2 February 2006

Kenya: Yet Another Kamunge Report a Bad Idea


Nairobi — Education minister George Saitoti set the ball rolling this week when he formed a team to review all laws in education.

Coming out of the "Sessional Paper No 1" of 2005, itself a creation of the National Conference on Education and Training held in 2003, the review was long overdue.

Observers, however, take exception to the composition of the team in terms of representation, duplication of efforts, and its ability to deliver on education reforms.

The first anomaly in the task-force is its lack of broad representation. True, a number of the members are distinguished professionals, academics and education managers with proven track records, but it smacks of bad faith to leave out groups like civil society organisations or religious faiths, who have a big stake in education.

Although one may argue that the team's job is to listen to public views and make recommendations on the laws to be reviewed, when those who would want to present their views regard the team as unrepresentative, they may hold back all their splendid ideas. That would be detrimental to the team's work.

Secondly, talking to educationists and other professionals in the past few days, and reflecting on the country's education history, I get the feeling that there is cynicism in regard to the chairman, Mr James Kamunge.

Mr Kamunge is a seasoned educationist and accomplished administrator, who has spent almost all his adult life in education management, crowning his achievements at the World Bank, where he was an education consultant.

However, questions emerge regarding his ability to unwind his past. He chaired the Presidential Working Party on Education and Manpower Training, which produced its report in 1988.

The party's recommendations, contained in what is popularly known as the Kamunge Report, led to the introduction of cost-sharing in public education.

Arising out of the Kamunge Report and the subsequent "Sessional Paper No 6" of 1988, the Government completely withdrew funding to primary and secondary schools and officially introduced user fees at public universities. It also cancelled student allowances ("boom").

After the introduction of cost-sharing, enrolment in schools took a nosedive, and by the mid-90s, primary it had dropped to about 70 per cent.

Indeed, the reason why the Narc administration introduced free primary education in 2003, was to reverse the negative impact of cost-sharing in public education, a consequence of the Kamunge Report.

At the secondary school level and other post-secondary institutions, the Government stopped paying salaries for support staff. Government grants for secondary schools were all slashed.

The result was that these schools, technical training institutions and teachers training colleges, had to look for ways of generating money to pay their workers and cater for shortfalls arising out of the financial cutbacks.

Automatically, that led to an increase in fees, and withdrawal of allowances for students. All these had the negative result of pushing many students out of school.

Matters were worse at universities. Immediately user-fees were introduced and "boom" withdrawn, an unprecedented wave of student unrest hit the universities. These led to frequent closures, after numerous running battles students had with police.

Indeed, the early 1990s represent one of the dark phases in the development of higher education in this country.

Now, observers question whether the chairman of the working party, whose recommendations messed up the country's education, would inspire confidence when he chairs a new team to review education laws.

Thirdly, there is question of principle, spirit and scope of the review. Speaking during the inauguration of the task-force on Tuesday, Prof Saitoti listed the various pieces of legislation that require review and harmonisation.

Listening to him, one wondered whether he was aware of the recommendations in the Koech Report, which in six annexes provide a clear legal framework for education and training.

It should be remembered that one of the tasks of the Koech team was to review education laws, and this it did by providing a clause-by-clause suggestions on what should be reviewed.

It would be a duplication of efforts if the team was to start afresh when up to 80 per cent of the work has been done. Perhaps, what is necessary is just to go through the draft laws in the Koech Report and make few amendments where necessary.

Lastly, some of the assignments given to this new task-force are the subject of another committee - the Public Universities Inspection Board. These include the review of the laws governing the Commission for Higher Education, Higher Education Loans Board, and the individual public universities' Acts.

The Board has already made recommendations on these in its draft report, which was presented for stakeholders' review last month.

The question is: why the duplication?

Looked at broadly, the tendency by this and past governments to set up task-forces to do all sorts of things, but whose recommendations are never implemented, leaves a great deal to be desired.

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