35 per cent of eligible Kenyan children are enrolled in early childhood education or facilities. "District by district, data indicate lower participation rates for three- to six-year-olds in urban slums, arid and semi arid regions," former Minister of Education Kalonzo Musyoka said during the launch of "The Status of the World’s Children 2001" last year.

The report states that only one million children were enrolled in some 25,429 early childhood centres countrywide. Statistics from the Ministry of Education also indicate that so far, only 47 per cent of children enrolled in primary schools complete their primary education, while only 27 per cent of those eligible are enrolled in secondary schools. A staggering 4.2 million adults are illiterate.

Vocational and youth polytechnics have collapsed. Again, this has been blamed on poverty and the high cost of education. It is noteworthy that the government has been implementing a cost sharing policy on education since 1988, under which the government pays teachers while parents provide teaching and learning materials and contribute to building funds.

However, the long awaited Children’s Act, which became effective on March 1, calls for compulsory and free primary education. But in typical Kenyan style, controversies abound over offering free primary education.

Early this year, Kenyans witnessed a sort of circus when President Daniel arap Moi ordered head teachers not to charge any levies. Head teachers, on the other hand, insisted on charging levies, as the government had not provided an alternative to run schools. To date, primary education in Kenya cannot be said to be free. Schools charge all manner of levies, ranging from building funds to the controversial coaching fee, money paid to tutors outside of regular school hours.

In Nairobi, for instance, schools managed by Nairobi City Council charge parents whose children are in Standard One US$129 per child per year for enrolment. A uniform costs about US$20, while books and other learning materials take another US$39. Hence, a parent needs about US$188, which is an average, middle-class monthly salary, far beyond the reach of most Kenyans. Consequently, many children are left out of school.

The effects of poverty on school enrolment are chronicled in a report from the Western Province leaders’ conference held last May. Titled "Re-awakening the Giant - the State of Poverty and Strategies for Intervention," the report says that Western Province has a high dropout rate, which stands at 70 per cent, and is attributed to low income, cultural practices, early pregnancies, and pressure for schools to maintain good academic standards, with poor pupils being forced to repeat some classes. According to the report, only 7 per cent of the children who join Standard One make it to Form One.

In addition to poverty, high dropout rates in Kenya are also attributed to the HIV/AIDS scourge. The pandemic has exacerbated the problem of child labour, with children dropping out of school to take over the roles of dead breadwinners. Data from the Ministry of Education indicate that 3.5 million children 14 years of age and under are child labourers.

However, the government is now showing commitment to the development of basic education. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) has outlined strategies to improve basic education. These strategies include providing learning and teaching resources, offering opportunities to children with special needs, and expanding existing secondary school facilities to increase places for those leaving Standard Eight.

In the "National Handbook on EFA in Kenya - 2000 and Beyond," the Ministry of Education commits itself to expanding and improving early childhood care, achieving universal primary education by 2005, and providing life skills training to young people and adults.

More good news for school-going children is the return of the schools radio broadcast, which went off the air seven years ago due to a lack of funding. The broadcast programmes were developed in 1963 by the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE), a department in the Ministry of Education charged with the responsibility of developing curriculum and learning aids. The objective was to supplement classroom teaching by giving pupils and teachers additional information to enhance the quality of lessons. The programmes will go a long way in alleviating the problem of teacher shortages. Currently, primary schools are short of 14,000 teachers, while secondary schools have a shortage of 3,500 teachers.

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